Writer Maureen Hartley reveals the Inside Story on Writing for DC Thomson’s Girls’ Comics

"The Sad Spells of Fay Martin", a fantasy story by Maureen Hartley for Mandy published in 1973
“The Sad Spells of Fay Martin”, a fantasy story by Maureen Hartley for Mandy published in 1973
"Nothing Ever Goes Right" a story for Judy by Maureen Hartley published in 1981 that had a rare unhappy ending
“Nothing Ever Goes Right” a story for Judy by Maureen Hartley published in 1981 that had a rare unhappy ending

Over on the brilliant Girls Comics of Yesterday site, dedicated to girls comics published by DC Thomson, Maureen Hartley has written a fascinating piece about her experiences writing picture stories and working for the company.

She first started writing picture script stories in 1968, following the publication of several short stories in women’s magazines  and reveals she had always fancied trying her hand at picture scripts.

“When I saw an advertisement in The Observer one Sunday asking for scripts for DCT comics,  I decided to try my luck,” she recalls. “Mandy had been launched the year before and the editors needed more writers to fill both the boys’ and girls’ comics.  There was a specimen script to follow and various helpful tips and I finally,  rather belatedly,  sent off my effort.    A few days later I received a letter from Dundee  –  could I meet the editors in Manchester?  Two of the editors were touring round the country meeting people who had submitted promising scripts  –  they had already planned their schedule,  but when my script had been read in Dundee I had been slotted into their programme.”

Maureen, who worked for DC Thomson solely on girls comics (“It was an accepted fact among the staff there that women weren’t capable of writing stories for the boys’ comics”, she casually comments), offers a fascinating insight into the creative and editorial process behind these much-loved stories, and dispels some modern myths about the commissioning process and policies – and outlines the grim truth behind the decline of the comics that once outsold boys in their millions, every week. The pay was terrible (“Payment to artists was three times more than that paid to writers”) and the editing ruthless.

Maureen's final published strip for DC Thomson - "Lost in the Snow", published in the 2001 Bunty annual
Maureen’s final published strip for DC Thomson – “Lost in the Snow”, published in the 2001 Bunty annual

Her last published work for the company was on the 2001 Bunty annual, on a strip called “Lost in the Snow”, but her comic writing career came to an end in 1999, as the market for girls magazines changed, dropping artwork for photos stories, Maureen believes was one of only four writers of girls’ stories left in the country. The last story she wrote for DC Thomson was a “Four Marys” story for Bunty called “The Mystery Virus”.

“The stories became far less interesting to write,” she says of her later work for Jackie. “Gone were the feisty heroines fighting to right a wrong, or searching against the odds for lost family members, or coping bravely with some terrible affliction… Now it was all about boys and shopping and sleepovers with mates,  with the moral message so important in the older stories that you should be good and kind submerged in the need to be popular and to have friends.”

The article is a fascinating read for any comics writer or fan of the comics recalled, and another coup for Girls Comics of Yesterday, a fan site dedicated to British girl comics of the past, looking mostly at the long running publications of Bunty, Mandy and Judy, but also some of the other DC Thomson like Nikki, Emma, Spellbound and IPC comics like Misty. As well as longer posts about stories and comics, the site includes an index of stories and when they appeared.

• Read the feature here and check out a list of her comics work here (compiled with help from the members of the ComicsUK forum)

Thanks to Jenni Scott for the head up on this item

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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