Going through some photos on my laptop recently, I came across this spread of three girl’s comic book annuals from the 70s. I don’t think comics are such a big thing now unless it’s the original superhero ones which are traditionally kept in plastic bags by enthusiasts or grown-up arty gothicky ones, but when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, comics were huge.
Boys vs Girls
There was a very definite gender divide between the boys (Whizzer & Chips, Beano & Dandy, Beezer) and the girls (Mandy, Bunty, Judy). The covers of the boys comics generally featured exclamation marks, masked villains, boy heroes and possibly a dog. The girls comics usually had a girl doing something vaguely sappy on the front, like feeding a small dog or pouring tea. My sister, who bought Bunty and I, who bought Mandy had a long-running debate (back then it was known as an argument) about which one was better.
Both comics featured common themes; boarding schools, orphans, ballet, horses, though I remember Mandy having some stories which gave me nightmares at the time. Dorinda, the Doll of Doom featured a girl who owned a rather unpleasant doll which told scary prophecies when a string in its back was pulled. Needless to say, she tried to get rid of the doll but it kept coming back. Simon was about a three-year old boy who was being controlled by aliens who kept doing awful things which got blamed on his sister, the same sister who was the only person that knew something was wrong with Simon. Quite why aliens would choose a toddler to represent them on Earth by doing things like smashing TVs is a mystery to me now though at the time it seemed perfectly rational. Aliens were obviously on the lookout for unlikely hosts – they also took control of a girl’s grandmother in That’s Not My Gran!
Bunty was, according to its Wiki entry, aimed at ‘working class readers’, despite the fact one of its main stories, The Four Marys, was about four girls at a boarding school, one of whom was an Earl’s daughter. I don’t remember the four Marys ever doing anything particularly interesting apart from struggle with homework and the odd bully or two. The Comp was presumably a way of balancing out the public/private education issue.
The storylines in both comics were fairly moralistic, the long-suffering heroines finally achieving their desires, while the bullies, cheats and liars got their comeuppance. One storyline, which I can’t remember the name of, featured a series of seven plots around that nursery rhyme, Monday’s Child:
Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.
The heroine of each story got their comeuppance in some way apart from Sunday’s Child, obviously. I think one particular comeuppance even included a post-apocalyptic wasteland caused by the protagonist who had put making money above everything else.
Annuals and chocolate selection packs
The annuals came out every Christmas and featured heavily on our lists to Father Christmas. They would often have new stories with existing characters or stand-alone stories and were a vital part of Christmas along with the chocolate selection pack. I wish I’d kept mine, as a quick look at eBay reveals I could have made a whole £5 from a couple of them though my brother with his Beano annuals would have been considerably better off.
Once I got past the age of about 11 I started to want to read something a bit more grown-up and moved on to photo-strip comics such as Jackie. These type of magazines seemed to generally deal with fraught teenage boy/girl relationships, not something I could identify with at the time, being a lanky bespectacled bookworm. So Smash Hits took their place and I discovered a new obsession; music. This went naturally hand-in-hand with trivia and thanks to Smash Hits I knew who had their hands insured for £1m (Mark King from Level 42), all the words to Jesus and Mary Chain’s Sidewalking and who Uncle Disgusting was.
Cream horns and cups of tea all round.