You remember the Picture Story Library for Girls comics, don’t you? If you were a girl growing up in the UK or Ireland in the 60s, 70s, 80s or early 90s, you almost certainly read at least one of them. And if you were a boy growing up in that time and you had sisters or cousinettes*, you almost certainly read them too but didn’t let on because if your pals found out you were reading girls’ comics you’d never hear the end of it.
*Scientific term for girl-cousins. Yes it is real, no need to look it up.
Mandy Picture Story Library for Girls
Publisher: DC Thomson
First issue: April 1978
Last issue: 1997
Duration: Fifteenish years
Mandy Picture Story Library for Girls (or MPSLfG for short, which I’m pretty sure is also the name of a fifth-dimensional magical imp that used to annoy the heck out of Superman) was one of four digest-sized comics published by DC Thomson and branded to tie in with their girls’ comics of the same names: Bunty, Judy, Debbie and Mandy. Of those four, the first two PSLs were launched in May 1963, and the others a decade and a half later in 1978.
Each issue contains 64 black and white newsprint pages, and colour covers. They’re square-bound, about 140mm by 175mm, give or take a few mm due to trimming at the printer’s or me not being too diligent about measuring them. They had one stand-alone story per issue, usually with two or three panels per page.
No one seems to know exactly when MPSLfG was cancelled — just that it was sometime in 1997 — but it’s generally listed as as a monthly publication, and we do know that the first issue appeared in April 1978, so let’s plug those figures into Madcap and see what we get…
Hmm. On a monthly schedule it would have reached issue #277 in April 2001. But 2001 isn’t that far removed from 1997… suppose it was published every four weeks rather than once a month? Madcap doesn’t have a “four weekly” option, but it does have “weekly”, so if we select that, then quadruple 277 to get 1108… the final issue would have been published in June 1999, which is too late.
How about once every three weeks? Nope, that gives us a date in February 1994, which also isn’t good enough. But it does strongly suggest that MPSLfG didn’t stick to a regular publishing schedule.
It could of course be that 1997 is just wrong. Time to explore a little further, I think.
The British Library’s records have the publication listed thus:
No. 1 (1978)-no. 275 (1997)
275, eh? Well, that’s not right! We know that there were at least 277 issues… because here’s the cover of #277:
Because digest-sized comics rarely had cover-dates, it can be very hard to pin down individual issues, and the aforementioned fluctuating publication schedules make it trickier. But sometimes with a bit of detective work we can get close.
For example: DC Thomson’s Picture Story Libraries were often advertised in their weekly girls’ comics, so if we had a lot of copies of said comics from around the right era, we could do some correlation between the issue-dates of those comics and the issue-numbers of the PSL titles advertised within.
M&J (the successor to both Mandy and Judy) #188, cover-dated 17 Dec 1994, features an ad for the MPSLfG number #206, so we can assume that it was published around that time.
Unfortunately, that copy of M&J is the only comic I can access right now that contains an ad for a MandyPSL (most of my DC Thomson girls’ comics are tucked away in boxes under many other boxes, and it’s currently 2:04 in the morning so I’m not going to start digging through them now), but the theory is still sound, I reckon. I mean, if we’d been looking for the publication date of issue #206, we’d be feeling pretty pleased now, right?
(Just in case it happens to be useful to anyone: Bunty #2043, dated March 8 1997, features an ad for the BuntyPSL #437.)
However… Another way to narrow the date down a bit is via the PSL’s copyright notice…
If you owned every issue it’d be simple enough to check the copyright dates for them all to see how many issues were published in each year, which could indicate the frequency. Twelve issues with a particular year as the copyright date would imply that it was monthly. Thirteen issues would be four-weekly, etc.
This wouldn’t be 100% accurate, though, because (a) the year in question might be one of those where the publication frequency changed, and (b) comics are generally prepared a couple of months ahead of their publication date, so an issue published in January or February might still have the previous year as the copyright date.
Unfortunately, I don’t own enough copies of the PSLs to do that, either, so the date of the final issue is just going to have to remain a mystery for now.
But never mind, chums, let’s sample an individual issue anyway to see what they’re all about!
This is issue #82, probably published sometime in 1984 (according to the copyright notice). Like just about all of DC Thomson’s comics, the writer, artist and letterer are uncredited.
In this adventure, Polly and her dog Ruff find a toy spaceship in the park…
…and as soon as Polly touches it, she and Ruff are zapped with a beam that shrinks them down to action-figure size. They’re immediately attacked by a cat so they hide inside the not-actually-a-toy spaceship, which whisks them off to another planet via “stellar hyperspace.”
The planet is Gnomon of the Star Cluster Minitron, and Polly and her dog are actually much larger than the Gnomon inhabitants, who resemble those articulated wooden figures artists use to work out poses. Well, some of them do: the planet’s scientists look a lot more human. After the mannequin people zap Polly and Ruff into unconsciousness, the scientists take them to their lab…
From this point on, Polly is inexplicably referred to (and introduces herself) as Lindy, so I shall do likewise.
The Gnomons feed them soup and what looks like steak. Ruff immediately goes for the steak, so Lindy opts for the soup. But it’s a trick! You see, the soup has been poisoned. Luckily, Ruff knocks the soup bowl out of Lindy’s hands.
However, the scientists conclude that this experiment shows that Ruff is clever and Lindy is dumb because only dumb creatures would eat poison, so they ship her off to a circus where she meets a bunch of different aliens, including a mermaid named Delya.
After being forced to do tricks for the amusement of their captors, Lindy and Delya eventually escape and crash into the scientists’ lab, where they find that scientists have made Ruff telepathic and very smart.
They all escape again, and then get shrunk even more, nearly drown, nearly get eaten by a fish, nearly get eaten by a spider, nearly get eaten by carnivorous plants, and end up in a village of primitive human-like people…
… who nearly eat them. Luckily, because of science, the hot water in the cooking pots causes Lindy and Delya to grow big again.
As it happens, these primitive people — the Klubbans — also used to be big once, back when they ruled the planet, and when Lindy drops one of them in the cooking pot, he too grows back to his original size. The Klubbans are overjoyed, naturally, and the rest of them also jump into the cooking pots so that the hot water will restore them, too.
(Now, there’s a tiny bit of a story-kludge here where we’re told that the Klubbans as a race don’t like baths which explains why none of them had been directly exposed to hot water since the Great Shrinking, but I think we can let them away with that as all the rest of the science in this story is pretty much spot-on.)
In gratitude, the Klubbans make Lindy their queen, the way you would, and declare fresh war on the Gnomons, whom they intend to conquer and then eat. The seemingly primitive Klubbans will probably have no trouble waging war on the more advanced Gnomons because they’ve got some powerful weapons-grade weapons stashed away.
Lindy and Delya and Ruff persuade the Klubbans to let them test-drive a tank before the battle begins, and they use it to escape to Delya’s undersea kingdom where her mermaid parents have been so frantic with worry for their enslaved daughter that they’ve done absolutely nothing about it.
The mermaids give Lindy a prototype spaceship they’ve been building that might just be able to take her home. Sadly, it’s not able to, mostly because Lindy expects Ruff to pilot the spaceship, but he can’t because his telepathy and extra-smartness wore off when the Klubbans shot him with their arrows and I forgot to mention that.
So they end up back with the Gnomon people, but now the Klubbans are in charge so they force the Gnomons to fix the first spaceship (the one from page 1) in order to send Lindy and Ruff back to Earth. And it works.
After giving it considerable consideration, I’m beginning to suspect that this is not a true story.
OK, you can argue that this comic wasn’t really aimed at middle-aged men, but I do know a thing or two about writing for children, and quite a lot of things about science fiction, And one of the things I know is that “silly” and “stupid” are not synonymous. Kids can tell the difference, believe me. Silly stories can be fun, stupid stories are just annoying.
Still, I guess this one might have been popular because it was reprinted in 1985 in the Norwegian comic Lillemor:
But, well, I’ve read a goodly number of these things over the years and “Polly on Pygmy Planet” doesn’t stand up among the best of its peers. Or if it does, then the best of its peers are all going to give it a withering stare until it cringes and sits back down again.
In general the other issues of Mandy Picture Story Library for Girls I’ve read are a lot stronger, so on the whole… it was a good comic, with a few dud issues here and there. Sadly, this is one of the duds.
Today’s bonus (which I’m dedicating to certain friends who probably won’t even read this, but if they do, they’ll know it’s for them):
The companion comic Judy Picture Story Library for Girls occasionally featured photos of pop-stars and the like on the back page. Here’s Judy PSL #258 (copyright 1984)…
And here’s the heart-throb pin-up on the back of that issue, a Mister David Gilmour…
Never heard of ‘im.