Mandy Picture Story Library No.1 – Driving into Danger.
Art: Stanley Houghton
Sisters Julie and Jane Corby travel to South America to meet their dad, who’s gone there for work. But, when he fails to show up at the airport, the sisters buy a dusty old car they name Joe, and set off to look for him. And they discover that Joe (yes, the car) seems to have a mind of “his” own…
This very first issue kicks off the Mandy Picture Story Library with a bang, and a genuinely charming story. Sensible Julie is the one who takes charge, and usually gets them out of the many scrapes the sisters manage to land in, which include crocodiles and bandits. Meanwhile, the pretty and delicate Jane relies on her older sister to arrange accommodation, drive the car (Julie is the only one of the two with a license) etc. She may come across as a bit helpless at first, and ends up as the comic relief character more than once – frightened by monkeys, falling into a swamp. And it really doesn’t help matters that someone on the production team made the strange decision that Jane would go through most of her adventures wearing a polo-shirt with her own face on it:
But, when push comes to shove, Jane is still just as brave as her sister. There is a scene, for instance, where the two of them cooperate to save a baby from a hungry puma, and another one where Jane saves Julie from a mugger by chucking a tin can at him. Still, this is very much Julie’s story – she’s our plucky, practical heroine who never gives up on the search for her missing father.
However, the real star of the show is their antique car – Joe. One time, for instance, Joe inexplicably stops working, only for the girls to discover that they’ve narrowly avoided driving over a bridge that would’ve broken under Joe’s weight. There are so many instances where Joe seems to act on “his” own to protect the girls that the reader starts to wonder – is Joe actually “alive”? No doubt this was inspired by how a lot of old cars seem to have developed a personality of their own, and the artist very much builds up under this theory by giving Joe headlamps that look like a pair of big, googly eyes. Along with his bent front bumper and long front grille, these give the car the illusion of a face, peeking curiously up at the two sisters. The art, by the way, is great – this artist was definitely the right person to start a brand new series with.
In the end, Julie and Jane do find their father – in the care of an indigenous tribe high up in the mountains. They have been nursing him after he crashed his plane, and recognize the girls from a photo they had found in his wallet.
Thankfully, the people of the mountain tribe aren’t portrayed as naïve savages, or even noble savages – they’re just lovely, well-meaning people who are happy to look after a sick and injured stranger. They also throw the girls and their dad a reunion party with a bonfire and dancing, and seem to take delight in teaching Jane how to play their huge, hand-made drums when she exclaims how much she likes their rhythm. Some comics from this period might seem dated by how they treat native tribes, but “Driving Into Danger” steers well clear of negative stereotypes. As soon as their father is well enough to travel, the three of them set off towards home – in Joe, of course. Hopefully he doesn’t take offense at their dad calling him a rustbucket!
*Thanks to new contributor, Gwen, for the review.