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The Rise and Fall (And Possible Rise?) Of Girls Comics, Part One

#3
A very interesting insight into what went on behind the scenes in the creation of emblematic girls' comics; I dimly remember girl classmates at school in the 1970s reading some of these but had no idea of the carefully crafted policies going on at the magazine publishers! The stories of culls of writers and plans to outflank rivals are fascinating.
I've done some research into the stories and writers of the 1940s and 1950s girls comics while doing a book on the background to the world of post-Second World War authors like Enid Blyton, and noted then that some 'gritty realism' stories about hard-up and bullied working-class girls - and even a bit of mild criticism of racism in the Empire / Commonwealth did creep into some of the 1950s comics, eg 'School Friend' and 'Girls Crystal'. These, as said, were usually written by men from the long-term IPC and other firms' 'stables' of children's magazines, mostly boys' ones and heavily influenced by Charles Hamilton(creator of Billy Bunter and co) and his 1910s-1930s rivals. They usually use women's pseudonyms, but a few women writers did get in, usually wives of current male writers - it was very cliquey'.

The stories that did feature oppressed working-class girls and bullied ones from racial minorities were however almost all 'exotic' ones set overseas, as if reassuring readers and their parents and teachers that of course the UK was better; they usually had 'our heroines', nice middle-class girls on holiday abroad, appealed to and helping out a working-class contemporary from the said country as she tried to enter some competition (sports, dance, song, music etc) and win a prize that would give her the cash and patrons to escape a bullying relative, guardian or employer - never a natural parent. Alternatively, a potential benefactor was trying to locate and help the girl and her guardian was trying to hide her from them. The UK girls would then help their friend to outwit the villain and all would end happily.

The 'racism' stories were usually adventure ones set in the remoter areas of the Commonwealth , usually Canada, and would feature Native American girls - called 'Redskins' and treated dismissively by the adults -being falsely accused of some crime by the bullying local authorities, often Park rangers or town officials , and helped by Our Heroines who lacked their seniors' prejudice. There were even some 'one white girl, one non-white girl' teenage detective teams - a bit like and probably inspired by the Lone Ranger and Tonto on the radio. Some of it was a bit iffy by modern standards and the language and patronising tones were a bit dubious, with the British girls looked up to by the locals, but it was a start and hopefully helped people to question established attitudes on the quiet. And in fact 'Girl' was go-ahead in some respects, especially its mainly female staff and having writers like Betty Roland and 'Girl Adventurer' stories.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#5
I've done some research into the stories and writers of the 1940s and 1950s girls comics while doing a book on the background to the world of post-Second World War authors like Enid Blyton, and noted then that some 'gritty realism' stories about hard-up and bullied working-class girls - and even a bit of mild criticism of racism in the Empire / Commonwealth did creep into some of the 1950s comics, eg 'School Friend' and 'Girls Crystal'.
That is interesting and ties in with some interviews in Remembered Reading - you've basically got a trend of increasing edge, but every take on a generation assumes their reading material started it and the previous stuff is all sissy.

I was not expecting one of the exotic places where the Bad Racism Not Like Us happens was Canada.

to escape a bullying relative, guardian or employer - never a natural parent.
Pat Mills told Gothic For Girls that girls liked stories of horrible bad guardians but if you made it their actual dads, it become too close to the bone. (Probably their actual mums too but he specified "Daddy") There are a few I saw when researching but one from Jinty starts with nice kindly foster parents so there's a 'real' family, and the Nightmare Factory has the dad turn out to be the slaverunner but that's definitely an outlier for its time.

I wonder if this would be easier to do now, when stepparents are more common and so are narratives from other stories about finding out Vader's yer dad?


The discrepancy between the more widespread readership of EU comics compared to UK and US comics has always been interesting to me.

Seems like this really kicked in around the 80s.
I hope someone looks into the reasons why. The main reason I can think of if the comics on the continent had better creator's rights than America, which had better than the UK - so the UK got the brain drain, sometimes to Europe, and more people bringing their A-game instead of, to paraphrase an anecdote about the great Tom Tully, 'yes but if I write a 4-parter I get paid for four parts and if I stretch it to 20 I get paid for twenty parts'.
 
#6
The fact that many of the (mildly) anti-racist 1950s girls' comics stories featuring a plucky and independent-minded British or Canadian white girl assisting a First Nations friend to combat unjust and lazily stereotyped accusations from the locals seems to have emerged from the focus that the British girls' comic story writers had on that country as a representative Commonwealth multi-cultured and 'rugged' nation full of wild scenery and danger. Notably the 'wilderness adventure' stories only very rarely featured Australia or New Zealand (had more of the writers' own relatives been to or emigrated to Canada?) . Many of the Canadian adventure stories seemed to be a modernization of the stories that the writers, probably aged 30-50 in the 1950s given the number who had had established careers before the girl' comics started up , would have read as boys - they had a tendency to feature 'outlaws' and 'gold strikes in the Rockies' as major plotlines, and these would have been far more common in the Edwardian era. (The Yukon gold rush around 1900 seems to have had a major influence on boys' comics in the era as a subject for adventure stories, and is still echoed in 1950s boys and girls comic stories - and I can remember it featuring in early 1970s ones too.) The obsession with 'outlaws' and 'gold strikes' as storylines, possibly recycled from 1900s-1910s boys stories, also appeared in 1940s wartime girls comics stories about UK girls in California (influenced by wartime fascination with the glamorous and consumer-led US culture), eg the 'Merrymakers Club' stories in Girls Crystal.

The most notable series of stories of a 'white/ First nations' girl partnership in solving mysteries and crimes, hindered by false claims by racist locals, in the Canadian Rockies was in Girls Crystal in 1954-5: The Youngest Guide at Bear Park Reserve, with storekeeper's daughter Wanda and FN girl Meenha.

But I do think that the writers had limited knowledge of what actually went on in western Canada - eg their First Nation girls in the 1950s stories tended to speak awkward and mistake-filled English, as if it was not their first tongue and rather like Tonto and other 'Native Guides' in 1950s UK radio serials (which were set in the C19th not the 1950s). In reality many of these girls would have been shipped off to Canadian govt boarding-schools for 'Red Indians' from their reservations and forced to speak English - this scandal is certainly not reflected in the stories, though the casual racism of the white Park Rangers and urban worthies is!
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#7
Ahh, that old children's media trick of "I'm going to do something based on what I enjoyed as a child". (If the specific recycling of Western tropes kept coming up, you have to assume they were getting letters from girls in favour - I wonder if maybe they detected it was vaguely cowboyish and that's part of the appeal, a Western they got to have?)
 

Alex Richards

She needs an artificial Mountain, not AV
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
#8
I think there's also probably a heritage there from the sort of novels which depicted plucky young kids in the countryside and befriending local Gypsies (who are exotic and mostly misunderstood, as opposed to Travellers who are brutal thugs, violent and Irish) to help clear their names from unwarranted accusations of theft.