Sunday, 24 August 2014

Judge Judy? Yes, yes I will.

Let's dip a toe into the deep waters of classic girls' comics.

I didn't start reading girls' comics until I was in my thirties. Wait. That sounds weird.

Hang on.... No, it is weird. But it's just me.

As a child (a boy-child) it was an extreme no-no to wander into areas of pop culture meant for "the other". As a child (a man-cub) to pick up or even look at a Bunty or a Care Bear would be like painting a sign saying "I like girls' things!" which was patently horrific.

Nowadays those gender lines do not seem to be as firmly set, as the growth of the Brony movement can show. And I can look upon the classic comics I totally ignored as a child (a he-pup) to the point where I did not realise just how many of them there were.

As a starting point, here is an issue Judy from 1974.
 As always, history lesson first. Judy was published by DC Thomson from 1960 to 1991, originally tagged "Companion paper to Bunty" (which had arrived two years previously). It combined with Mandy in '91 to make Mandy and Judy, or eventually M&J which, remarkably, survived until 1997. Along the way it swallowed up other ailing girls' comics Emma and Tracy. Yes, naming girls' comics was much easier than Boys'. Just pick any name.

The original cover star was Judy herself. That's her in the top right of the cover.
 Her adventures with those three kittens were apparently so dull that by the mid-60s she had been removed from the comic as all but mascot. Cover star from 1968 was Bobby Dazzler "the only girl at Westbury Boarding School for Boys". You'd think that would make her very popular.

Bobby Dazzler was full of very proto-feminist "I'll show those boys I'm just as good" shenanigans which seems like it would have done a lot of good for the age group at which Judy was aimed.

Before we move on to the other strips, here is an image from an Airfix ad to haunt your nightmares:
 Change your underwear and we'll move on.

Just like big sister Bunty, Judy's strips consisted of many tales of girls in terrible circumstances outside of their control or forced into menial jobs that were beneath their talents.

There was "Backstage Betty", the wannabe ballerina who worked as a stage-hand and Wilma and the Wild One ("Wilma Simpson was a shy girl, and she found life at Windrush School hard. But she made friends with Lorne, a wild girl who lived on the moors").
There was also "Pam the Peacemaker" whose parents were a Richard and Judy-ish TV couple, always forced to smooth over their marital difficulties.
 And Victorian housemaid Nellie Perkins, for whom all subtlety flies out the window when they named the strip "Wee Slavey"
 Also worthy of note is "The Little War on Coral Island", a tale of four shipwrecked children in 1945. Two British, two Japanese which means that rather than help each other they choose to maintain the state of war between them. The girls on either side try to nudge the boys towards peace but they will not have it!

It is interesting to see the scars of the second world war still showing in 1970s childrens' comics. Of course boys' comics were full of stories of brave derring-do amongst tommies fighting the evil Hun, so this is a surprising "girlish" take on that.
 So on to the letters page. Presided over by someone called Beatrice, it is "Busy Bea's Pages" and also contains sort-of reviews of long-forgotten pop music!
 I feel a little sorry for Gene Young as his career clearly went nowhere. Although if that artist's impression is accurate it may not be hard to see why.

Elsewhere you could have your portrait sketched by an in-house artist and win the art as a prize!
 I wonder if Jackie Smith (if that is her real name) still has that art?

Here's a letter I doubt you'd get in a magazine aimed at children today:
 It would seem very odd if, say, Toxic printed a letter about the frequency of praying.

Best of all though is this letter of one excited girl's encounter with a certain "famous disc jockey":
 Fame, fame, fatal fame. Poor Gene was never heard from again yet Noel is still inescapable.

There is a small smattering of humour strips, too (the best being "Tell-Tale Tess" a Munchausen-esque auntie who's seen some adventures) and a weekly biographical strip on the famous faces of the day.

This issue: the true-life story of Faron Young!
 Nope, me neither.

Also about were a couple of fantasy strips. There was robot hijinks with a Tin Lizzie, who was quite similar to The Dandy's Brassneck, except, this being for girls, Lizzie was a robot maid. Losing some feminism points there, Judy.

To be fair, it appears Tin Lizzie originated in The Dandy in 1953. I'm not sure how similar they were (it started as prose stories before becoming a strip from 55-59) but my attempts to research it have just told me that the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy named themselves after her!
 My favourite strip in this issue is this:
 Ali is a cat with ill-defined low-level psychic powers who seems to want to act as guardian angel to the children he meets. This feels like the sort of strip one would find in Misty (which would not arrive for another four years).
 This opening panel makes me imagine all his thought "dialogue" in a strong French accent.
 This panel immediately made me think of "Dream of a Thousand Cats" from Neil Gaiman's Sandman (#18, art by Kelley Jones). If you haven't read it (and you should) it tells a possible story where once the world was run by cats who kept people as pets. When a thousand people dreamed at once that they were dominant, the world was reversed. Now some cats are trying persuade others to dream the world back the right way round.
I now choose to believe Ali, presiding over his "cohorts of cats" is doing just that.
Anyway, no time for catnaps, Ali.
 Love his ticked-off expression here.
 Ah, little David Foreman. He's going to be trouble.
 That's right. When cats demand fuss it is for YOUR benefit. Don't forget that.

Ali sends a psychic push to David's teacher, sending her outside.
 Ali decides to watch over David to see if he can help.
 He's certainly disruptive. And those eyes are disturbing.
 "In a minute David" says David's mother, dismissively, while telling his teacher how attentive she is.
 Ali creeps in through the Foremans' window to observe him playing. At this point we have the information we need for a diagnosis. Like one of those 70s Batman stories: can YOU figure it out?
 When you see a cat gazing at the moon, it is thinking. Plotting. They will take this world back. Oh yes, they will.
 Yes! Those car number plates from page one! David was adding them up!
 Ali decides that David needs puzzles to keep his mind occupied. He also lacks social skills and has only been seen to relate to a cat. This is an early diagnosis of autism, isn't it?
 I mean, I'm pretty sure the writer would not have been aware of autism or Asperger in 1974 (although it is possible) but this seems very much like the sort of story that would be created today to help children and families understand the condition.
 So well done Ali, the "House" of comic strip cats.
All in all, Judy issue 754 from June 22nd 1974 was a surprisingly entertaining read.

And I don't care that it was a girls' comic.

1 comment:

  1. Au revoir Brendan. And I wish you an enjoyable hour at the newsagents.