Welcome, readers, to the long-unawaited third episode in our sporadic and unreliable series in which your Uncle Rusty takes a look at comics that didn’t actually exist in this universe but should have…
In the 1970s (a sort of prototype version of the 1980s, but with wider ties, longer hair, and orange and brown wallpaper) there were three main types of British comic: boys’ comics for boys, girls’ comics for girls, and nursery and humour comics, which were in theory non-gender-specific.
In general, boys comics tended towards war, sport and adventure stories, while girls comics featured more kidnappings, orphans and ponies. They also sometimes gave away free hair clips or cheap lockets to make up for their lack of vendettas and minefields.
Possibly the only publication that managed to successfully straddle the fence and have one leg firmly planted on each side was Look-In: it contained a lot of comic-strip content — all based on TV shows — but also many articles about sports stars, pop stars and movie-stars of both of the commonly-recognised genders. But Look-In was really more of a magazine than a comic. For the rest of the industry, the divide was very clear: there was no middle ground.
But in the real world — where I spent much of my time despite my best efforts — boys certainly did read “girls'” comics and girls read “boys'” comics. I read my older sister’s copies of Bunty, Mandy Picture Library, Spellbound, Misty and, later, Jackie, and she read my copies of Spider-Man Comics Weekly, The Avengers, Warlord, 2000AD and the rest. If anyone had asked back then we’d have denied it with great vehemence, but the truth is that my sister was as familiar with the Aeroball teams who clashed with the Harlem Heroes as I was with the adventures of the Supercats.
And now I hear you ask, “But Rusty, Uncle Surely, one of the big publishers must have at least experimented with the concept of a non-humour comic that would appeal to both girls and boys?”
Well, dear reader, I’m pleased to be able to answer in the affirmative! My spies have unearthed a photo of a very rare prototype comic from DC Thomson where they tried to do just that…
… a comic aimed at girls but featuring the sort of adventure stories usually found in boys’ comics! Unfortunately, all we have is this photo culled from from an ancient Ebay listing (from back in the days when it was still called eBay — remember that?), so we have no idea about its contents.
But it doesn’t end there, no siree! You see, the British comics industry is more tightly-knit than one might imagine, with the main publishers constantly looking over each other’s shoulders (not literally, of course, because then they’d all be involved in some kind of eternal communal hug, which might sound nice and cosy but they wouldn’t be able to get much work done).
If one of them published a comic called, say, Underwater Astronomer, then it was a pretty safe bet that a few months later another publisher would release Deep-Sea StarGazer.
So when word of DC Thomson’s action-packed girls’ comic reached IPC, the Powers That Were ordered their editors to put together their own version, and as luck would have it a copy has recently reached me….
Stories in this issue included:
Hellwoman of Hammer House of Horror
She’s a German tank-commander trapped in a Gothic castle by a mad scientist.
Bela at the Bar
A bright, sparky but impoverished young solicitor secretly longs to be a vampire like her namesake.
D-Day Dawson’s Creek
Liable to drop dead at any moment thanks to the shrapnel pressing on her heart, she’s determined to finish film school and become a movie director.
Laid-back synchronised baton-twirling in the war-ravaged deserts of North Africa.
Union Jack Jackie
A member of the Royal Marines (Women’s Brigade) divides her time between fighting for the Americans during WWII and dispensing invaluable advice about boys and acne.
The Fantastic Four Marys
Each member of the quartet has incredible powers! Mary Field can stretch her body into any shape, Mary Radleigh can turn invisible, Mary Cotter can control fire, and Mary Simpson is a rock-monster. Individually, they’re very powerful, but together they go to school.