Blog Post 9.
Comics as they appeared in the 20th century newspapers, were cartoony and funny, hence the term Comic. (Comix are the underground version). They progressed into cartoon stories such as Tin-Tin, and Asterix. After the war there was a proliferation of weekly magazines in cartoon format. With the help of Google I can tell you it was 1958 when girl’s comics were first published. I would have been six. They would have been available in my Cornish Newsagent sometime soon afterwards. In 1960, I was in hospital for a fortnight for observation for a Scarlet Fever possibility. It was over my eighth birthday in February. Mum came to see me every afternoon driving over from Cornwall across the car ferry Plymouth. It was a long round trip and I remember thinking, I didn’t realise I was that important. Kids eh?
I suppose there wasn’t a lot of demonstrative outpourings at home to have alerted me to the fact I was precious. Anyway during those long two weeks in an isolation room were my first experience of lockdown, I had plenty of time for reading. One day, Mum brought a box of back issues of girl’s comics from kind school friends. I so enjoyed reading them, I was allowed to have one delivered every week when i got home. It was ‘Bunty’ published by D.C. Thomson. Other girls had ‘Judy’. It was delivered rolled up into a drainpipe concreted into the milk churn dock for newspapers at the bottom of the farm drive. Dad had the ‘Farmer and Stockbreeder’ delivered and Mum ‘The Guider’. Later my brothers had ‘The Eagle’. There was a weekly newspaper the ‘East Cornwall Times’ for local news. No national papers. I would read the comic strip stories in a state of bliss. I even remember some of the characters now: There was ‘Lorna Kent’ and her life at a strict ballet school, and the Four Mary’s boarding school adventures. Toots was a naughty character and there were dolls dresses to cut out on the back cover. No romance, no boys. That was left for the magazines for teens like Jackie with all the future delights of pop stars posters and boyfriends. I was reluctant at thirteen to give up Bunty and I had to be brave when she stopped arriving at the churn dock.
Jump forward 60 years to now, and those comics are still in my head, but I am reading about them, rather than the comics themselves. ) About how comics affected our notions of how we were to be as women. ( Walkerdine:1990)
Valerie Walkerdine suggests persuasively that our desires at that age are powerful, and that is certainly my memory. She says stories that in those strip cartoon way fed us potent themes of family loss, heroines who suffer silently before, and above all girls as victims of school bullying, cruelty, and abandonment. These storylines are exaggerated themes of reality, more similar to fairy story than real life, but the girl reader identifies strongly with these relationship themes. They dream of happy families… while they suffer; the archetypal happy family with a mother and a father and one or two siblings. We as girls accompanied the comic book characters and together fought our way towards solutions, using good manners and private endurance…No Claire, don’t tell the headmistress that Felicity cut my tie, I can mend it myself. Through the stories we engaged with difficult emotions and we were encouraged to work towards personal resolutions. Boys stories at that time, (Walkerdine: 1990) tells us, dealt with public bravery and injustice and the boy story heroes are rewarded publicly too.
See the difference? Girls in the stories are constantly misunderstood and judged unfairly often within the family and are expected to suffer in silence. The girls who win through, are quiet, helpful and courageous, serving others before themselves.
I am reminded at this point, that book reviews say that we women read more of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child than men. Jack the hero fights his way through injustices, slays the bad rescue the good, and like the Lone Ranger or the heroines of the girl’s comic stories, doesn’t expect to be praised or rewarded.
So what’s the point? Well, we were enjoying themes that informed us that girls are victims of cruelty and they rise above their circumstances by being unselfish. Temper doesn’t get you anywhere, because if you are quiet and good, and keep your head down, you will be rewarded in the end. This, she goes on to say, could connect into our future sexual selves, where we might think we should wait for, and perform politely/submit/service our prince/rescuer/husband/boss, (Coward:1982). I could go on, but I think I will leave it there.
Tell me what you think.
p.s. D.C. Thomson ceased publication of Bunty in 2001.
Walkerdine, Valerie. Schoolgirl Fictions (Verso 1990).
Coward Rosalind, Sexual Violence and Sexuality (Feminist Review, Vol. 11 p9-22 1982).