Two new collections from British girls comics are on their way from 2000AD publishers Rebellion – and the good news is that they aren’t just sticking to collecting stories from Misty. The great news is that one of the new collections from the Fleetway archive Rebellion now own is a collection of the long-running “Bella at the Bar“, from Tammy.
Scheduled for release in June is Jinty Volume 1: The Human Zoo & The Land of No Tears, the latter written by Pat Mills, with art by Guy Peeters, and, in July, Bella At The Bar Volume One from Tammy, written by Jenny McDade with art by John Armstrong.
Many years ago, British newsagents were awash with all sorts of comics: boys’ adventure, children’s titles, educational comics and more. But while humour comics reigned supreme in Britain, and still do, girls comics regularly outsold most of the more famous boys titles most fans remember today. Sadly their history and success often remains neglected today, much to the chagrin of those who wrote and drew them.
One of the success stories was IPC’s Tammy, published between 1971 and 1984. Always a title keen on a good weepy, Tammy rivalled DC Thomson’s Bunty in sales terms. It incorporated six other titles during its lifetime, including June, Misty and Jinty, and introduced readers to strips such as “Girls of Liberty Lodge”, “Slaves of War Orphan Farm” and even re-launched the these days decidedly un-PC Bessie Bunter, created decades earlier by Frank Richards.
Capitalising on the huge following for gymnastics spurred by the young Soviet female gymnast Olga Korbut at and following the 1972 Olympics, “Bella at the Bar” (also known as “That Barlow Kid”, or simply “Bella”) ran in Tammy from June 1974 to June 1984, drawn by John Armstrong, written by creators that included Jenny McDade, John Wagner, Primrose Cumming and Malcolm Shaw.
Perhaps the most popular character in the comic, her look was inspired by artist John Armstrong’s niece.
In this first story collection, we’re introduced to orphan Bella, a young girl with a great natural talent for gymnastics. Unfortunately her dreams and aspirations to be a world-class gymnast are being hindered by her legal guardians – uncle Jed and aunt Gertrude, who force and bully Bella to their own advantage.
Bella escape a life of abuse and servitude? Will she finally realise her dreams of gymnastic stardom?
Jenny McDade was one of very few female writers in comics at the time, who recalls her introduction to the world of writing comics began with a two and a half hour masterclass from Tammy editor Gerry Finley-Day, who quickly made her aware that “writing for comics” wouldn’t be a doddle, or remotely easy, and that I had to knuckle down instantly to a steep learning curve.
Her first strip for Tammy was the award-winning ““Star Struck Sister”, which confirmed the title as a true rival to DC Thomson’s Bunty.
John Armstrong is best known for his work in Misty and Tammy, especially for “Bella at the Bar”, but whose work also includes “The Secret Gymnast” for Bunty (he worked in colour for the first time on Bunty covers and annuals), “Cherry and the Children” for “June” and “School Friend”, “Grange Hill” for Beeb and “Moonchild” for Misty.
Offering two science-fiction tales with themes of of strange alternate realities, in “The Human Zoo” twin sisters Shona and Jenny are kidnapped along with their classmates by a superior race of telepathic aliens. Brought back to the aliens’ home planet, Shona and some other human captives are kept in cages where they are treated and displayed like animals, while Jenny is sold to another owner. Will the twins ever be able to reunite and escape by to Earth?
This story is thought to have been written by Malcolm Shaw. Pat Mills has been wrongly attributed as its writer but is adamant it is not his work.
Malcolm Campbell Shaw was involved in the launch of Jinty with Pat Mills in 1974 as a sub-editor. The British Comics Wikia notes he wrote a lot of stories for girls’ comics, including “The Robot Who Cried” for Jinty and “The Sentinels” for Misty, and also wrote a handful of early “Judge Dredd” stories for 2000AD in 1977. He became editor of Misty in 1980, and wrote the serial “Return to Armageddon” for 2000AD in 1981. He was the originating editor of Beeb, but died of cancer before it launched, in December 1984, aged just 38.
In “The Land of No Tears“, Cassy Shaw is transported into a dystopian future in which people with genetic defects are regarded as second class citizens whilst undergoing surgery on her lame leg. Unable to accept such objectionable discrimination, Cassy attempts to rally her peers, the Gamma girls, into beating the Alpha girls in several sporting events. Can she win the Golden Girl award and prove herself an equal?
Pat Mills should need no introduction to downthetubes readers. The co-creator of the classic girls comic Misty as well as 2000AD, he wrote a huge number of girls comics before becoming better known as a boy’s adventure comics writer. In addition to his current strips for 2000AD, he’s writing a series of novels inspired by the British comics inductry as patrt of the fast-developing Millsverse project.
Guy Peeters worked on several DC Thomson girls comics including Nikki, Mandy and Judy, but and M&J among others. His best-known work at DCT is arguably “Penny’s Place”, which started in M&J and then moved to Bunty with a merger. As well as “The Land of No Tears”, his work on Jinty‘s SF-inspired stories also includes “Worlds Apart”.
“Rebellion have to be commended for taking this material and packaging it, not sticking just to the safe well known characters, they are digging into the archives and getting gems,” enthuses David McDonald of Hibernia Press, who will soon be releasing a new Fleetway Files that includes an overview and introduction to the world of girls comics, which includes a contribution from Jenni Scott, who runs the brilliant Jinty comic resource site.
The new Fleetway Files, on sale soon, also features interviews with Battle editor Dave Hunt, Tiger, Eagle and Wildcats editor Barrie Tomlinson, Roy of the Rovers editor Ian Vosper, IPC Humour Group Editor Bob Paynter, plus articles on the new Eagle as well as some never before seen Ian Kennedy art never published in English and some unseen Massimo Belardinelli art.
“It’s very close to being finished,” David tells us. “I’m just trying to get it over the line!”
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• Jinty Volume 1: The Human Zoo & The Land of No Tears is currently scheduled for a June 2018 release
• Bella at the Bar Volume One is currently scheduled for a July 2018 release
Jenny McDade, who now writes animation and children’s TV drama, reveals how she became a Tammy writer, one of very few women to regularly write girls’ comics at the time.
“Although ,” she notes, “it probably reads more like a Tammy story – plucky little ditsy blonde with no hope succeeds in the end in cut-throat male-dominated magazine world!…”
• Jinty web site jintycomic.wordpress.com
Tammy, Jinty and Misty © Rebellion Publishing Ltd
With thanks to David Mc Donald, Jenni Scott and the team at Rebellion