Category Archives: Picture Story Library

Susan of Studio ‘B’ [1978]

Mandy Picture Story Library No.2 – Susan of Studio ‘B’.

Cover Art: Ian Kennedy, Art: J. Badesa

Plot:

Susan is working as a production assistant at “ICT” Studios. She’s already known as a bit of a klutz, and she has terrible luck – the very first thing she does in this comic is trip over a cable and spill coffee on the handsome young pop star who’s being filmed. His name is Tony Sunshine (later on, he’s referred to as Tony Scott, so it’s probably a stage name). Tony is all set to be the star of the new series ICT is launching. (The programme seems to be some kind of music and variety show, though this is never explained in any great detail.) The production has been plagued by bad luck and minor accidents; so Tony isn’t even mad at Susan – he’s just that used to things going wrong. Still – when Susan accidentally knocks Tony over while she’s trying to wipe the coffee from his shirt, he narrowly avoids being hit by one of the floodlights as it comes crashing down from the ceiling!

Susan spots a black-clad man hurrying off the set but thinks nothing of it; she just assumes he’s one of the lighting engineers.

As the director is telling everyone to go home for the day, since the set has basically been ruined, another TV star shows up. His name is Chas Harding; and he’s been in the business a lot longer than Tony has. The two men first met when Tony guest-starred on Harding’s show. After that, Tony became so popular that he’s now been given his own show to star in. Tony confides in the older man that, with all the accidents and breakages they’ve had, shooting is so far behind that the whole project is on the verge of being shut down. He and the crew have been given just one week to finish shooting.

Harding assures Tony that everything’s going to work out – “You’ll get the series finished, it’ll be a success, then the doors of show-business will be thrown wide open.” That’s when Susan walks in, opening the door right into Harding’s back!

Accidents just keep on happening at Studio B. The next day, as Tony is about to start singing a duet with a pretty young starlet called Cathy, Susan almost knocks Cathy off the stool she’s sitting on. When Tony tries to grab Cathy, they both overbalance on their tall stools and fall off – right out of the path of the heavy camera that’s suddenly rolling towards them! “There are times,” the director says, “When Susan’s clumsiness is a blessing.”

Meanwhile, Susan again spots a dark-clad figure running away. Convinced that this is the same man she saw yesterday after the lighting rig fell, Susan decides to follow him. But, she falls right into the soundstage’s trap door, which the man has left open behind him. By the time Susan has managed to climb out, the mysterious stranger is long gone. That’s when she smells smoke. It’s burning inside one of the store rooms, and as the smoke gets thicker, Susan tries to pull a fire extinguisher off the wall. It appears to be stuck, so she’s got no choice but to run back out on the soundstage for help. Members of the crew finally manage to put the fire out. The director wonders how a fire could have started in there, since the room was only used to store old script copies. Susan counters that she thinks someone set the fire deliberately. She tells him and the crew all about her theory that someone is sabotaging them, but the director doesn’t believe her. He says it’s too hard for anyone to just walk in off the street – you need a special pass to be let inside the studio – and orders them all to get back to work.

When Susan and the rest of the film crew return to the soundstage, however, they see that the set has been smashed up. Susan realizes that the fire was intended as a distraction, a way to clear the studio floor so that the mysterious man in black could smash up the set.  Susan tries the fire extinguisher again, but this time it comes away too easily. She falls backwards and drops the fire extinguisher, spraying the already ruined set with foam.

The crew is forced to reshuffle the filming order, and while Susan is wiping up all the foam they bring in a fog machine to use during Tony and Cathy’s duet. As soon as she’s done, Susan slips away up to what looks like a side gallery for a quick break, only for the man in black to appear behind her and push her off! Susan goes over the railing, bouncing off a large drum, which breaks her fall. She tries to explain that she was pushed, but the director isn’t in the mood to listen. Meanwhile, the smoke machine is producing a lot of smoke, and Susan is starting to feel dizzy. As Tony and Cathy begin to falter in their song before they collapse on the floor, she realizes that something’s up with the fog machine. Then Susan spots him again – the man in black – and, covering her face, she tries to follow him. But, the fog is too thick, and Susan trips over Tony’s lifeless body, knocking over a lever mounted in the floor. This happens to be the lever that opens the main transport doors, so now the toxic smoke quickly evaporates – but the man in black has made his escape.

After Susan has given her statement to the police, everyone is once again sent home for the day. Tony, however, decides to go have a lie-down in his dressing room first. Chas Harding stops by again, saying he’s heard about what happened. He suggests that, since it’s now clear that Tony’s show is being deliberately sabotaged, the safest thing might be for Tony to pull out. But Tony vehemently disagrees; he’s now more determined than ever to see the filming through. Harding praises Tony for his perseverance, but as he’s about to walk out, he turns to say, “I just hope you don’t regret it.”

Meanwhile, Susan is carrying an armful of scripts – she’s going to file them away before she heads home. She drops them just as Harding leaves Tony’s dressing room, causing him to trip over her while she’s picking them up. After being yelled at by Harding; Susan goes to tidy up backstage, and sees that the light is on in the empty costume department – and someone’s left a window open. She runs out when she hears loud noises, which turn out to be coming from Tony’s dressing room. The door is locked, so she runs to the props department and “borrows” their tractor. (Presumably, they use it to move set-pieces around, though this is never explained.)

Susan aims the tractor at the dressing room door, but ends up going through the wall instead. Inside, she finds a menacing figure standing over an unconscious Tony – and whoever this man is; he’s wearing a costume she recognizes, taken from their own costume department. Susan runs out, the mysterious stranger hurries after her, and what follows is a slapstick chase sequence where Susan pushes a tea-trolley at him, smacks him in the head with a door, and throws a microphone boom at him. Her luck appears to run out when Susan’s legs get tangled in some cables on the floor, causing her to trip. However, she lands right next to a lever that controls the backdrop curtain that her pursuer just happens to be standing in front of. That buys Susan just enough time to scramble back on her feet and run up the stairs to the control room. The door is locked, though, and Susan’s idea to blind her pursuer by shining the floodlights mounted outside it right at his eyes backfires, because she pushes the wrong button.

Finally, the man catches up to Susan, and as they struggle up there above the soundstage, she manages to pull the mask off his face. The mysterious stranger turns out to be Chas Harding, who promptly topples over the same railing he pushed Susan over earlier.

Tony shows up, worried about Susan, who assures him that she’s fine, but Harding isn’t. He’s still alive though, and paramedics swiftly arrive to take him away. The director also shows up, to offer an explanation for Harding’s actions: Not only had Tony become too popular, his show had been chosen to replace a series that had been planned for Harding himself. Tony concedes that, “If it hadn’t been for Susan, there wouldn’t have been any series.” The director agrees, saying, that “It sort of makes up for her clumsiness”, right before Susan causes the set-piece she’s leaning against to snap in half.

“Well,” Tony amends, “Almost!”

Thoughts:

The story may be named after her, but Susan barely gets the chance to star in her own comic. For instance, there are two long scenes between Tony and Harding (clearly put there to establish how evil Harding is) where Susan doesn’t appear at all. In fact, other than how clumsy she is, we don’t learn that much about Susan herself either. We get no insight into what she’s thinking except for mundane things intended to set the scene, such as “I’d better go file these scripts away.” She also gets a few thought bubbles during the protracted chase scene; but that’s all reactions to the situation she’s in – “Here he comes,” “I’d better duck”, etc.

The scripting isn’t always consistent; for instance the writer seems to have forgotten that Tony’s surname is “Sunshine” and refers to him as “Tony Scott” a few pages in. Also, the nature of the show they are filming is kept rather nebulous, nor do they ever explain whether Chas Harding is an actor or a singer like Tony, or even both. Also, let’s be honest – the art really isn’t fantastic. Susan’s wide-eyed expression often looks more crazed than innocent, her hair is sometimes different lengths on either side of her face, and the flared jeans Susan wears kind of take on a life of their own sometimes. This artist seems to have had the most trouble with drawing all the slapstick scenes.

This almost balletic moment below has more in common with modern dance than physical comedy!

What could have been a fun, breezy detective story is let down both by the art, and by some rather sloppy writing. Rather unusually for a girls’ comic, Susan is the only female character – aside, of course, from Cathy the starlet. You spend more time getting to know Tony; and there’s a sense that he was intended to be there as Susan’s love interest. She may have spilled coffee on him and knocked him off his stool, but Susan also saved Tony’s life. In other words, this is a perfect setup for Tony to begrudgingly fall in love with Susan, who would most likely remain completely unaware of his affections. In fact, this one-off story almost reads like a tester issue for what ways maybe intended to be a series; maybe in the weekly Mandy comic. Not quite terrible, but not fantastic either.

Selina’s Search / Selina’s Sketches (1985)

Published: Selina’s Search – Debbie PSL #91 (1985)

Reprint: Selina’s Sketches – Mandy PSL #249 (1996)

Artist: Unknown

Plot

Mr James is a struggling, ailing Victorian artist. He has been commissioned to paint a picture of the opening of the new merchants’ hall. But during the ceremony he finally collapses, leaving the sketch six people short for his painting. If he can’t finish it, this will mean no payment, and they really need the money.

Fortunately the Guild of Merchants provided a preliminary plan of where the dignitaries were during the ceremony. His daughter Selina is going to use it to track down the six people and take sketches of them. But tracking them down is only half of it. Somehow, Selina has to get these six important-sounding people to sit for her. And she does not think this will be easy.


Selina’s first stop is a servant named Jem, who was a page at the ceremony. However, the maid won’t let her in to sketch a picture of Jem. Fortunately Jem overhears, and arranges a secret meeting with Selina. He does not have enough time to be sketched, but Selina finds a way to change the maid’s mind and let her in to sketch Jem – a drawing of her and her sweetheart. All of a sudden Selina is a welcome guest and given all the time in the world to sketch Jem in the outfit he wore at the ceremony.

Next is the French ambassador, who will be returning to France next day. But the constable at the French embassy won’t let Selina in. Then a coach knocks over a road sweeper and Selina sketches its coat of arms to identify the reckless driver. Impressed, the constable finds a way for Selina to sketch the ambassador: at Waterloo station where the ambassador is boarding his train for home.

Two down, but the merchants want the picture done in five days. So, although Dad is still not well enough, he has to start painting it now, and he is. The race against time has Selina braving the streets after dark for number three, Dr Armitage, who is the medical advisor for the guild.

Unfortunately Dr Armitage is out on call at the arches under the bridge. Selina finds this means he is tending to homeless children under the bridge, and he is more concerned with treating them than helping her with her sketches. To win him over she entertains the children with shadow pictures to help them forget the pain while he treats them. Dr Armitage agrees to the sketch on condition she also draws a poster to raise funds for the children. Dr Armitage also gives Selina’s father some medical treatment.

Number four is Septimus Swann, a leading member of the Guild and owner of a posh ladies shoe shop. However, Swann has left instructions not to be disturbed while he selects designs for his next collection. Then Selina discovers Swan has rejected the latest designs from his shoe designers and hits upon the idea of asking the customers what they want in a Swann shoe to design a shoe for Swann that will meet the customers’ wants. Swann is impressed with the design – and surprised that all Selina wants in return for it is a sketch of him for it rather than the ten guineas he offers.

However, Selina is rather annoyed that the conceited old peacock keeps her hours drawing copies of him to show his friends. This has eaten up valuable time she needs to track down the remaining two.

Dad anticipates no problems with number five, a Mr Toby Maitland. But he has not counted on Maitland falling ill too. Selina discovers Maitland is ill because he was put in charge of minding the guild regalia from the ceremony, but someone has stolen it. On the case is the constable from the French embassy, and he has to tackle the problem of conflicting descriptions of the thief, which sound pretty pantomime. Selina uses her sketches and pantomime posters to put together a composite, which matches the description of a criminal named Beanpole Beckett. Sure enough, they find the regalia when they raid Beckett’s house. In return, Maitland not only sits for Selina but also gives her a letter of introduction to the last person on her list: the Duchess of Dorian.

But even with this letter of introduction there are problems in getting the sketch. The duchess is up at Dorian Castle, Sussex, which is miles away. Fortunately, Selina matches to get a lift from her town residence, which is packing up and moving to the castle. However, the duchess is in the middle of organising a banquet and a bit busy to sit for a sketch. Then Selina uses her sketches to help a lady organise the flowers for the table. It turns out to be the duchess herself, and she is so grateful she is only too happy to sit for Selina.

Thanks to Selina’s sketches, Dad is able to complete the picture in time, and he acknowledges it at the unveiling. Dad is paid handsomely, and now many of the merchants want Dad to paint pictures for them too. But there’s more – the duchess was so impressed with Selina’s sketch book that she has the Director of Sarum School of Art award Selina a free scholarship.

Thoughts

This is a delightful, engaging story, and it has nice, simple artwork that lends itself really well to the setting. It’s a race against time that becomes a rags to riches story in the end. Selina didn’t quite intend it that way; she just wants to help her father get his work done in time and save face and receive his much-needed payment. We feel for Dad too, who is struggling with ill-health as well as poverty, and though he is still sick, he still has to get that painting finished on schedule. And no matter how sick he is, he has to make that painting a masterpiece.

The story doesn’t delve too far into the dark side of Victorian times. However, we still get hints during Selina’s search of it with the lives of servants, the homeless waifs under the bridge and the doctor who wants to help them, and Beckett the thief. The Jameses themselves are part of the dark side of it. They clearly live in poverty, have little money, and it’s no wonder Dad’s health is suffering. He not only needs the payment from that commission but the prestige and hope of more work from it as well.

There are some touches of humour, such as Jem the servant who’s a likeable scallywag to boot and is not going to have the maid turn Selina away like that. And there is the crook who looks like he’s straight from a pantomime, and pantomime posters help bring about his downfall.

Of course everything comes down to Selina not only being a brilliant artist who is able to sketch well enough to help Dad, but also use quick wits to get those people to sit for her. Getting the people to sit for her or overcoming difficult people who stand in her way turns out to be easier than she thought, even if it is extra work, because she uses her artwork to do them good turns first, from tracking down criminals to doing fashion designs. It always seems to happen that way. So they all get something out of having Selina sketching for them, and it is only fair that Selina receive an extra reward – the art scholarship.

Ashamed of Her Mum (1986)

Published: Debbie PSL #100

Reprint: Bunty PSL #418 as “Trapped!”

Artists: Norman Lee (cover); Ron Lumsden (story)

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Thirteen-year-old Meg Ferns and her widowed mother have just moved to Redport. At her new school, Meg is impressed with the looks of Arlene Ainsley and her gang and wants to be friends with them. But they are snobs and don’t think she’s good enough for them.

Moira Samson does offer to be friends with Meg, but Meg declines as she still wants to get in with the Ainsley gang and they wouldn’t like Moira, whose background is not good enough for them either. When Meg sees Arlene’s glamorous mother she wishes her mother were like that instead of being in a factory job and doing nothing but housework when she comes home.

In town, Meg sees a glamorous model at a shoot and learns her name is Lillian Ferns – the same surname as hers. She thinks it would be so marvellous if Lillian were her mother. The snobs come along, talking about the same model. Before she knows what she is saying, Meg brags to them that the model is her mother. The snobs fall for it – except one, Priscilla. The other snobs are all over Meg now, but Priscilla means to investigate Meg’s claims.

So the double life of deception and its complications begin for Meg. And although she does not know it (yet) she has the added handicap of one girl being on to her from the start and determined to catch her out. Priscilla starts by checking out Lillian’s address (and Meg realises that’s more than she did) and having Meg invite them over to her “mum’s” house. At the house she convinces them that “Mum’s” not in, but she sees Priscilla hanging around to see if she does enter the house and realises Priscilla is suspicious. Seeing a key in the door, Meg takes advantage to enter the house, pretend she’s coming home, and hopefully throw Priscilla off the scent.

At this point Lillian catches Meg. Meg blurts out the whole story. Realising how desperate Meg is to keep those snobs from finding out, Lillian proceeds to take full advantage. She agrees to help with the pretence – on one condition. As Lillian has no housekeeper at the moment, Meg is to become her housekeeping slave, and without one penny in payment. It also means getting up extra early, dashing twelve miles to serve breakfast and back to school, back again at four for chores, back at any time Lillian wants her, do any catering she wants, etc, etc, … otherwise, she will tell those snobs the truth. And there is a verbal earbashing whenever Meg doesn’t do the job right. Er, what was that you said about it being so marvellous if Lillian were your Mum, Meg?

Of course this is soon causing difficulties, such as Meg getting lines for being late for school. But Meg is gaining in confidence because she is getting it so good for the Arlene gang and thinks she is real friends with them now. She throws a scare into Priscilla to hopefully throw her off, but Priscilla only pretends that it worked. Moira also warns Meg to be careful about getting on the wrong side of that snobby lot, but Meg doesn’t listen.

As Lillian has given Meg her house key for the chores, Meg has full access to the house to show it off to the snobs while Lillian is out. They lap up all the luxuries it offers. Priscilla takes advantage to do some snooping. As she suspected, she finds no photographs of Meg in the house or any bedroom that looks like hers. She also helps herself to the food Lillian laid out for the party she is going to hold that night. When Lillian finds out about the food, she is absolutely furious with Meg.

At the party Meg has to do all the waitressing. Ironically, one guest, Mr Tolman, comments that she looks photogenic and should consider modelling herself. Meg also spots Priscilla spying outside and rushes to close the curtains in an awful hurry. The trouble is, Lillian pulls them in the opposite direction, which causes the whole thing to come crashing down. Lillian really blows her top at Meg because she wanted to impress Mr Tolman as he owns the advertising company she wants to work for. Meg is also worried about what Priscilla will say the following day.

Next day at school, Priscilla laughs at Meg for dressing as a waitress and “curtain calls”. Meg manages to pass off the waitressing as a punishment for the food Priscilla scoffed, and kindly stop snooping. This makes Priscilla unpopular with the other snobs and Meg thinks she is now safe from her. Meg’s an even bigger hero than ever with them now, especially with Arlene. It now looks like all that slaving for Lillian is worthwhile. However, Priscilla is not only still suspicious but also upset that Meg has pushed her out and wants revenge.

Meg has another close call when Mum waves to her across the street and the Arlene gang comment on how common she looks. They buy Meg’s cover story that she’s the cleaning lady – except Priscilla, who notices that “the char” bears a strong resemblance to Meg and begins to put two and two together.

The same incident has Meg beginning to feel ashamed of the way she is treating her mother because of this deception. For the same reason she begins to get closer to Moira. But the gang warn Meg they will no longer be friends with her if she continues with “peasants” like Moira. At this, Meg realises how wrong she had been to bother with those snobs at all.

So Meg decides to end her deception, starting with revenge on Lillian. Meg tells Lillian she’s had enough of her and then heaves a bucket of dirty scrubbing water all over her. She hears with great satisfaction that she has ruined Lillian’s new Paris outfit, and then walks out.

Next day at school, Meg finds out she ended her deception at just the right time – the game is up anyway. Priscilla snooped into the school records, found Meg’s real address and her mother’s occupation, and has now informed the others. They are ready to confront her, but Meg stands up to them. Moira sees the commotion and rouses a prefect, who tells the snobs to clear off. Meg explains how it was really her fault to start with, but what makes her really ashamed over it all was how she let her mother down. The prefect tells Meg not to worry about that; she’s learned her lesson. Moira’s offer for friendship is still open, and this time Meg accepts.

Remembering how photogenic Meg looked, Mr Tolman tracks her down and gives her a job in TV adverts. Everyone is pleased for Meg – except for certain snobs who are green with envy.

Thoughts

There have been plenty of stories where protagonists run a double life, pretending their backgrounds are grander than they really are, all because of a bunch of snobs. Inevitably the deception gets complicated and there is no way they can keep it up indefinitely. The question is what will happen when the inevitable does happen. “Pop Starr” from Bunty is one example.

It’s unusual to have one girl suspicious of the deception from the start. Usually in these types of stories someone grows suspicious over time. That or the protagonist just gets caught right out. Perhaps it was the 62-page limit, which did not allow for one of the snobs to become suspicious over time. However, it does make the story even more exciting and different, having someone onto the protagonist from the very start. And Meg is quick to realise Priscilla suspects her, which sets a very exciting premise for keeping one step ahead. Meg soon proves she can do it very aptly, and is very deft at thinking quickly to get out things if those snobs get too close and foiling Priscilla’s attempts to catch her out. Unfortunately for Meg, she cannot get Priscilla off her back entirely, especially when Priscilla gets vengeful.

This deception story has the Cinderella and blackmail themes thrown into the mix as well, which makes it even more striking and interesting than a mere string of lies, close calls and complications as the deception snowballs and the protagonist falls deeper and deeper into a sticky web of deceit. The true real-life personality of the glamorous model Lillian Ferns is there to teach Meg to appreciate what she’s got in her own mother and being rich and famous does not necessarily mean an improvement. The lesson is slow in coming, though. It takes Meg’s treatment of her mother as part of her deception to make the lesson sink in.

There are always prices the protagonist has to pay while carrying out her deception. Meg’s biggest one is becoming an unpaid slave to Lillian Ferns. Lillian Ferns comes from another popular theme in girls’ comics: a famous celebrity who is in fact a nasty piece of work in real life. “Aunt Aggie” (Tammy) and “Everyone’s Perfect Mum” (Mandy) are other examples. Not to mention using blackmail to turn the protagonist into their slave, and there are countless examples of that in girls’ comics. It is obvious that Lillian’s treatment of Meg stems from her being tight-fisted, not to mention being a bully and bad employer. She can well afford a housekeeper instead of using Meg as unpaid help, and pay Meg well for what she’s doing. But she does neither. We bet the reason Lillian doesn’t have a housekeeper is that the last one quit because Lillian was just as horrible to her. It would not be surprising if quite a few housekeepers had quit Lillian’s employment already and she’s now on a number of blacklists at employment agencies. With any luck the real-life Lillian will be found out and it won’t just be her new outfit that gets ruined. Lillian’s treatment of Meg has already ruined her chances with Mr Tolman and even got the job in Lillian’s place. Lillian will be absolutely fuming when she finds out. And the irony is, it’s all her own fault because of the way she treated Meg.

There are a few ironies too, in the way Meg develops through her deception. For example, Meg becomes accepted by the snob gang she finds her confidence growing, but in the wrong way. Her true confidence comes when she decides she’s had enough of Lillian and stands up to her. And heaving that bucket of water in Lillian’s face is absolutely priceless! We don’t often see protagonists in blackmail stories turning around and getting their own back on their blackmailers, so we just love seeing it here. Meg also develops quick wits and thinking on her feet in the way she can pull herself out of those sticky situations she get herself into.

We reckon that if the snobs had not found Meg out she would have told them anyway, and tell them to sod their stuck-up ways too. Which is of course what she should have done in the first place when the Arlene gang turned her down because they were so stuck up. But instead she wants to continue pursuing them despite their snobby rudeness to her. Even then she can see there is a good friend waiting in Moira, but keeps throwing it away because she is wasting time and energy trying to get in good with those snobs.

Silver linings do come out of the clouds in this story. As well as becoming more mature, confident and learning what true friends are made of, Meg also gets a glamorous job and possible future career out of it all. So life will become a lot better for Meg and her mother. And we can just see Lillian’s face when she finds out about Meg’s job.

Who is Astra? (1983)

Published: Mandy PSL #62

Reprint: Mandy PSL #211

Artist: Kim Raymond

Plot

Esther Blake is having a hike out on Storm Peak with her father and brother Tom. Suddenly, a storm comes in without warning and lightning strikes Esther. Her condition almost kills her several times in hospital, and she has to be revived by artificial respiration, hovering between life and death.

When Esther returns home she starts having nightmares of her family being cruel towards her. They force her to do all the work while mocking, bullying and beating her. They sneer at how she has to do everything by hand, with no modern labour-saving devices to help her. She is dressed in rags and the house is shabby and run down.

Then Esther’s cousin Astra arrives to stay. Everyone marvels at how she could be Esther’s twin, except for the colour of her hair. Esther notices how she and Astra are virtual mirror image opposites. Astra even has the same scar on her left arm that Esther has on her right. Hmm, doppelganger alert here?

What the story pays less attention to verbally, but can be seen in most of the panels, is that Astra is wearing a star-shaped necklace. Meanwhile, Astra is making odd remarks about things she should not know about that have Esther becoming suspicious of her – in a worried sort of way.

In true doppelganger fashion, Astra is soon causing big trouble for Esther. She plays sly tricks to get Esther into trouble with the family and then sweetly telling them, oh please, please, don’t blame Esther. What makes it so easy is that the family always seem to instantly believe the worst of Esther despite Astra’s sugary sweet attempts to convince them otherwise – as if they were being poisoned or under a spell of some sort. And while they are harsh with Esther, they make a big fuss over Astra and what a sweet girl she is.

It’s exactly the same thing at school once Astra starts there with Esther. Astra’s tricks and everyone oddly assuming the worst of Esther all the time soon get Esther into big trouble with the teachers and losing her friends. Esther’s performance begins to suffer, both academically and athletically, and it’s not just because of Astra. Esther feels oddly tired and unwell and can’t understand why. Esther is soon pushed out of the sports teams while Astra takes her place. Everyone comments on Astra’s sporting performance being just like what Esther’s used to be (another clue?).

By now Esther has realised that Astra is pushing her out of everything and deliberately turning everyone against her. But she soon finds trying to speak out does no good with everyone just assuming the worst of her all the time.

Meanwhile the nightmares continue, but now they seem to be more than just nightmares. In one dream, the evil family chase Esther into brambles and thorns. When Esther wakes up she finds scratches on her arms and legs that were not there before. In another dream the abusers force her to scrub the floor until her hands are raw, and she still has to scrub. Next morning, Esther finds her hands look and feel exactly that way. She also suspects that Astra knows the contents of the dreams.

Then Esther dreams she is back on Storm Peak, and being hit by lightning. Astra and the evil parents come up behind her. Astra jeers that they have come for her, and eggs them on to carry Esther off. Esther breaks free of them but gets hit by lightning. When Esther wakes up, she is surprised to see Astra looking white and scared for a change. She realises Astra is scared because she knows about the dream.

Realising the dream means something, Esther heads straight to Storm Peak first thing in the morning. As she climbs up the peak, she sees Astra has followed.

Astra explains that she is the evil side of Esther. The lightning accident caused her to come in from a parallel universe where everything is the opposite of what it is in this one. Her plan is to take Esther’s place in this universe and drive Esther into the other universe, where the abusive versions of Esther’s family are waiting. Sure enough, they start appearing and Astra urges them to take Esther.

But Esther doesn’t think so because there is something different about Astra this time. Next second she realises what it is – Astra does not have her necklace. When Astra sees this, she screams that she’s lost her protector – “He-elp!” (Oh dear, Astra, left the house in too much of a hurry, did you?) Then lightning strikes both girls. Esther falls unconscious. Presumably because the protector is missing, the evil parents grab Astra and ignore her pleas for them to take Esther instead.

When Esther regains consciousness she finds everything is back to normal. All trace of Astra has disappeared and nobody but Esther knows anything about her. It’s as if Astra never existed at all. Esther concludes it must have been a dream or something. But later, Esther gets a nasty shock when Mum turns up Astra’s necklace while spring-cleaning. Dream – or what?

Thoughts

Evil doubles that are created to cause trouble for the protagonist until the protagonist finds the way to destroy them are not new in girls’ comics. But this one goes way above the usual doppelganger format because it’s got so many other well-established, popular formats thrown into the mix as well: the Cinderella theme, abusive guardians, the scheming troublemaker, the evil influence theme, and the regrettably less-used theme of the alternate reality. What’s not to like about this story? It brings together so many of the DCT themes that are always so popular on their own. Together they make for a really intense, exciting and crackling story where the protagonist is attacked on all sides from the threats posed not only by the evil double but also by the other themes listed above.

The scheming troublemaker who pushes the protagonist out with nasty tricks was one of the most frequent themes at DCT, but this version really catches the eye because it has supernatural elements attached. There are hints that Astra is exerting some evil influence on everyone to make them act so negatively towards Esther. We suspect this even more so once it is revealed that Astra’s necklace has powers of some sort. And it’s not because the antagonist is just spiteful or jealous as most troublemakers usually are. It has a far more sinister purpose – to weaken Esther and soften her up for transportation to the alternate reality while Astra takes Esther’s place.

However sinister the undertones of the scheming troublemaker scenes, they don’t hold a candle to the night terror dreams. These are truly the best moments of the story and what make it truly frightening. It’s even more terrifying when we find out that this is actually the fate that lies in store for Esther if Astra succeeds. This makes the climactic scene of Esther struggling against the evil guardians all the more electrifying – and it’s not just the lightning.

Ironically, the nightmares of the evil guardians also add a sympathetic element to the evil Astra. When we see what life is like at home for Astra through Esther’s nightmares we can certainly understand why Astra wants to escape that universe. But we are not going to have her throw Esther into that hellish universe in her place.

Here the Cinderella theme of girls’ comics gets turned on its head. Instead of some talent helping her escape her misery and getting a happy ending, the Cinderella gets thrown back into that life of abuse and drudgery. We may feel a pang of pity for Astra there. Yet we still want her gone and are relieved she is back where she belongs – because unlike the protagonists of the Cinderella stories, she is evil.

Ashamed of Her Sister [1983]

 Published: Debbie PSL #70

Reprinted: Bunty PSL #420 as “She’s Guilty!”

Artist: Cover Dudley Wynne?; story unknown

Plot

Sixth former Carole Trent is school captain at Redways Boarding School, and her younger sister Julie is third former there. Carole Trent has always been popular, and has won several trophies for the school. But Carole’s popularity takes a dip when she gives some girls who were overzealous about cheering about their latest trophy 100 lines each for bad behaviour. Even Julie cops the lines and the girls, especially Cindy Barker, are furious with Carole. Later, Carole expresses disapproval at Julie being with Cindy’s crowd because they are such a bunch of troublemakers.

During the night someone breaks into the trophy cabinet and steals the trophies. The police find a pair of broken scissors and conclude the thief used them to break into the cabinet. That evening, Julie is puzzled to see Carole leaving the school grounds with a bag. Carole heads to an alley called Skinner’s Walk, because someone told her on the phone that the trophies will be there. She finds them, but as she leaves the alley the police catch her and don’t believe her story as to how she got them. In their view it looks like Carole stole them and now she is under a black cloud at school. She can’t actually be taken away from the school as the police have put her into the school’s care. So she is being kept under confinement in the sick bay while the investigation is underway. When word spreads, all the girls turn against Carole, especially the ones who are angry at those lines from her.

In sick bay, Carole tells Julie she received a phone call telling her where to pick up the trophies. The story was that the thief wanted to give the trophies back quietly. Carole foolishly agreed to collect the trophies without telling anyone. It is now clear that the whole thing was a setup and she walked straight into it. Julie resolves to find out who is behind it – but to have a better chance of doing so, she must pretend she’s turned against Carole over the whole business. Carole’s friend Jane Lytton, who seems to be the only friend Carole has left, is appalled at Julie’s sudden vociferousness in the way she has turned on her sister. This includes Julie joining demonstrations to get Carole expelled, which Jane furiously breaks up.

When the girls hear about the broken scissors they go to check Carole’s scissors. The scissors are missing, and a search fails to find them. Jane interrupts the search and tells them to clear off. Suspecting Cindy is behind everything and the scissors might be hers, Julie drops a hint that has the girls producing their scissors in order to see if one is missing. All the girls’ scissors are accounted for.

Then the detective searches Carole’s room himself and finds the broken scissors. Carole admits they are hers, but says they disappeared two days ago and were not broken then. Nobody seems to find it odd that the broken scissors somehow shifted from the scene of the crime to Carole’s room, especially as they should be in a police evidence bag. And why did the girls not find the broken scissors themselves when they searched the room earlier? Nonetheless, the evidence seems to be piling up against Carole.

Jane expresses fury at Julie over the way she is treating her sister. Her rage leads to odd comments about her being an orphan and the family history she has been doing. When Julie gets curious about the project, she seems to strike a nerve – Jane snaps at her and gives her 500 lines for impudence. Even more strangely, Jane tells Julie that Carole believes someone planted the scissors in her room, and accuses Julie of doing it! When Julie denies it, Jane says it must have been one of the girls. At this remark, Julie realises one of the girls could indeed have planted the scissors while pretending to help with the search. But if so, it could have been any of them.

Julie softens her pretence a bit to try a different tactic. She tells the girls Carole claims that someone framed her. If that is true, then the real culprit would have been missing from school that evening. As planned, this has all the girls accounting for their whereabouts at that time. Everyone seems to have an alibi, but Sarah says something odd – she went to see Jane about lines, but was kept waiting for one-and-a-half hours because Jane was not around. (In other words, Jane has no alibi for that time and was missing when she shouldn’t have been…?) Sarah then explodes with fury and turns on Julie, says Julie was trying to catch her out for something she didn’t do, and she’s as bad as her sister, etc, etc. Just then, Jane breaks them up.

Julie tells Carole that all her suspects are in the clear because they have alibis for that time (except Jane, maybe?), but then gets another lead. Carole has orange paint on her shoes that must have come from her trip to Skinner’s Walk. Realising the culprit might have gotten the same paint on herself as well, Julie heads to Skinner’s Walk. She finds the paint, now dried. Carole’s footprint is there, and there is a smeary mark beneath it, which Julie deduces was made by the enemy.

The next call is to check everyone’s shoes for the orange paint, but Julie finds none. Then, when Julie checks Cindy’s holdall to see if it has the paint on it, the girls catch her and chase her lynch-mob style, accusing her of stealing and then (correctly) snooping because she thinks they set her sister up. Julie takes refuge in Jane’s study, where she declares she thinks she can prove who stole the trophies. Jane keeps the girls out and asks Julie to explain.

All of a sudden, Julie accuses Jane of being the culprit. She planted the scissors in Carole’s room for the police to find after kicking the girls out. The reason Sarah had to wait one-and-a-half hours for Jane that night was because Jane was out stealing the trophies, making the phone call to Carole, and setting up the trap at Skinner’s Walk. Her proof? She saw Jane’s holdall on her desk – and it has the orange paint on it!

At this, Jane suddenly goes berserk. She attacks Julie and yells that her family has hurt her and killed her mother. Hearing the commotion, the girls, Carole and two other sixth formers burst in and demand to know what’s going on. Jane directs them to her family school project. The Brent family of Dingham Hall wrongly accused Jane’s mother, who was one of their servants, of stealing silver candlesticks. The real thief confessed in the end, but it came too late for Jane’s mother; she had died of a broken heart in prison. Jane’s frameup of Carole had been her revenge against the Brent family. Carole then informs Jane she overlooked one thing with her project – there were two Brent families living in Dingham. Theirs had no connection to Dingham Hall and had nothing to do with Jane’s mother.

The authorities decide Jane needs more help than punishment. So they take no action, although Jane has to leave the school. Carole forgives her too. Carole is now more popular than ever and so grateful to Julie for what she did.

Thoughts

This is a solid detective story, and the cover Julie has to undergo is a heartbreaking one – pretending she has turned on her own sister and giving the impression of family disloyalty. She even has to join protest demonstrations to get Carole expelled to make it even more convincing. It must be even worse than for protagonists like Marie Bonnet “The Cat” who have to pretend to side with the enemy in order to be a secret helper. In contrast, Jane appears to be the only one who is loyal to Carole and be the real brick that stands by the protagonist while everyone else goes against her, no matter what. Friends like these have appeared in so many girls’ stories, such as Beth Parker in Bunty’s “Move over Maria”. Only in this case it is not for real – it turns out to be a case of it being the person you least suspect. It was so fortunate that neither Julie or Carole took Jane into their confidence about what they were planning although they still thought Jane was Carole’s friend.

The red herrings established at the beginning of the story are well done. It’s only natural Julie’s suspicions fall on Cindy and her gang as their grudge against Carole began only hours before the affair began, and they have a reputation for causing trouble. And who else could it be? Nobody else is known to hate Carole for any reason. The real clues are done in a more deft, subtle manner that you don’t quite pick up on until Julie suddenly accuses Jane, right out of the blue. If the story had been in colour you would have known it was Jane if you could see the actual orange on her holdall, but you can’t with the black and white print.

The frameup itself is quite clever. The only thing that does not fit is how Jane managed to plant the scissors when the police found them at the scene of the crime and therefore should be in an evidence bag. It would have made more sense for the police to find the piece that broke off the scissors at the scene of the crime, and then the broken scissors the piece came from be found in Carole’s study.

The story of Jane’s mother being a servant who is wrongly accused of stealing candlesticks sounds more like something that would happen in Victorian times than say, the 1970s or so, considering the time the story is set in. Sure, we don’t know the full circumstances of how the mother came to be wrongly accused of stealing the candlesticks or what the evidence was against her. But it would have sounded more credible to have the false charge happen to an ancestor of Jane’s and the tragedy still deeply affecting Jane’s family.

Jane falls into the trap that so many revenge seekers in girls’ comics fall into – they find out that they did not have their facts straight, the person they were targeting was entirely innocent, and their revenge was all for nothing. In Jane’s case it is even more tragic because she was once a genuine friend for Carole before her mistaken assumptions about the Brent family turned her into a very disturbed girl who blames them for her mother’s death and wants to give them a taste of their own medicine with wrongful accusations. The tragedy is ameliorated somewhat by the view the authorities and Carole take about Jane, but Jane now has to live with a guilt complex and feeling a complete idiot.

The £100,000 Headache (1980)

Published: Debbie Picture Library #33

Artist: Ian Kennedy (cover); Candido Ruiz Pueyo (story)

Plot

Sandra Painter’s family are not rich; her bicycle, for example, is getting ancient. But she’s got lots of friends and happy with her lot. Then Dad tells her and her brother Billy that they’ve won £100,000 on the pools. Sandra and Billy are all set to shout it to the world when Dad stops them. He’s heard stories on how the lotto curse has ruined lives and is not going to have that happen to him. So they’re going to keep their win a secret. They are not going to get carried away with flash cars, posh houses and such. The new things and renovations they will get will be done discreetly and the story will be that they have had a bit of luck, and they’ll show that having money makes no difference at all.

But as they soon discover, it does make a difference. The neighbours and kids at school can’t help but notice things the renovations being done professionally instead of Mr Painter doing it himself, which they think is strange. And it’s showing the rest of the neighbourhood up too. The kids at school see Sandra’s got flash new clothes and bicycle and we can sense jealousy in the way they comment on it. The worst is Edna Egon, who is constantly making nasty remarks about it and Sandra.

The new dudes are making Sandra a standout in school, but it’s proving awkward and causing embarrassments. For example, the teachers keep picking out Sandra for answering questions or running unwelcome errands because they are now noticing her too much. Sandra has to lock her new bicycle whereas she didn’t need to with the old one because it was not worth stealing. Then she loses the key and has to borrow a hacksaw! She comments that such things would never have happened with her old bicycle. On top of that, it causes her to mess up the errand teach lumbered her with, and when she gets home she messes up her new clothes on the paint being used for the redecorating. Dad comments that she wouldn’t have been so careless in the old days. Sandra finds she is beginning to miss things from the old days and she preferred some of the old things to everything they have bought anew.

Dad is encountering the same problems as Sandra; he says he is not going to darts club because everyone is getting wary of him. Later on in the story Billy says it’s just the same for him: everyone is picking on him. Sandra suggests they try sharing their good fortune, but in ways without hurting people’s pride.

They start with Dad offering his friend George Clark a lift in his new car. Sandra tries treating everyone at the canteen, but they accuse her of trying to buy popularity and will pay for themselves, thank you very much. Then Dad presents two new athletics trophies to the school. But Dad forgot that athletics are Sandra’s forte and it would be conflict of interest if she wins the trophy. Moreover, people remark that the competitors will let Sandra win because her dad donated the trophy. Sandra tries deliberately losing, and let her friend Wendy (George Clark’s daughter) win, but everyone realises what she did. Wendy is furious with Sandra for what she thought was favours, as it was not an honest win for her. Meanwhile, Dad messes things up even more when he generously has the Clarks’ car taken away for repairs at his expense – without consulting them first. The Clarks are furious, not only because they are proud but also because they thought their car had been stolen. After this, Sandra finds none of her friends are speaking to her at the leisure centre.

Dad miscalculates yet again when he sees Sandra standing miserably outside a ballet shop and assumes she wants ballet lessons. So without consulting her, he gets her expensive ballet gear and lessons at the more posh part of town. In fact, Sandra hates ballet, proves completely hopeless at it at her first lesson, and the other ballet students are a snobbish lot who won’t have anything to do with her. On top of that, her new bicycle got stolen while she was having the lesson.

The whole family is finding that everything has been going wrong since they won the money. It’s spilling out into frayed nerves and constant rows, which they never had before they won the money. For example, Dad unfairly accuses Sandra of letting the money go to her head and being careless over the bike theft. He’s a fine one to talk about being careless – he was saying this instead of watching his driving, and his new car hits a gatepost! Sandra has had enough of her classmates making such nasty remarks about her turning into Miss Posh, especially Edna, and lashes out at them. Billy is in a bad temper because everyone is picking on him, and when he’s in a bad mood he does something stupid. In this case it’s flying his new motor plane in the school playing fields out of hours. Sandra knows this could lead to trouble. She realises that giving the motor plane to Billy was another of Dad’s bad moves, which was compounded by Dad being too busy to teach Billy how to use it properly. Sure enough, Billy can’t control the plane properly and it smashes into a neighbour’s greenhouse. The neighbour is furious and the school janitor says they are in big trouble for trespass and damage. Now their parents are even worse, and there will be the headmistress to face next morning.

Next day, Billy runs away because of what happened. Sandra goes in search of him. Her classmates stop making their unkind remarks when they hear Billy’s missing. Even Edna changes her attitude. They promise to help if they can. Sandra decides the places to check are Billy’s favourite haunts. She soon locates him, and when they get home they find his disappearance has helped to patch things up with the people the Painters fell out with.

Dad comes home and says he has lost the money. He made a stupid investment with it – “didn’t take proper advice” – with a dodgy firm, who have now disappeared and being hunted by the police. However, Sandra and Billy cheer and tell Dad that losing the money was the cleverest thing he ever did with it. The Painters are now pretty much back to the way they were and glad for it. Their friends are back and now everyone knows the whole story.

 

Thoughts

When Dad wins the fortune he comes across as a whole lot more sensible than the Mill parents in Judy’s Minnie the Meanie, who lost the whole fortune they won on the pools because they did everything wrong: they broadcast the news of their good fortune to everyone in town, which made them prey to vultures out to take advantage; they did not save, invest or put any of the money where it would generate further income for them; worst of all, they just wouldn’t stop spending the money, despite danger signals that it was running out because of this.

Dad has clearly learned from stories like these and he tries to do everything right. But we know from the title of the story that things are not going to work out that way. Dad’s decisions on what to do with the money prove to be ill-conceived because he is not thinking things through or checking them out properly, and everything he does with the money blows up in his face one way or other. He turns out to be as incapable of handling a vast sum of money as the Mill parents.

Although the Painters are sensible enough not to flaunt the money and throw it around like confetti as the Mill parents do, they soon find out they are mistaken in believing money makes no difference. The overhaul they make to their entire household makes them stand apart too much from their less-wealthy neighbours. Instead of being just one of the gang as they were before, they look too far above themselves for their friends and neighbours to take. And of course people get jealous and resentful. The Painters try to win them over with generosity and sharing their good fortune with them. But rather than people getting greedy and taking advantage, as they do in Minnie the Meanie, it all just goes wrong all the time. In the end, the best thing for the Painters to do with the money was lose it altogether, and give the old adage “money does not buy happiness” a whole new appreciation.

Share and Share Alike! [1988]

  • Share and Share Alike! – Mandy PSL: #121 [1988]
  • Reprinted – Mandy PSL: #269
  • Cover Art: Norman Lee
  • Inside Art: Tom Hurst

Plot

Sheila and Sharon Terry are twins that are constantly fighting, much to the exasperation of their parents. While they know their daughters do actually care for each other, they are  also fiercely competitive and jealous. They don’t like to see each other get what they think is favoritism. Whether it’s Dad cleaning Sharon’s bike, or Mom making Sheila her favourite sandwiches for lunch. Each perceives the other as having the jealousy problem and their parents have had enough. They tell them from now on everything will be shared and they will get treated exactly the same. The twins are delighted and finally agree that this is what they always wanted.

They are soon to realise it’s not as great a deal as they initially thought,  when at breakfast the next morning they do get exactly the same thing – but it’s something neither of them like. Mom’s logic being they can at least agree on that. Then on the way to school Sharon gets a puncture, and receives lines for being late. Dad’s not going to help her fix the bike because he’s tired of being accused of favourtism. But Mom makes Sheila help so they can share the burden and they even make her write out lines. This trend continues so when a dog causes Sharon to drop shopping breaking jars, they both have to pay. The girls are aware that their parents think they are clever, but they figure they can out smart them by upping the “share and share alike” mentality. They go for a boat trip and when dad comes looking for them they say they haven’t returned because they were using one oar, rowing in circles! When they do exactly same work at school, resulting in a letter from the headmistress, Mom thinks they should call it off but Dad is not broken so easily. He clears things up with the headmistress, and lets the wins know schoolwork is not to be shared.

Perhaps because they are working together to try and outsmart their parents, it ends up having the desired affect of them actually getting along. But then this is quickly undone when when Sheila waits for Sharon after school, and Sharon thinks she’s already gone home. The reason Sharon was delayed was Miss Brett called her over to tell her they have both been selected to cross country competition and Sharon had asked Sheila to wait for her. (This is a bit odd as they were both selected and Sheila was also right there, why didn’t Miss Brett talk to the both of them?!) Now they both intend to win and are more competitive than ever! Then during training, Sheila takes a risk trying to pass Sharon out and falls into the river. Sharon jumps after them and together they make it to shore but Sheila gets sick after. Luckily it’s not too serious but it does mean she is out of the race. On the day of the race Sharon is uncharacteristically quiet. Sharon has a tough race ahead of her and back home Sheila can picture the race and where Sharon would be. Sharon feels Sheila willing her on and is determined to win for both of them. She succeeds and at home the twins are delighted and they will share the cup. Their parents are optimistic that this is the end of their feud.

Thoughts

Favouritism can be a sensitive issue, whether it’s justified or not. There may be a slight issue here of a parent doing extra for a daughter at times but certainly not to any extreme and it’s clear the parents love both daughters. I am reminded of another picture story library book Unfair to Favourites although in that case there is a clear case of favouritism and the sisters get along fine, the resolution is also through a sport (gymnastics).  In this story what the twins perceive of favourtism is made worse by their jealousy. It is when the “share and share alike” rule is brought in, it shows how petty some of their complaints were. Such as arguing about who took the last of the marmalade or toast when they could both be given cereal they don’t like instead for breakfast.

It is a clever idea by the parents, although it seems Dad is much more willing to see it through no matter what! It is fun to see Sharon and Sheila try to outsmart their parents. It’s a pity their teamwork is in a fragile state that it breaks down after argument and they become competitive over race. Then when Sheila nearly drowns things change, perhaps they take mom’s talking to, to heart or it’s the realisation that they would not want to lose each other, but whatever the reason the twins grow closer. Sharon and Sheila feel connected during the race and Sheila knows Sharon has won even before they get the phone call. It’s hard to tell if the “share and share alike” rule did help overall or if this would have happened anyway when they were both picked for cross country. In any case at the end of the story Mom and Dad decide it’s best not to make a big deal out of dropping the rule, but I’d hope that even if they did bring it up that Sharon and Sheila’s relationship is stronger to survive that now.