Category Archives: Picture Story Library

Loser Lou (1981) and “I’ll Make You a Winner” (1983)

Published: Loser Lou – Bunty PSL #214; “I’ll Make You a Winner” – Bunty #240 (sequel)

Artist: John McNamara

These two PSLs starring Lou Lambert are being looked at together in a joint entry.

Special thanks to Lorrsadmin for scans of the second PSL.

Plot – Loser Lou

Lou Lambert and her family are spending a holiday at the Summerton Sports Centre because they are sports fiends and champions: Dad (golf), Mum (swimming), Lynn (athletics), Larry (martial arts), and Lou…“the world’s worst at sports and games”, and the kids back home call her “Loser Lou”. But Lou’s a Lambert, her family says, and Lamberts are winners. They tell her she’ll find a sport she’s good at. In the Lambert family, says Dad, “there are no such words as ’I can’t.’ We add two letters of the alphabet to them, and say, ‘I can try!’” So, although it looks like Lou may have skipped the Lambert sports gene, she has to keep trying.

Lou tries basketball, but she can’t match the players’ speed, and then she trips over her shoelace, sending players and the hoop crashing. Lynn advises her to look at a sport that’s more suited for her build (hmmm…considering her build, that could be tricky). Lou tries orienteering, but she gets horribly lost, not to mention getting a horrible blister on her foot. Next, Lou looks at a power-assisted sport. Deciding the motorised water sports are a bit beyond her, she tries cycling although she was never much good at it when she was younger. She soon finds she has not improved much since then, and then she lands herself in a cycling race. To cap it all, a newspaper flies in her face, sending her through someone’s picnic and then into the river.

Lou’s brother Larry tells her “winning is all in the mind! If you think you’re going to lose, you will lose – but if you’re sure you’re going to win, you will win!” Impressed, Lou works on boosting her confidence. She tries tennis next, but she’s barely got started when she challenges an opponent – without realising she’s Wimbledon standard! Lou comes a cropper over the tennis net and has to report to first aid.

Following this, Lou becomes disheartened, but her father, disappointed at her attitude, encourages her to try again. Lou tries archery, and she’s really smitten by the instructor – what a hunk! But her crush on the instructor is proving a distraction. In her drive to impress she pulls the bow too hard, and her arrow goes wild. While dodging it, the instructor hurts his leg, and now archery’s off at Summerton.

The Lamberts are now over halfway through their stay at Summerton. There will be a Grand Gala Display on the final day, and so far, nothing for Lou to show there.

Then, while watching Lynn practise athletics, Lou meets Monica. After hearing Lou’s story, Monica tells her that she failed at those sports because she was on her own when she tried them. What she needs, says Monica, is a sport where she will have the support of a friend. So she pursuades Lynn to try riding: “A girl’s best friend is her pony!”

Lynn is apprehensive, but is surprised to find herself a natural in the saddle and not messing things up at all. Before long, Lou’s family are astonished to see the strides Lou is making at jumping. Monica is going to enter Lou in the jumping competition on Gala Day. It looks like Lou has found her sport at last. Surely nothing can go wrong now.

But of course something can…

Lou doesn’t realise Monica has a grudge against her sister Lynn because Lynn’s superiority at the high jump had her scratch from the Gala Day high jump event. Her revenge is to make Lou foul up at the jumping event by switching her mount, Good Boy, with his evil twin, Bad Lad. She takes further measures to put Bad Lad in a nasty mood for the event, one of which Lou unwittingly foils.

Bad Lad’s threatening to throw Lou when the event begins, but Monica is astonished when Lou not only stays in the saddle but completes clear rounds as well while other riders score faults. Afterwards, Lou says she was too scared to even move and kept her eyes shut – WTF you ask? Yes, it is a puzzle, but the fact remains that Lou did win. So she is among the other Lamberts to receive trophies at the prize-giving and can say she’s a winner at last.

Plot – “I’ll Make You a Winner”

Back home, everyone is surprised at this sports trophy Loser Lou has brought back from Summerton. Lou’s confidence is so high, she’s joined the civic sports club. Only Corinne Fox guesses the trophy was a fluke. Figuring Lou’s as much a duffer as ever at sport, Corinne and her father, who’s on the committee at the club, plot to take advantage of this to get the sports club closed down so he can build a bingo hall on the site.

Fox starts by getting Lou the assistant secretary job at the club, where she’ll be in charge of all the fixtures. The plan is to mislead her on a few details on the events she’s arranging, and for good measure, Corinne throws in some dirty tricks as well.

Their first trick has Lou select a darts team for an event that’s in fact a brain of sports competition. But they didn’t count on Lou knowing so many answers to the sports questions that get asked. Yep, Lou may not be sporty, but she knows heaps about sport thanks to her sporty family. She gives her team so much confidence that they answer brilliantly too, and they win the trophy hands down. To make Fox even more furious, they also impressed the mayoress, who was presenting the trophy, when he was trying to convince her and the council otherwise to get the club closed down.

Next, Corinne tricks Lou into challenging the top-class white water club, without realising they are top windsurfers and it’s a championship event, and nobody in the club is qualified in that sport. But when the Foxes read the paper of the event, they discover Lou has done it again. The weather turned in her favour by turning bad, cancelling the event. What’s more, the lifesaver Lou included on her team saved one of the windsurfers who got caught in the bad weather, which is even more good publicity for the club. Foiled again, Fox!

Lou makes bookings for club members at an activity weekend, but again the Foxes mess up her bookings. Instead of sports activities they find themselves on furniture crafts courses. However, this works out in their favour; the club’s furniture and sports equipment were badly in need of repairs, and now they have the know-how to do some DIY jobs on them.

Lou books a gym display club open day, but bad luck strikes when she puts a bad crick in her back while shifting equipment. The Foxes try to mess up the open day by inviting army gymnasts as guests, but when the guys break equipment because they’re too heavy for it, they offer replacements, so the club gets the new equipment it badly needs.

Deciding the club needs funds, Lou decides on a sponsored canoe race against Chatterton College. Again the Foxes mislead her on just what the Chatterton competition will be like, and they are another lot of Olympic-build powerdrivers all set to outmatch Lou’s team. Corinne throws in a few extra dirty tricks, including putting up a number of misleading signs, to make sure Lou’s team fail. Without realising it, Lou stops her team from falling for any of those signs (she didn’t want them to leave her in the middle of nowhere by following them, as her back was playing up). And within the finishing line, the Chatterton team hit something. Their canoes go down, and Lou’s team wins.

Fox arranges for a football medical expert to sort out Lou’s back, who then introduces her to stage one of a fitness programme the footballers have been using. Lou starts teaching it to the club members in the style that has become her signature since joining: typical Loser Lou bungling, yet things always work out somehow. But what Lou doesn’t realise is that stage two of the fitness programme is at an R.A.F. airfield – and its programme includes parachute jumping practice! If the members don’t participate, says Mr Fox, the mayor and council, who are watching, might close down their hall and turn it into a bingo hall. But neither they nor the footballers are willing to jump, and the spectators are getting impatient.

Lou has arrived late, so she doesn’t know any of this as she handed an automatic-opening parachute kit and told to join the others at the Jumping Tower. The bumbling Lou blunders right through the jumping hole, becoming the first jumper and satisfying the restless crowd. Encouraged by Lou’s (accidental) example, her team follows suit. And so Lou’s civic club wins again.

Impressed that Lou has done what the footballers wouldn’t, the Mayor refuses Fox permission to replace the sports hall with a bingo hall. Instead, he’s giving the members a grant to expand their activities.

All Corinne and her father can do now is give up. “All our plans have failed – because of that Lou Lambert! Somehow, she always lands on her feet!”

Ah, so that explains Lou’s victory over Monica’s sabotage at Summerton.

Thoughts

Lou Lambert comes from a long line of protagonists in girls’ comics who try to prove themselves, but they only seem good for failure and be a walking disaster area at everything they try. As with Lou, their failures can be played for laughs. Or it can be for a sadder purpose, with their being the constant target of bullying and ridicule, along with harsh treatment from their own families for failure, such as in Make Headlines, Hannah! (Tammy) and Tears of a Clown (Jinty). Of course they eventually strike gold and find something they excel at, but the road to success is very bumpy. Added to that, there’s often a schemer at work trying to sabotage them.

Lou is so blessed in having a family who are supportive and encourage her to keep trying. The more usual pattern is for the family to treat the protagonist harshly and write her off as hopeless and good for nothing. Worse, it’s often the family that produces the spiteful schemer out to sabotage them (sisters, cousins). Of course, much the Lamberts’ encouragement comes from belief in the family name (Lamberts are winners) and the family motto, so they won’t hear of her quitting.

Lou’s family could do more to help her, such as helping her with her choices and offering a bit of coaching, but they’re probably too absorbed in their own sports. Lou’s left on her own on what sports to try out at Summerton.

Monica is correct about Lou failing at the various sports because she tried them on her own. In fact, Lou’s pattern was to jump straight into them them without any help, training or coaching (apart from the archery). Moreover, they were all sports she had not tried before, and when she tried them on her own, she did so at the deep end, not the beginner level.

It’s jarring when Monica, the helper, suddenly switches to spiteful schemer out to undermine Lou. It also defeats the whole purpose of the PSL, which was, after all, Lou finding a sports talent of her own and proving it could make her a winner. Instead, you’re left feeling Lou won the trophy by fluke or luck rather than talent. Though she still earned the trophy, considering the stunt Monica pulled on her, we’re left with feeling she has still not really proven talent. It proves Corinna’s point that the win was a fluke. It would have been better for Lou to have won the cup through her own skill and growing confidence, and proven beyond doubt that she had a sports talent.

So, when readers who remember Lou start reading her sequel, they will be wondering if Lou really does prove talent this time. From the cover, one would say not, so why is Lou saying, “I’ll make you a winner”?

Lou certainly has gained confidence by winning the trophy, but is confidence enough? It is disappointing that she is not keeping up the horse riding, the one sport she finally hit her stride on. Instead, she’s pursuing the sports centre and the sports there (table tennis, darts, fitness programmes) in pretty much the same manner she did at the failed sports at Summerton.

The irony is, although Lou’s still bumbling, this time she’s achieving more success through it and it’s helping her to save the day – without even realising what happened in the first place. And Lou’s real talent has surfaced: the talent of always landing on her feet, like a cat with nine lives. This was hinted at with her victory at Summerton, but now it’s confirmed beyond doubt in her sequel.

Such things have been seen before, such as “Simple Simona” (Tammy) – a dopey girl who is perpetually targeted by spiteful schemers, but her blundering ways always foil them in great comic style, without her even realising what happened. But here, Lou’s blundering has the unexpected bonus of things nobody would have thought possible with her before. She has not only become more confident but has also become a confidence booster, inspiring confidence, inspiration and success in others.

Lou may not be winning sports trophies, but she is proving herself a winner in other ways and making whole new strides with success in sport that nobody ever expected – herself included. As Corinne says, “The civic sports club was only half alive before she turned up and my dad had almost persuaded the council to close it down.” Now Lou is not only saving the club (without realising it) but giving it a whole new lease of life as well. She is surprising everyone – even the Foxes – in being able to tackle things far better than expected, such as selecting the darts team. Lou is also handling the sports fixtures far better than expected, and if not for the sneaky Foxes messing things up, she’d be doing a brilliant job of it. And she is doing a most enthusiastic, passionate job of improving the club and its members, and helping them to grow even more than before.

The irony is, it started with Mr Fox giving her the assistant secretary job in the hope it would help him close the club. Instead, it does the opposite. Moreover, rather than falling flat on her face in her new job, it gives her another boost of confidence and whole new windows in achieving success, including new-found skills in management, leadership, and inspiring others. Even without becoming a sports champion and winning trophies like the rest of her family, she is making her mark on the club and the world of sport. The club would not be the same without her, and readers are left satisfied that Loser Lou will get along just fine now.

They All Hate Hetty! (1975)

Published: Bunty PSL #146

Artists: Cover – Jack Martin; story – Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Special thanks to Goof for making the entry possible with scans.

Plot

Hester “Hetty” Mellish and her parents have only just moved to the isolated village of Widdivale when Dad is hospitalised in a road accident and Mum has to go to lodgings to be near him. Hetty is left in charge of a neighbour, Mrs Jones.

Hetty is curious to track down her great-grandmother, a Mrs Turvy who lived in Cubby’s Cottage in Widdivale. When Hetty finds Cubby’s Cottage, it is a rundown, neglected place, and then a couple of children suddenly run away in terror when they see her there. Tracking them down to sort things out, Hetty finds their mother, Mrs Preston, acting equally hostile and scared at her poking around Cubby’s Cottage. Mrs Preston warns Hetty to stay away from there and then slams the door in her face.

Next stop is the churchyard, where Hetty hopes to find her great-grandmother’s grave. She eventually finds it behind an overgrown bush, and the headstone bears the name Hester Turvy, the same first name as hers. But Hetty is astonished that the headstone is so neglected and kept behind the overgrown bush while every other headstone is kept immaculate – as if someone wanted it out of sight and mind. She tries to clean up the grave.

While she does, Sam Wiles, the man in charge of the graves, turns up. When he hears Hester Turvy was her great-grandmother, shares the same first name, and even looks like her, he suddenly goes scared and crazy and goes off spreading wild tales that Hetty is descended from Hester Turvy the village witch, come back to plague the village. Witch beliefs still persist in the village, and great-grandmother Turvy was believed to be a witch. From what Hetty and Mrs Jones can gather, it was all rumour mongering that arose because she lived alone, looked rather formidable, and, as the story later reveals, had a recipe book, which must have sparked tales of “a spell book”.

The whole village turns against Hetty, now believed to be a witch like her great-grandmother. When Hetty comes, people flee in terror, jeer and throw stones, or slam their doors shut. Wiles is spearheading the campaign to drive her out. He takes to the soapbox on a tree stump in the village square rabble-rousing the villagers, fanning the flames against Hetty, and urging people to burn down Cubby’s Cottage, saying it must be the source of her power. He even pays off Freddy and his friend Tom to spy on Hetty for any “witch” activity.

Mrs Jones remains Hetty’s only friend and staunchly stands up for her against Wiles, the persecution, and the crazy stories that get going. She knows how those villagers are so easily infected by gossip as they don’t have much else to occupy their minds with.

As is usual with these types of stories, strange things seem to happen and attract themselves to Hetty. The villagers start to imagine things that started when Hetty arrived. Good deeds Hetty tries to do to prove she’s all right just go wrong and look like more witchcraft. All of them inflame hatred against Hetty. There are rational explanations, and Mrs Jones helps Hetty to scotch a number of them, but it can’t really stop the persecution or Sam Wiles and his hate mongering.

Among them, Hetty tries to clean up the cottage and makes a makeshift broom for the job, but when the villagers see the broom, it sparks rumours it’s a witch’s broomstick. She acquires a cat, Tinker, who got left behind when his previous owner moved. Although the villagers know Tinker, they scream he’s the witch’s cat as he’s black, and throw stones at him. The frightened cat takes refuge in Cubby’s Cottage. While looking for Tinker in the cottage, Hetty finds great-grandmother’s old recipe book and tries a recipe for cowslip tea. She does not realise Wiles and his spies are watching her, and Wiles orders them to watch Hetty and that “spell book” very closely. The boys steal the cowslip tea, and Tom dares Freddy to drink it. Soon after, Freddy grows ill and his mother accuses Hetty of poisoning him with her witch’s brew. However, when Mrs Jones and Hetty investigate, they find Freddy is merely sick from eating too many sweets, which he admits were bought with the money Wiles gave him for information received.

The village fete comes up, and Mrs Jones is sure it will distract the villagers from Hetty. Hetty decides to contribute a doll in the hopes it will help the villagers to see she’s okay. No such luck.

When Hetty tries to be friendly and smiling to the villagers, crazy old Wiles starts the rumour that the “witch-girl” will harm Mrs Jones, the way Hester Turvy used to harm “innocent folk”. Oh, no, we can guess what happens next…

Sure enough, Mrs Jones soon has an accident and is sent to hospital. Hetty is blamed when the villagers see the doll – the doll’s dress is made from the same material as Mrs Jones’ and a needle is stuck where Mrs Jones got injured. It looks like Wiles’ “prediction” that Hetty would harm Mrs Jones by witchcraft has come true. At any rate, Hetty has lost her only friend and now faces the villagers’ hostility alone. She decides to stick things out so as not to worry her parents.

When Hetty donates the doll to the fete, the villagers refuse to touch it. Then a violent storm strikes, and the villagers blame Hetty although the weather forecast had warned about sudden storms. Wiles renews the call to burn down Cubby’s Cottage. Back home, there’s a note on the gate: “Get Out, Witch!”

Next day, Hetty decides to do just that. She packs a suitcase and strikes out for her mother’s lodgings, to tell her what’s been going on. But then, something tells her to go back to Cubby’s Cottage.

At Cubby’s Cottage, Hetty finds Freddy and Tom have been at it again. They tried to burn down Cubby’s Cottage for a lark, but it backfired on them when the fire got out of control. The cottage is going up like a torch, and Freddy is trapped in there. Hetty braves the flames to rescue him, but is soon in danger of becoming trapped herself. Then great-grandmother’s ghost appears and helps them both to safety.

After this, the villagers decide the great-grandmother wasn’t a witch after all and stop their persecution of Hetty. Weeks later, after Dad has recovered, the villagers want to make it up to Hetty, and they start by cleaning up great-grandmother’s grave. As Hetty and her mother inspect their work, great-grandmother’s ghost is doing the same and smiling.

Thoughts

Lingering witch beliefs in British villages have inspired numerous girls’ serials with the “descended from the village witch” formula. Other stories to use it include “Bad-Luck Barbara” (Mandy) and “Witch!” (Bunty). The formula is used to make a statement about the stupidities of witch beliefs, superstition and mass hysteria, and that 20th century people ought to be living in the 20th century, not the 16th century. And of course, illustrate how idiotic gossip and rumour-mongering can get as rapidly and dangerously out of control as the fire in the story.

The story is a little different from the formula its counterparts usually take, which makes it more interesting and novel. Usually there is an ambivalence about the things that happen, leaving readers to wonder if there really is something weird going on and the girl really is developing strange powers, or if it’s all coincidence, rational explanations, law of attraction or whatever. Here, the strange things all have rational explanations. In the end, it turns out there really is a supernatural force after all (something these types of stories usually hint at but keep ambiguous) – great-grandmother’s ghost, but it turns out to be benign and had nothing to do with the goings on the villagers blamed on Hetty. Also, instead of being a pervasive influence throughout the story, which is the more usual pattern, it only appears at the climax. It doesn’t even manifest during Hetty’s earlier visits to Cubby’s Cottage.

The story is also different in having males as the main persecutors. More often, they are female and don’t seem to be in it for much more than bullying, though personal gain can be linked to it. But it is logical to have ringleader as an older man, perhaps old enough to remember great-grandmother when she was alive, and his occupation (sexton) ties in well with how the whole thing starts. Being a man, and a respected one as the village sexton, would give him a whole lot more authority and power as a rabble-rouser against Hetty. Having the two boys as the main antagonists in the persecution and Wiles’ flunkies also makes sense. By nature they are scamps, and it’s obvious they get into all sorts of mischief. Persecuting a “witch” is the perfect excuse to cause mischief and worse with impunity, plus there’s money in it. After nearly getting themselves killed by their own mischief, maybe they will think twice about pranks and dares in future.

There is always a single person in these types of stories who serves as the girl’s only friend and sticks up for her against the persecutors (the girl’s parents are always useless for one reason or other). Usually it’s another girl who’s new to the village and therefore does not think the way the superstitious village idiots do. But this case, the story takes the unusual step of making her an adult who’s lived there for a long time, knows those gossiping, small-minded villagers all too well, and has friends among them. An adult is much more effective as an ally than a mere girl. An adult, and certainly one like Mrs Jones, is much more capable of standing up to those village idiots and trying to talk sense into them, or at least try to make them shut up.

As is common with similar stories DCT has produced, the protagonist eventually loses her only supporter, making her position even more precarious. And no matter how she tries to ride the storm, the situation inevitably reaches crisis point. If not for the supernatural intervention, Hetty and her parents would have been forced to leave the village altogether, which happened in “Witch!”

The ending – the persecution ending with the girl proving her goodness by saving lives and being accepted as a heroine – has been seen before in these types of stories. It usually comes off as pat and unrealistic because in real life, once witch believers think someone’s a witch, the label sticks and cannot be unstuck. But here we have a supernatural element taking a hand, and when there is one, we know things will be all right, which makes the ending more acceptable. And, unlike similar stories, we get to see the original “witch” finally happy and able to rest in peace after being persecuted in both life and death, which makes it even more satisfying.

The Doll’s House

  • The Doll’s House – Debbie PSL: #155 [1991]
  • Mystery Stories from Damian Darke

Plot

Damian Darke tells the story of a cursed Doll’s House and how it affects each new owner.

The story starts in the the 19th century, with Charlotte and her new doll’s house, that she shows off to visitors; Amanda Carter and her father. We think this will be the house of the story title, but when jealous Amanda causes Charlotte to fall on the house and break it, we know it can’t be. Instead Amanda asks her father for an even better doll house than Charlotte’s had been. He commissions a talented craftsman to  build it, but then he cheats the Mr Sugam out of money pushing him to floor when Sugam protests. Sugam curses the Carters  as they leave and later dies of his head injury. The police show up to question Mr Carter just as Charlotte is showing off her new house to Amanda. Charlotte is shocked to see the figure of Mr Sugam in her doll house lying unconscious on the floor, although no-one else can see it, she blurts out everything and the police arrest her father. After her father went to prison Charlotte was sent to a home for destitute children and the doll house ended up in a second-hand dealer’s shop.

Some months later a girl Lynn spots the Doll House and begs her adoptive mother to buy it for her birthday. But while her husband is away Mrs Blake can’t afford to buy it for her, instead she gives her a family necklace. Lynn ungrateful put it on stuffed parrot in the attic. When Mr Blake does return he buys the doll house for their daughter Alice’s birthday, thinking the girls can share it. Lynn is seething with jealousy and says Alice is clearly the favourite “real” daughter. When an opportunity arises for one of the girls to be painted as part of an advertising campaign, Lynn pushes Alice into a quarry getting rid of her competition. She rushes home and goes to find the old necklace in the attic to wear, she gets a shock to see one of the doll’s now life size in the attic with her and the door locked. Alice luckily surviving the fall rushes to her parents to tell them what happened, but they can’t find Lynn anywhere.  Alice later sees 2 dolls in the attic of her dollhouse, one of which looks curiously like Lynn, it disturbs her so much she gets rid of the house.

It was bought by Sir Martyne for his children Elizabeth and Max. They were spoilt and ill-tempered and didn’t improve even as they grew up and their parents died. They raised the rent on their tenants to keep up their lifestyle and when they discover that one of their tenants have a girl they fostered that may be a long-lost heiress they force the Harrises to give the girl to them, hoping to get her fortune. The girl, Maggie, is allowed to play with the doll house, when she sees it on fire she douses it with water, angering Max, who calls her a liar. Later a fire breaks out in the actual house, Maggie tries to warn the siblings but they don’t believe her, she runs for help but it’s too late for the Martynes. Maggie does discover se is an heiress and is able to buy the land for her now adoptive parents the Harrisses. The doll house which was salvaged from the fire is sold off.

It appears again in the 1920s, by now legends have build up about the house that it can avenge evil and foretell the future. Milly who next gets the house is fascinated by the idea it could tell the future. Later it appears to come true, as her father is at a meeting, Milly sees the mother doll fallen out of bed onto the floor. She check on her own mother and sees her in a similar state, and looking older. Unfortunately the phone lines are down, forcing Milly to ride her horse in a storm to get help. She rides through the nearest village but it is now a run down ghost town. She meets a man who tells her a business man built a chemical plant in the village then an explosion killed half the people. Milly sees the old sign on the chemical plant has her father’s name on it, the man continues telling her the businessman died of heart attack and a little later his daughter found her mother on the ground sick from grief, she rode off in storm for help but fell when her horse stumbled. Milly begs him to stop, that it can’t be true, then she wakes up in her own bed, her parents beside her. When she tells o her dream, it turns out the meeting her father was at was about building a chemical plant, but he now changes his mind.

Finally in more recent time the Doll’s house is owned by Barbara, she notices a new figure in the house when suddenly a girl appears at the window. She talks a bit strange saying the house drew her there, and seems to vanish when Barbara goes to introduce her mom. Her mother goes to visit the new neighbours who seem to be cagey about their daughter. After another visit from the girl to Barbara, the family confront the neighbours with a handkerchief they found. It turns out their daughter is in a coma, when Barbara goes to talk with her, she wakes up and everyone is delighted. Damian Darke ends the tale saying the girls have now grown up and the Doll house is changing hands again perhaps someone has already bought it for the reader.

Thoughts

Halloween is the perfect time for a Damian Darke story. The storyteller had a few picture story library books, unlike the first book; Beyond a Strange Door… which had 4 different stories with a common theme, this book has the same object, connecting them all. The story starts with a good misdirect, as we see Charlotte with her new doll’s house we think this will be the story’s namesake, so it is surprising when it gets broken. After Amanda gets her house and Mr Sugam is cheated out of his money and he places the curse, it looks like nonsense words but appears to be just backwards, if we translate forwards he say “I curse – I curse…. no joy or..” we don’t see what comes after the “or” I wonder if there was addendum for good people as the strange house’s powers seem to evolve from punishing bad people to helping deserving people by warning them of future events.

The first 2 stories have jealous and spiteful girls being punished, the third story also has nasty people making their end, but also a change when Maggie is able to escape the fire and Martyne’s because of the doll house. The next story the helps Milly by showing her a premonition and in final story it seems to call to the comatose Fran helping her to get well again. It is strange that it evolves from punishing people when they do something wrong, to actively helping good people, certainly a very powerful house/curse! In particular things seem very elaborate in Millys story as not only does she something in the doll house but a very realistic and detailed dream of a whole village being wiped out. The creepiest story is Lynn’s end to become trapped as a doll in the attic, while it may be seem deserving after attempting to kill Alice, the Blakes were actually willing to forgive her and get the mental health treatment she needs (very generous and progressive of them!),  of course they never find her, and Lynn is fleft to her horrible fate. After beginning with some unsettling stories, the last story is quite positive as the doll house helps both a comatose girl and it’s owner to find a lifelong friend, then with it’s ending of Damian Darke saying that the house could end up in a reader’s hands, the thought may be that it could help you… if you are a good person. But also could be considered a warning if you have any jealous or greedy thoughts!

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) aka “She’s Guilty!”

 Published: Debbie PSL #70

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

Artist: Cover Dudley Wynne?; story Juan Sarompas?

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.