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girl of mystery

If you are female, British or Irish and were a child between 1945 and 1990, chances are you read Mandy, Judy, Bunty et al. Valda, Miss Angel, the Honourable S.J. and their chums are burned into my memory forever, but, presumably because these comics were aimed at girls, very little has been written about them in comparison to boys' comics (or comics that were read by boys and girls, like the Beano - of which I was also a fan at a very early age, and indeed a member of Dennis the Menace's Fan Club (and Gnasher's Fang Club). Unlike boys' comics, there's also very little online about girls' comics - I've looked a few times over the years, and a quick google reveals that the situation is still the same: a couple of entries about girls' comics in general British comic fan sites. In fact, I've been talking about doing a book about girls' comics myself for years - these comics are a huge part of 20th century girls' culture in this part of the world, one that has been largely ignored.

So I was delighted to hear an item about girls' comics on Woman's Hour the other day, which sent me into paroxyms of nostalgia - I'd forgotten all about "The Cat", but as soon as they started talking about it I instantly visualised the art work, it all came back in an instant. Valda, of course, also got a mention, but I was slightly disappointed that no one mentioned the gloriously masochistic Miss Angel (rich girl who discovers she is dying of unspecified consumption-esque ailment and, to spare her parents the pain of watching her die, goes off to set up a sort of refuge for even more pitiful orphans in a stable house. Supporting characters included Annie, the hunchbacked orphan who was a musical genius. Miss Angel also regularly visited the orphans under the railway arches whom she was "unable to house", wishing that "the stable house was as big as my heart", though as my sister Busta J and I would regularly point out, the stable house always had room for the picturesque "orphan of the week" who arrived with an interesting backstory).

Other favourite stories in the C**** household back in the '80s included Workhouse Wendy (rich child goes undercover in workhouse to investigate its cruelty, but then her parents are killed in a shipwreck and she's trapped there!), Little Stranger (brilliantly scary story about a girl - who is an only child - who wakes up one day and discovers that as far as everyone else is concerned, she's always had a little sister. Who is, of course, really an alien who has brainwashed everyone) and, most of all, The Honourable S.J., in which the evil Sarah-Jane Cheetwell (oh, yes!) blackmailed the daughter of her housekeeper, who was unlucky enough to repeatedly end up at the same boarding school as S.J. We could never understand how, after being unmasked as evil and expelled time and time again, S.J. managed to get accepted at her next school, apparently without a stain on her character, and get made a prefect or headgirl straight away. But there you go. Perhaps her evil powers had a magical quality.

So what were your favourites?


( 56 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 25th, 2007 10:15 am (UTC)
Wait - you're not friends with jinty? You need to get her on board right now. Seriously.

I have a book (in two volumes!) called Catching Them Young by Bob Dixon which examines treatment of gender, race and class in children's books, and has a section on girls' comics. Is pretty good. And oh, wasn't The Cat cool? That was definitely one of my favourites.

I also used to read Misty occasionally, which had scary stories in it. And I had a huge collection of all the Judy, Mandy etc 64-page books that came out every month, but then I coloured in the first page of them all and made a general pig's ear of it. But they're probably still in my dad's roofspace somewhere. And there were monthly books from a publication called Girl as well, I think, and I remember a story about a girl who was claustrophobic and had to keep getting sucked into a whirlpool and everyone thought she had tried to drown somebody. Or something.

The Silver Fish! That was, like, #9 in the Judy series of books. So, really old. And quite insane: blonde (or perhaps redheaded) rich girl travels around the Pacific in a crazy submarine thing that looks like a fish. And picks up a "native girl" (um ...) who is afraid of technology because what is this crazy magic? Cue hijinks. And then a volcano.
Jul. 25th, 2007 10:37 am (UTC)
Those longer little books were called, mysteriously, comic libraries! Only last week in my parents' house my sister Busta and I discovered a copy of one from the mid-80s - Flo's Chippie: It's On the Move!, which seemed as familar as if I'd last read it a few weeks ago, rather than 20 years.

The scary stories that appeared in those girls' comics are some of the most fucked-up things I've ever read. The characters were always doomed to hellish fates for the most minor crimes - I remember one story about a girl who was always late when meeting friends and as a result ends up stuck on a freaky tube surrounded by scary people in Halloween masks FOREVER. barsine and I have fond/terrified memories of the most freaky of all, I Am Margaret, in which a pretty, vain girl who is mean to an old woman wakes up the next day transformed into a hideous freak, and, in an ingeniously evil detail, even her voice has changed so no one will know it's her!

I'm not actually friends with jinty, although of course I've seen her on others' LJs! I should have known by the name that she was a vintage-girls'-comics fan....
(no subject) - clanwilliam - Jul. 25th, 2007 10:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - clanwilliam - Jul. 25th, 2007 10:52 am (UTC) - Expand
Misty - ephiriel - Jul. 25th, 2007 11:16 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Misty - jinxremoving - Jul. 25th, 2007 11:19 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Misty - lizarfau - Jul. 25th, 2007 12:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jinxremoving - Jul. 25th, 2007 11:25 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - leedy - Jul. 25th, 2007 11:31 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jinxremoving - Jul. 25th, 2007 11:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - stellanova - Jul. 25th, 2007 10:38 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - jinxremoving - Jul. 25th, 2007 11:26 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 25th, 2007 11:18 am (UTC)
brilliantly scary story about a girl - who is an only child - who wakes up one day and discovers that as far as everyone else is concerned, she's always had a little sister. Who is, of course, really an alien who has brainwashed everyone

Now, that sounds familiar. Joss, were you reading girls' comics when you came up with the Dawn storyline?
Jul. 25th, 2007 11:24 am (UTC)
Ha! I can't BELIEVE I never made that connection before!
Jul. 25th, 2007 11:25 am (UTC)
Jul. 25th, 2007 11:46 am (UTC)

Do not remind me of those scary evil gnomes. Bizarrely enough I was talking about them on Saturday night, and confessed that if I came across that Diana annual by chance even now, it would still freak me out.
(no subject) - jinxremoving - Jul. 25th, 2007 11:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - stellanova - Jul. 25th, 2007 12:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - clanwilliam - Jul. 25th, 2007 12:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - stellanova - Jul. 25th, 2007 12:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jinxremoving - Jul. 25th, 2007 12:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kulfuldi - Jul. 25th, 2007 01:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - stellanova - Jul. 25th, 2007 02:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 25th, 2007 11:40 am (UTC)
Actually, all those comics had bizarre stories involving aliens.

There were the people who were captured and put in an alien zoo. And there was a really weird one about a girl who happened to be a champion gymnast and injured her leg and woke up in a bizarre alternate world where everyone was classed according to ability and horror of horrors, she was classed as a Gamma girl and had to serve the Alpha girls and live on leftovers (which always seemed to be sausage and mash) but she and her plucky team of Gamma girls beat the arrogant Alphas in a gymnastic competition and then she went home. We never saw the Betas, as I recall.

It's impossible to mention these comics without the word "plucky" cropping up at some point.
Jul. 25th, 2007 11:55 am (UTC)
Oh my god, you have reminded me! Miss Angel! I never got the comics myself, but a friend of mine gave me a whole load of old Mandys (it was Mandy, wasn't it?) and I became obsessed with Miss Angel, carefully cutting out all the stories and piecing them together. What is it about young girls and their obsession with noble self-sacrifice? It can't be healthy!
Jul. 25th, 2007 12:18 pm (UTC)
Hee, Miss Angel was indeed in Mandy! I'm impressed by your devotion. And yeah, SO many of the stories were not only about noble self-sacrifice, but noble self-sacrifice that involved everyone else thinking the heroine was really evil. There were so many stories about girls who are "forced" to make everyone hate them - I found those stories almost unbearable to read - literally, I couldn't finish them - and in fact I still find it really hard to read stories in which people get into trouble for stuff that isn't their fault. I think I was over-exposed to such scenarios in my comic-reading infancy!
(no subject) - leedy - Jul. 25th, 2007 12:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 25th, 2007 12:00 pm (UTC)
Was The Cat the French resistance girl who climbed up things with some kind of incredible suction pads and her father was the evil collaborator mayor? I always think of her when climbing about on rooftops!

I also remember a girl with a time travelling rabbit that she could climb inside, but this might have been a dream.
Jul. 25th, 2007 12:03 pm (UTC)
Yes, that was The Cat! And I'm not sure about the rabbit. I couldn't rule it out ...
(no subject) - stellanova - Jul. 25th, 2007 02:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snowballjane - Jul. 25th, 2007 02:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jul. 25th, 2007 12:15 pm (UTC)
I'd completely forgotten about the Cat. I've a soft spot for the Four Marys, myself. Also for that girl (whose name/storyname I can't remember) who was the only girl at a posh boys' boarding school where her mother was the housekeeper. I'm all about the school stories, me. I found Valda unbelievably tiresome - wandering about in that chilly-looking tunic on those snowy alps, she just made me feel cold.
Jul. 25th, 2007 12:17 pm (UTC)
And constantly terrified of touching people. I remember several panels of angst in a *supermarket* where she was trying to figure out how to pay the cashier without actually touching her...
(no subject) - stellanova - Jul. 25th, 2007 01:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - clanwilliam - Jul. 25th, 2007 01:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - leedy - Jul. 25th, 2007 02:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - stellanova - Jul. 25th, 2007 03:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 25th, 2007 07:12 pm (UTC)
I loved those comics. The Four Marys, anyone? The only other story I recall now was a blatant rip-off of "The Picture of Dorian Gray"; the plagiarism annoyed me (and this was years before I acquired my nom de guerre)!

If you're interested in scholarly stuff on girls' comics, a friend of mine from the Girlsown mailing list is big into comics, and did her Masters (I think, or maybe PhD) on the subject; I could put you in contact with her if you want.
Jul. 25th, 2007 08:54 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, I'd love to read that - thanks!
(no subject) - dorianegray - Jul. 25th, 2007 09:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 25th, 2007 07:32 pm (UTC)
You might want to go buy a copy of Crikey!, a new magazine about UK comics. The first issue might still be on the shelves in the Forbidden Planet in Dublin. They're also looking for contributions, and I've a few things I might like to write up myself, and send their way.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 29th, 2007 06:10 pm (UTC)
Oh hooray, thanks for linking!

Damn, the Virtuous Orphan thing! That line you scanned, the rich man going "She's too good to be in a hovel like that, Mother", is such a recurring theme in the stories. The poor heroines ultimately get rescued because they're more virtuous than the 'ordinary' poor. The implication is that anyone who remains poor stays that way because it's what they deserve. (Which leads me back to analogising Enid Blyton's story of the little black doll who was actually white, so everything was okay then. These themes were just marvellously helpful to kids who actually were poor, black, or otherwise marginalised. Way to give hope!)

(Oh wait, and now I see your bit about Disability Just Means Not Wanting To Get Better. So, yes.)
(no subject) - stellanova - Jul. 29th, 2007 07:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - jinty - Sep. 12th, 2007 02:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 22nd, 2007 05:03 pm (UTC)
Wow...I thought I was the only one who remembered those stories. Have watched a few of the BBC comic season so thought I'd investigate other people who remembered them.

Jan. 28th, 2008 12:34 pm (UTC)
my god ive trailed though the internet to look for any mention of mandy and the stories that are emblazoned into my memory forever, i am 33, irish and i bought these for years right up to the 90s. i had about 40 old copies preserved, but am sad that my mum threw out a lot of them, still i have a few left, old and yellowed by time, and several xmas annuals. i have considered getting a tribute site together for this comic, the stories must be retold, they were really awesome, and sometimes a little harrowing for an 8 year old!!...but they did shape me and make me thankful for my own parents at times!!!! i love mandy herself, and her dog, and the covers every week would get my heart racing. my parents could not get my attention, even if the house was on fire if i was reading my latest copy.
i loved: Angel; Valda; Little stranger; The Guardian Tree, yep these were my favourites. i would love to know WHO the illustrators were and what else they have illustrated, and what they are doing now, these were masterpieces really!! and now all faded into oblivion..which makes me very sad

i have to say the styles per story were so gorgeous and very detailled, the 'little stranger' illustrations which appeared for other stories were so cute cos a lot of the characters if you look, would always be wringing their hands or have their closed fists put together raised up under their chin to make a gorgeous vunerability show from the character. they also had such big eyes and pretty faces! but little stranger was TERRIFYING, god that evil smile sent me quivering!!!how did it end again? god i wish i could remember!!!

Valda and Angel were illustrated by a different person and this style of illustration was used for the more hero-type characters...Angel was so heartbreaking, and a lot of stories like it illustrated to young girls the meaning of self sacrifice, when she died, god i was inconsolable, that last frame of her on the bed, with all the little orphans around her and she is smiling with her eyes turned upward "i hear angels!!, angels voices!' as she was passing over, and i remember my heart thumping and the tears jumping from my eyes as they moved to the next frame of her dead with a peaceful smile oh my heart just broke!!!!but who wrote such gorgeous stories?? and i just would love to know who these illustrators are and if the whole comic or certain stories can be re-issued online. its a travesty they are nowhere to be found..contact me on
dis_associative@yahoo.com, id love to be in touch with other fans!!!maybe we can set up a tribute, even on myspace!!
Aug. 1st, 2008 11:11 pm (UTC)
I found this entry by Googling "The Honourable SJ" - I was amazed (although I suppose I shouldn't be) that there's so little about British girl's comics on the web.

The other story I have vague recollections of loving, in the same love-to-hate-her kind of way, was one called "Sweet Melody", but that's such a common phrase it's difficult to find any web references at all. I'm not even sure which comic that was in - probably Judy or Bunty.
( 56 comments — Leave a comment )


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