Jinty come back

based on my 1998 article originally published in GirlFrenzy

Girls' comics have a poor name in the UK: stereotypically, they deal with stories about blind ballerinas, horses, or orphans; or at the youngest end, tales of fairies and dolls that come alive. Hardly exciting material: sort of dumb and bland at the same time.

However, you may remember reading a comic that was different. The commonest memory that women of my age have is of the comic Misty: supernatural tales of schoolgirls defeating Egyptian snake priests or horror tales of bad girls getting their grisly come-uppance. Much more like it, don't you think?

'Look at me!' said Stacey. 'Oh... Please... Please stop, Stacey!'


My great memory, though, was always of Misty's stablemate, Jinty, published by IPC from the mid seventies to the early eighties. These stories were even further from the stereotypical image of girls' comics, though they contained some of the aspects of them: an orphan... who met Epona, the Celtic horse goddess; a promising athlete... sent to sleep by the hum of a malicious spinning wheel; the bully of Form 3B... who mentally dominates a weaker girl. And then there were the really far-out ones: the whole of the UK flooded by global warming; the girl whose mother was a mermaid; Viking clay warriors coming to life; and the headmistress obsessed by perfection who turns her pupils into essentially Stepford Schoolchildren.

Sadly, I lost my Jintys some time ago; as usually happens with these things, my mum gave them away (though she says that I agreed to this -- bah!). They'd served the function of getting me interested in comics, though; but that was not the end of the story. I guess I forgot them for a good while, delving into the entirely different, four-colour world of American comics -- The X-Men in particular -- but eventually they resurfaced in my mind. Once they resurfaced, I began to mythologize them, recounting the mad plots over and over to friends. They made good, crazy-sounding tales, alright. So much so that I started to wish I had my old pile of Jintys back, at least to see if they were as good as I remembered them.

Finally, I placed an ad in Comics International, and lo and behold, someone actually still had some to sell. More than just some: four whole years' worth, in fact! Snapped up quicker than you could imagine. And when they arrived, in a big box, I could hardly bear to go to work and leave them waiting for me. Finally, the question was answered: what were they actually like, after all these years? Did they stand up to the mythologized memories?

They certainly did.

What and who?

What was the set-up of Jinty? Like other older girls' comics such as Misty and Bella, it consisted mostly of continued stories which would run for a good number of weeks -- from as few as nine to as many as perhaps twenty-five or thirty. In addition, there were single-page gag strips and on-going humour strips with the same character each week but without a continued storyline. Finally, there were also various feature articles about pop music, suggestions for things to make and do around the house (a rag rug from old tights, for instance), and even the odd beauty tip (though no overkill on this).

The artists represented were quite varied, but generally of a high standard: some of them I've recognized since then from other work in British comics (for instance Jim Baikie and Casanovas from 2000AD). It's likely that a good percentage of them were Europeans working for hire cheaply, though it's difficult to be sure because there are no credits given (though there are some signatures here and there). Credit or no credit, there is some beautiful work in these comics.

The range of themes in the stories are also quite varied: the ones I prefer and remember best are the mysterious, science-fictiony, or fantastical ones, but there are also ones about grim real life, sports stories, historical tales, environmental stories, and comedies; even ones with a touch of politics in them. Unfortunately, I don't know who the writers were for any of these stories, apart from Pat Mills (who surely must have done the one about Epona the Celtic horse goddess, and definitely wrote one about a girl skateboarder).

A common thread amongst these stories is a strong moral sense: self-reliance as a virtue, along with consideration for others, unselfishness, clear-thinking, responsibility and teamwork, courage, and persistence. At times, this morality gets overpowering and over-blown, as in the story of the snob who is sent to shine shoes by her rich father to take her down a peg or two, or the one about the rich young pianist who has to learn to do without her piano when her parents lose all their money. But altogether, it's not too bad a packaged morality to sell to young girls, if you're going to sell anything.

It's interesting to take a closer look at this ethics package, as it's at least somewhat different from that sold by the other, more standard, girls' comics. At the junior end of standard girls' comics, in Twinkle, kids may be naughty, but the story is so short (these comics don't feature continued stories) that there is little time for character development. The protagonists are therefore either moral already, or quickly taught the appropriate lessons -- not to hit a friend, say, or not to be selfish. In the older range of girls' comics, girls may be put in difficult situations where they have to defeat spies or save the school, but they themselves don't usually undergo any kind of character change -- they are to all intents and purposes already perfect.

In Jinty, by contrast, the message is to be human, but not inhumanly perfect (you could make a case that the Stepford-schoolchildren story, Children of Edenford, is the greatest statement of this). The point of the stories, in many cases, is to socialize the main characters; to present the virtues of teamwork without taking away individuality, or to accept difference amongst one's peers so long as it's not a destructive kind of difference -- and if it is a dangerous kind of difference, to tone it down and assimilate it. Often the characters must struggle in isolation against a real or imagined hostile background, but the resolution of the story demands a joining of the protagonist with a community -- children reunited with parents, or a brave girl finally believed by all those who mocked her until now. (Note that the struggle is never of community with community -- there is little or no class consciousness in these stories. The main character may be poor, but she never struggles to better the lot of her whole community.)

Another particularly interesting aspect of Jinty (shared, admittedly, with other girls' comics) is the lack of boys and men in the stories. Brothers feature, but hardly any boyfriends, and never any just friends who-are-boys. Even in the background, boys are often nowhere to be seen. Men feature as fathers or considerably older brothers, but only rarely as villains or other characters important to the story. Selective culling of the male population, perhaps? Of course, it's hardly surprising that a girls' comic should have this absence of boy characters, but it does look very odd when, as in some cases, you're faced with a whole village which seems to be composed almost exclusively of girls.


Let me illustrate my generalities with some specifics; I'm sure that when I'm done, you will quite see how it was that I mythologized Jinty and why I was not disappointed in the end. Although there are many more stories I could have picked out, here is a themed taster of the most memorable and interesting of the lot.

Science fictions: 'On the planet of two suns, they treat girls like animals!'

This classic tag-line heralded the start of an equally classic story, The Human Zoo. Presumably inspired by the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the Planet of the Apes series, this tells of twin teenage girls abducted by aliens along with a bunch of other people from their village. The aliens are tall, emotionless, telepathic; one of the twins is held for medical experiments, while the other is sold as a pet and then to a circus. Before long, though, the circus-twin, Shona, is set free into the wilds by her erstwhile mistress (a 14-year old alien inclined towards animal rights). There, Shona soon meets up with other humans, native to the planet, who are eking a living in the barren lands. Guided by mysterious telepathic messages from her twin sister, Jenny, she leads them to a land full of fruit and good food.

Later on, the humans go to the city to try to rescue Jenny, and through a rather unlikely concatenation of circumstances, they find Jenny (who has been made telepathic by the aliens), rescue her, and save the alien King's little daughter from drowning, not to mention the whole city from flooding; thus proving themselves not to be animals. The result is that all the Earth humans are sent back home, and a handy time-machine will ensure that they arrive no later than they left (with their memories wiped). A fascinating allegory about animal rights -- or something.

It's noticeable in most of the science fiction stories that the main character is a loner, struggling in a hostile society -- real 'outsider' stuff. For instance, in Fran of the Floods, where the theme is global warming (the waters rise throughout the story until the climax, at which point they very kindly start to go down again, leaving our heroine pretty much untouched), Fran Scott is separated from her family, her friends, and her whole social milieu, to be reunited with them rather flukily at the end.

In Jassy's Wand of Power, the water diviner Jassy must find a way to stop the UK-wide drought, which turns out to be caused by one evil man's power stations. The Wand of Power in the title refers to a divining rod used to find waterÉ obviously a handy thing in a drought-stricken world, but dangerous too, because the government has forbidden the use of all psychic powers, including fortune tellers and water diviners!

Add to the roll-call the following science fiction tales: a robot who was nearly human (The Robot Who Cried; she had no human emotions but eventually learned to, like, love, or whatever), the Battle of the Wills (a ballet dancer who longs to be a gymnast, although her grandmother won't let her, finds a mad scientist who can create an exact duplicate of her -- but which one will get to do the gynmastics, and which one is really real?), Almost Human (a very Superman-type story of an alien from a dying world who has super-strength etc, but the catch is that she kills lower life-forms, presumably including humans, with a touch), and Land of No Tears (crippled young girl who trades on her gammy leg is mysteriously sent to a world of the future where society is divided up into the perfect Alpha girls and the reject Gamma girls; against all odds, she proves in a series of sports contests (!) that Gamma girls are ok too...). It's a pretty good list of science fiction clichés, brought to life quite professionally and actually rather intriguingly.

Fantastical: 'I'm a mermaid's daughter, not a real girl!'

Science fiction accounted for a good number of the stories, and the fantastical -- usually intruding uncomfortably into real life -- accounted for quite a few others. If the science fiction stories looked to recent films and science fiction clichés for their inspiration, these fantasy stories harked back to classic children's books. In common with classic childrens' books, these stories usually start with an ordinary or seemingly ordinary girl in a group of her peers, when something odd starts happening, as it were in broad daylight.

In When Statues Walk, for instance, schoolgirl Laura leads a mundane life until her older brother brings back some pottery shards from the building site where he works. Gluing the pieces together, Laura finds that they make up a life-size Viking clay warrior; mysteriously, by the next morning it has vanished. The reason for this is that it is actually alive, guarding a figure on a Viking longboat which starts to haunt Laura's dreams. The figure in her dreams tells Laura to come and rescue her from the wicked warriors; but when she does, the figure turns out not to be the young girl she appeared to be, but rather a thousand-year-old hag (in fact, Loki's daughter Hela, for those of you up on Norse legend). The warriors, rather than being wicked, are there to make sure that Hela stays trapped in her aging body until the full thousand years are up, at which point she will crumble into dust. Rather unfortunately, Hela takes the opportunity to swap bodies with Laura, leaving her to crumble instead, unless someone can persuade the warriors to help recapture Loki's daughter...

The Guardian of White Horse Hill is Epona, the Celtic horse goddess, who shows herself gradually to orphan Janey when the hill is under threat from road development (radical environmentalism and paganism together, in the '70s). All Janey knows at first is that there is a lovely white horse that comes to her and has her ride on its back, but she gets into trouble with her foster parents when she says this, as she finds out that they can't see this horse -- and they can't see her, either, when she's riding it. This is not the end of the story, though -- she actually goes back in time and into the body of a Celtic priestess, who through the power of Epona saved the village from the threat of the Romans. It is clear that the power of Epona will save the present-day village, too, and reconcile Janey with her adoptive parents.

In Golden Dolly, Death Dust the threat is initially much more mysterious. Grumpy old lady Miss Marvell moves into Haylton, the village where Lucy Farmer lives. Lucy has recently been given a corn dolly by her Cornish aunt Hepzibah, and she finds out why when Marvell, who is secretly an evil witch, plots to destroy all bright and living things in the countryside around Haylton and in the rest of England. Of course, Lucy's parents don't believe her (such a nice old lady Miss Marvell is, after all!), and the only allies she has are her French friend Yvette and Corn Dolly herself, who can come alive to fight evil and decay, representing as she does the bright power of the sun and of growing things. It finally comes down to a race against time to collect the flowers which will make a charm, along with the first sun of Midsummer's Day, to defeat the dark power of Miss Marvell.

Living in South America as I did when growing up, one of the stories I was particularly entranced by was Alice in a Strange Land. As in Lord of the Flies, an airplane full of schoolchildren (all girls, of course) crashes, with all adults aboard killed instantly. Lost in a trackless jungle, the girls manage to find a nearby city -- the lost city of El Dorado, no less. Timid Alice and her bold but selfish cousin Karen are hailed as the returning Sun Goddess, the only question being which one is actually the goddess. Although Alice wins the test set to separate them out, her sneakier cousin claims the prize -- only to rather regret it when she is eventually told that the role of the Sun Goddess is to be sacrificed to keep the city safe from earthquakes! The once-timid Alice musters up courage she didn't know she had to save Karen from being sacrificed by the head priestess, who is actually a Victorian lady explorer kept alive by the spring of immortality under the city... oh dear, it's all getting rather complicated, isn't it?

Combing Her Golden Hair starts off much more straightforwardly, as the story of a girl and her possessive gran; admittedly, the gran is rather odd in her quirks, making Tamsin wear plaits and glasses although she doesn't need them, refusing permission for her to swim although it turns out that Tamsin is a natural swimmer... the mysteries deepen when Tamsin finds a silver comb in the house, a comb which whispers secrets to her. The vanity of combing her hair all evening drives her gran beserk, to the extent that Tamsin is even locked in the shed; but the comb consoles her and urges her to escape to a place in Cornwall she had previously never heard of.

Mystical objects take over your life in Jinty

Eventually she gets there (courtesy of her friend Ellen, who goes on holiday there with an unsuspected stowaway in her caravan), and swimming out to a lonely rock, finds a mirror matching her comb. The answer to the mystery is Tamsin's mother, who is in fact a mermaid. (Unusually for children's fiction, the final denouement does not have the girl reunited with a loving though supernatural mother, but rather rejecting her cold-hearted mother in favour of the human grandmother who brought her up all those years.)

The ultimate morality story in the whole run of Jinty must surely be Worlds Apart. In this, the main characters are six schoolgirls with different defining characteristics -- one is fat, one vain, one sporty, etc. Through a handy industrial accident, they are sent in turn to worlds governed by each girl's main characteristic: first they go into a world where everyone is fat, then into a world where everybody is good at sport, and so on. The killer, though, is that although each world initially seems perfect to the one whose world it is -- as you can imagine -- the dream rapidly turns into a nightmare where the only way out is by death, which moves the girls onto the next world. For instance, the sporty girl's world is one in which athleticism is all -- even wars are run as a series of sporting events. And in this case, it's Britain vs the USSR, who of course cheat by taking drugs. And the losers of the war, including the sporty girl, are executed appropriately -- death by sport (strapped to an exercise bike until she dies!). The message is clear -- learn moderation or die horribly. Cool!

Staggeringly dodgy: 'Is it mad to want to see a perfect world?'

Well, yes, it is if you're the headmistress of the Children of Edenford (or Stepfor