Publisher: DC Thomson
First issue: 17 February 1973
Last issue: 15 January 1983
Merged into: Mandy
As mentioned before on this blog, the first rule of British girls’ comics was that the title had to be a girl’s name (the only exceptions I can think of at the moment are Spellbound, Girl, Princess and Dreamer).
The second rule was that the titles had to be “proper” girl names, not androgynous names that might accidentally entice a boy to buy them. An exception to rule #2 appears to have been made for the little-known Kim (Marvel UK, about 59 issues, 24 April 1982 to sometime in 1983) but that one seems to have been more of a magazine than a comic so it might not count.
The third rule was that they had to feature a mascot character of the same name who would represent the comic (and sometimes feature in a self-titled strip). In this case, Debbie was supposed to be about, I dunno, eleven or twelve years old. She had blonde hair tied back in a pony-tail. (An interesting, though rather sad, note: the imaginary girls presenting these comics were always Caucasian: girls of other ethnic backgrounds weren’t given anyone to represent them.)
Debbie was the youngest (and shortest-lived) of DC Thomson’s four main “sister” titles, the others being Bunty (2249 issues, 18 Jan 1958 to 17 Feb 2001), Judy (1635 issues, 16 Jan 1960 to 11 May 1991) and Mandy (1269 issues, 21 Jan 1967 to 11 May 1991)*.
In its almost-decade in print, Debbie provided a good number of strips covering a lot of genres, though few of them truly stood out. More on this below.
But first, let’s take a closer look at a typical issue of Debbie…
The contents of Debbie #129 (2 August 1975)…
Debbie’s Bright Spot (1 page).
Puzzles and such along the lines of “Unscramble these letters to make a well-known breed of dog!” and “Follow the strings to see which clown is holding which balloon!” Puzzle-pages like this can be a handy barometer to determine the age-range at which a comic is targetted.
We also get a good look at Debbie without her space helmet (assuming that’s her on the cover). Have to say, she looks a bit spiteful in this pic. And the wording of her comment… that comes across as an order. There’s not even a cheery exclamation mark after it.
Yeah, well, no pre-teen brat gets to order me to have fun, Debbie! I’m a fifty-two-year-old grown-up with, like, a pension plan and plenty of adult life experiences like buying a length of skirting-board and mowing the lawn by choice, thank you very much!
Riding Through with Big Blue (3 pages).
A new story in this issue. Farmer’s daughter Hetty wishes she could have a horse of her own. Her friends can afford horses because they’re from wealthy families (the friends, not the horses). Hetty’s father hints that she might get a pleasant surprise on her birthday, which is conveniently coming up in only a few panels’ time. Surprise indeed! Turns out that the horse he’s giving her is Blue, their old farmhorse. Hetty hides her disappointment to spare her dad’s feelings. Blue’s a bit rubbish as horses go: he can’t even make it over a single jump. But then — double surprise! — a tree falls in the forest and Blue is around to hear it: he gets spooked by the loud noise and he bolts… and turns out to be a very good jumper-over of things after all. Hooray! Hetty just might be in with a chance to become a show jumper, a desire she has never mentioned before. However, she expresses a worry directly to Blue: “But you’re so strong! Will I ever be able to keep you under control?”
Yes, yes you will, Hetty. You’re in a comic: trust me, things will work out in your favour.
Penny’s Post (2 pages).
Readers’ letters. It’s not clear who Penny is, exactly, and why she’s looking after the letters in Debbie’s comic. There was a comic called Penny from rival publisher IPC a few years later (49 issues, 24 May 1979 to 5 May 1980, absorbed into Jinty) but that’s probably a coincidence. I can’t imagine that it’s the same girl. Anyway, as well as letters (“Dear Penny, I have a dog called Spot. Yours, Genevieve Middleton, Herts.”), Penny also answers questions on pop music (“Who would win in a fight between Slade and The New Seekers? What if they were allowed knives?”), plus there’s a letter from the editor — signed “The Ed” and not “Debbie” — and an “L.P. Spot” which in this issue is a review of Marie Osmond’s album Who’s Sorry Now? (which reached #20 on the US Billboard Top Country Albums chart in 1975: I looked it up so that you don’t have to).
Jessie James and Wild Billy Hickock (3 pages).
A western strip. Jessie is a girl, Billy is a goat. Hijinks are pretty much guaranteed in this situation. This strip’s introductory caption box tells us that “Unknown to young Jessie James, the goats she bought at the county fair were wearing bells made of gold.” As we join this apparently on-going adventure, Jessie and the goats have been helping a miner in his gold mine. Then Native Americans from India (I think I’ve got that right) show up and they’re angry because Billy chased them in the previous episode. They want compensation in the form of Billy himself. Luckily, they’re scared off by a monster, which turns out to be Billy who’s accidentally covered himself in bioluminescent fungus. All this already and we’re only at the top of the second page. Silly stuff, but fun. Certainly more fun than Hetty and her dumb horse. Goats are better than horses any day, except in Scrabble.
Terry on the Tennis Trail (3 pages).
“Terry Farnham was convinced that her sister’s tennis career had been ruined by champion Joanie Thomson” the introductory caption tells us. Terry disguises herself and takes a job as Thomson’s maid so she can study her form and learn how to beat her. Not entirely sure why Terry has to become a maid to do that. Got to be honest, I didn’t get very far into this one because the art is not my cup of anything. I don’t know who the artist is, but their work shows up in a lot of girls comics of the era and their long-faced characters with soulless serial-killer eyes really creep me out.
Halfpenny Hospital (2 pages).
Set in the days before TV or electricity, Susan Leighton is one of the first female lady woman doctors and has converted part of her home — Leighton Hall, one of those palatial places that nowadays almost certainly has a gift shop, a safari park or a famous maze attached, or at the very least has appeared in movies as Wayne Manor or Professor X’s house — into a hospital for impoverished sick children. She’s done this on the sly because she has a contractually evil stepmother. In this episode, some of the kids go exploring (two of them seemingly suffering from a rare malady that causes them to repeat the previous panel’s dialogue) and they get caught: the game is up!
The kids are all turfed out into the cold, and Susan goes with them. Luckily, they acquire some tents. Unluckily, a big storm arrives and they all get wet, even Doctor Susan. She catches pneumonia and is therefore scheduled to die. Meanwhile, Susan’s stepmother — who is a dirty liar as well as looking like Margaret Thatcher — informs her recently-returned-from-India husband that Susan had invited “loud-mouthed men and women” into the house and they’d stolen stuff. The episode ends on a panel showing Ginger– one of the sick kids who caused all this trouble, and who apparently had run away — now returning to the makeshift tent-hospital with dozens of fresh sick poor people. Given that their only doctor is currently crawling up death’s driveway, probably not the best time for that move, Ginger.
Una in the Saddle / Horse Boxes / Your Pony Club (2 pages).
“Una in the Saddle” is a weird strip because it’s not actually a story… “Una Marshall is a pupil at Mrs Grant’s Riding School and is getting tuition from the instructor, Dave Holt.” The entire thing is Dave instructing some girls how to get their horses to “sidle away while going forward” when confronted with an obstacle.
Also sharing the pages are a short section called “Horse Boxes” that features facts and cartoons, and a “Your Pony Club” feature. Stuff like this makes me wonder just how far from the pulse were the fingers of the publishers… Not a lot of pre-teen girls in 1970s Britain had access to horses. I don’t know the actual figures, of course, but I’d be surprised if it was greater than one in a thousand.
Bobbie Crusoe and the Pink Planet (3 pages).
A series that starts in this issue. This episode is set in the year 2085, the story of Bobbie Crusoe and her father who are en route back to Earth from Mars when… guess. Go on. Their surname is Crusoe and they’re travelling from one place to another place. Guess what happens. You’re right! The ship goes off-course and crashes on an uncharted planet in the asteroid belt. Like, that’s way off course. Seriously, that’s like driving from Wales to Scotland via Sri Lanka. Bobbie and her dad are marooned on the surprisingly hospitable and safe planet for almost an entire day before they get rescued by a handsome young man who cannot return with them because he’s secretly a robot. It all wraps up in this stand-alone episode. The text at the top of the first page explains the premise: “A super new series about people with famous names!” Next week’s story, we’re informed at the end, is about “Jane Jekyll, a girl with a passion for chemistry.” I don’t have that issue but I’m pretty sure I know what happens.
Suzy (1 page).
A humorous strip. Suzy is training in preparation for her school’s athletics match and gets into assorted scrapes, but in the end all that training tires her out and she misses the match because she falls asleep. This proves that we dwell in a bleak, cold universe where good intentions are rewarded with nothing more than disdain and disappointment. There is no justice. There is no escape. All is death and darkness.
The Promise Pandora Made (3 pages).
A historical story set in ancient historical olden times of yore. Even oldener than the 1970s, amazingly. Pandora is a princess who changes places with a beggar girl and goes into the local plague-ridden town to help nurse the sick. Hmm. Ten out of ten for compassion, Pandora, but are you absolutely sure that it’s only a poor-person plague and not one of those pesky all-rounders? In this episode, a mysterious but benefactorial stranger starts depositing bags of much-needed food in the town, and Pandora spots that a plate in one of the bags bears the emblem of her castle (clearly the stranger believes that the poor need plates, too). To solve this mystery, she returns to the convent to which she had been dispatched in order to wait out the plague. But the nuns won’t let her back in because they think she’s a beggar. So Pandora returns to the castle, but she’s still dressed as a beggar and now they’re going to throw her into the dungeons. Despite how silly this one is, it’s my favourite strip of the bunch. I can identify with it. I mean, who hasn’t been turned away from a convent because they look poor? Bloomin’ nuns, eh? Legendary for their cruelty to the impoverished.
Sunshine Dream (2 pages).
A text story that I couldn’t face reading, mostly because it’s accompanied by an illustration from the same artist behind “Terry on the Tennis Trail.” Shudder!
Cadbury’s Curlywurly (1 page).
An ad. Not really relevant, but I used to like Curlywurlys so I thought I’d mention it.
Tessa – The Young Pretender (3 pages).
Tessa Carr is a serial fibber. One day her class is on a school outing to Harrowden Castle, and one of the girls notices that Tessa’s got mountaineering badges on her jacket. Full disclosure: until this story, I didn’t know that mountaineering badges were even a thing. Anyway: Tessa boasts about being an expert mountaineer, which she isn’t, and almost immediately she and her friend Mary get lost in the mountains. Mary goes for help, and borrows Tessa’s jacket because it’s cold in those mountains. Along the way, Mary meets a young schoolteacher and her kids who are also lost because this was in the days before GPS and common sense. By chance, Mary helps the teacher and the kids get back to civilisation, then she returns for Tessa. Later, when they’re all safe again, Tessa is hailed as a hero because the young teacher has told everyone how they were saved by the girl with the jacket that had lots of mountaineering badges. Tessa, who is a bit of a cow, immediately runs with this and claims credit. Mary is left to seethe silently about this and, I expect, add a new entry in her Blood Journal before she spends the night in the woods sharpening those punji sticks.
Debbie’s Day / Ask May Another (1 page).
Debbie’s Diary is a presumably humorous text piece, a very wordy entry in Debbie’s Diary. I gave up very quickly on this one. It shares the page with “Ask May Another”: readers’ questions answered by someone called May. Example: “When I grow up I want to be a police woman. Can you tell me how the force was started?” Seriously, Jennifer Samson from Chiselhurst, I don’t see how knowing that is going to help you become a cop. (But if, by chance, you did indeed become a police officer at some point in the forty-three years since this issue of Debbie was published, do please write in and let me know.)
Up-to-Date Kate (1 page).
A humorous strip, and on the back page so it has COLOUR! The title says it all, really. Kate has a compulsion to always be at the spearhead of fashion. Hijinks, etc.
And that’s your lot. Quite a lot it is, too, packed into those thirty-two pages. Some of the art is a little, well, rubbish (or scary) and the stories are predictable, but then I’m not a ten-year-old girl living in the mid 1970s. If I was, I’m pretty sure I would have loved this.
As always with DC Thomson titles — and in fact almost every other British comic of the era — the stories in Debbie are uncredited. However, I recognised the artist on “Riding Through with Big Blue” as Dudley Wynn because he also drew “Sport’s Not for Losers” in Action, which is better documented on-line than Debbie.
Along the way, Debbie absorbed the aforementioned Spellbound, one of the few themed comics for girls. Spellbound was actually pretty good, but it just didn’t hit the right market and was cancelled after only sixty-nine issues.
On the right, the first issue of the merged Debbie and Spellbound. There’s little doubt from the sizes of the logos that Spellbound was considered to be the inferior product.
In fact, the only stand-out strip in Debbie was one inherited from Spellbound, and that was “Supercats”, the tale of four young super-powered women who travelled the space-ways righting wrongs and doing good. And the strip wasn’t even original to Spellbound: it first appeared as The Fabulous Four in a Diana Annual in 1974…
Ah, Fauna, one of my first true loves! (Though I did also kind of fancy Hercula even though I was a little scared of her because she was stronger than me. Or it could be that I fancied her because I was a little scared of her. Either way, I kept very quiet about it because I didn’t want Fauna to find out.)
Debbie was merged into Mandy just shy of its tenth birthday, which was, as these things always were, billed as great news for the readers.
Great news? Hah! Picture some poor reader, barely older than Debbie comic itself, finding out that her favourite title has been cancelled. Sure, the Debbie annuals (titled Debbie for Girls for some reason) would run for a few more years, but they weren’t the same.
I mean, just look at the cover of the first merged issue of Mandy and Debbie! That’s an even worse attempt than Debbie and Spellbound at pretending that the two comics were joining forces: that there is a hostile takeover if ever I’ve seen one.
There was also a companion title, Debbie Picture Story Library For Girls, a digest-sized comic that ran from April 1976 to sometime in 1997, for about 197 issues Sorry, accurate info on this one is a bit thin on the ground, as is often the case with the DC Thomson Picture Story Libraries, mostly because they didn’t include dates on their issues. Very annoying for a collector! Often the only way to date an issue of a PSL is to find an ad for it in one of the regular weekly issues, and even then, it probably won’t tell you the actual date of publication.
Each issue of Debbie Picture Story Library For Girls was 64 pages and contained a stand-alone story, with no more than three panels per page. But that’s still plenty of space for a good story!
But… whatever happened to Debbie herself? Fired, that’s what. Rumour has it that she became so disillusioned with comics that she never worked in the industry again. Some say that became a dancer, then later married a powerful magician. Others say that she relocated to a city in Texas, or that she cropped her blonde pony-tail and formed a punk-rock band. We may never know.
* You’ll notice that Judy and Mandy both expired on the same day: that’s because they were merged into one title and relaunched as Mandy & Judy, an entirely new comic, kind of. As we’ve already seen, in most comic-book mergers the name that follows the “and” or the ampersand gradually shrinks to nothing, but Judy stuck around long enough for the comic to be retitled M&J. In total, the relaunched version lasted a little over six years. 315 issues from 18 May 1991 to 24 May 1997. Not bad going for a comic in the 1990s.