Monthly Online Book Review and Listings Magazine ~ May 2009
BULLYING IN GIRLS’ COMICS
By Briony Coote
In this feature we shall be exploring bullying in girls’ comics. Bear in mind that this feature will concentrate on how serials portrayed bullying, who was responsible for the bullying and why, how victims, parents and schools handled the bullying, and how bullying situations were ultimately resolved.
First, there are the bullies who are the perennial nemesis of a regular feature. Molly Mills (Tammy) had Pickering the bullying butler, The Four Marys (Bunty) had the snobby bullies Mabel Lentham and Veronica Lavery, The Comp (Nikki, then Bunty) had the more thuggish Pippa Cragston and Morag Gordon, and Judy had The Honourable S.J., who evidently started as a regular serial but proved so popular she achieved “regular” status. Sarah Jane (S.J.) Cheetwell is the most popular prefect in the school. She seems kind and generous, but in reality she is a nasty piece of work who gets her own way by scheming, bullying, cheating and blackmail. Only Ann Smith knows the truth but S.J. keeps Ann under her control because Sir Cheetwell, who is every bit as nasty as his daughter, is Mr Smith’s employer. Still, this doesn’t stop Ann acting as a watchdog over S.J., trying to foil her whenever she can and in the end, exposing S.J., who is then expelled. But the two girls always meet up at a new school and the same thing starts all over again.
The regulars had the odd brush with downright bullying teachers and endured the residential unpopular teachers such as “Grim Gertie” in The Comp, “Starchibald” in Penny’s Place (M & J, then Bunty) and “Desperate Dan” in Pam of Pond Hill (Jinty, then Tammy). Bullying teachers tended to crop up as plot devices in the serials, such as Dracula’s Daughter (Jinty), and in some serials teachers deliberately encourage and even participate in the bullying. In Eva’s Evil Eye (Tammy) the teacher discriminates against Eva Lee because she is a gypsy, which encourages the class bullies who pick on Eva for the same reason. In The Courage of Crippled Clara (Bunty) even the headmistress joins the bullying and ostracism of Mary Jordan, who has incurred the wrath of the local squire.
And of course, it wouldn’t be complete without some old dragons. The best remembered is Miss Bigger, the nemesis of Wee Sue (Sandie, then Tammy). Miss Bigger is a real tartar of a teacher who specialises in “whacking great helping[s] of homework”, and heaven help the girls if Miss Bigger is in a rage. Miss Bigger is also vain, conniving, and forever trying to ingratiate herself with the higher levels in society and taking undeserved credit, and often ropes the girls into doing the donkey work in some grand scheme.
Miss Bigger’s biggest dislike is the smallest girl in her class, Sue Strong. Sue is always coming up with schemes to get the girls out of homework, or whatever Miss Bigger has lined up for them, and Miss Bigger finds it most infuriating that the midget’s brains are too mighty for her. Mind you, Miss Bigger is allowed to win now and then. Usually this happens when Sue is admittedly in the wrong, such as when she eats sweets in class or pesters Miss Bigger who is trying to enjoy a game of tennis. Sometimes both Sue and Miss Bigger both come up winners from the situation of the week. Sometimes they both lose, as in their disastrous day trip to Paddlewick, which leaves them lying low from an angry mob.
However, the relationship between Sue and Miss Bigger is far more complicated than one might think. There are plenty of stories Miss Bigger finds herself in desperate need of Sue Strong, who is always willing to help whenever Miss Bigger is in a jam, or even outright danger. There are some stories where they might almost be friends, such as when they are rewarded with a holiday in Spain for catching criminals. The name of the travel company, “Con-Em”, should have warned them that the holiday may not be so rewarding. Thanks to Sue’s brains it is rewarding in the end, but when the mayor takes the same holiday he finds out why nobody ever buys “Con-Em” tickets. Wee Sue was played for more laughs than, say, Molly Mills, which may explain the love-hate relationship between Miss Bigger and Wee Sue.
Some firm favourites
Cinderella-based bullies are arguably the most frequent in girls’ comics. The heroine is a Cinderella type who is bullied by her guardians and often, though not always, by step-siblings/cousins as well. The only thing that keeps the heroine going is some special secret or talent. If she can overcome the obstacles her bullying relatives keep putting in her way, the talent/secret ultimately becomes her salvation and lifts her out of her miserable situation and into happiness. The best-remembered example is Bella Barlow in Bella at the Bar (Tammy) whose talent for gymnastics is her only respite and her ultimate salvation from her slave-driving guardians who work her to the bone and feed her very badly. Bella proved so popular that sequels were not enough; she became a permanent fixture in Tammy.
Related the wicked stepmother is the wicked stepsister, and we get plenty of stories where the heroine is up against a wicked stepsister (or cousin) who is out to make her life miserable, and make it very difficult for her victim to prove to her guardians since the little rat-bag looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. In the case of wicked stepsisters, they must repent and change their ways; if they don’t the marriage is doomed. Therefore, simply being caught out and punished will not be enough for a happy ending. This happens in Hettie High and Mighty! (begun in Lindy and completed in the Jinty & Lindy merger) and Day and Knight (begun in Princess and completed in the Tammy & Princess merger). If the bully is a cousin, she may repent and start afresh. Otherwise the victim is given the option of moving out and living with another relative, as happens in What Lilla Wants... (M & J). She would not have this option if she was a stepsister.
There are plenty of stories where heroines voluntarily undergo bullying from oppressed people who despise them for colluding with the enemy. What they don’t realise is that the heroine is secretly helping them and her toadying is just a cover to facilitate her campaign. For example, in Catch the Cat! (Bunty) Marie Bonnet, a French girl living in the Nazi occupation, is ostracised and bullied by her classmates because she curries favour with the Germans. The truth is, it is all part of Marie’s double life as a costumed resistance fighter known as “The Cat”. In The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie (Mandy) Hattie Taylor is despised by the girls of a cruel Edwardian orphanage because she curries favour with the staff to get privileged treatment. They don’t know it is all part of Hattie’s ploy to secretly help them in whichever way she can, although it means suffering constant bullying, assaults and the moniker “Hateful Hattie” from the very girls she is secretly helping.
Another established, and more extreme, feature of bullying is the hate campaign story. A misguided person harasses and terrorises a person or persons, and in extreme cases, tries to murder them, because they blame them for some injustice or accident. In the end it turns out that they jumped to the wrong conclusion and their victims are entirely innocent, but not before they have conducted a vendetta so dangerous that sometimes they come close to murder, as in The Change in Claire (Bunty) and Cursed to be a Coward! (Jinty).
Blackmail is a form of bullying, and “blackmail” stories abound. Often they begin when a family member is wrongly accused of a crime and the family has to conceal this to avoid gossip and scandal. Of course, some nasty girl at school finds out and starts blackmailing the heroine over it. They get caught out in the end, but the real answer is for the family member to be vindicated so the blackmailer loses her power. Sandra’s Sad Secret (Bunty) and Blackmailed! (Suzy) are two examples.
Other blackmail stories are used to convey the message: Don’t give in to them – call their bluff! For example, in both Dear Diary – I Hate You! (Tammy) and Debbie’s Diary (Bunty), the heroines are blackmailed over compromising diaries, but in the end they discover they had nothing to worry about. In the former, the blackmailer is simply not believed when she spills the beans because she is unpopular; in the latter both blackmailer and victim discover the diary has been left out in the rain and the writing has been obliterated.
The message is even stronger in the blackmail en masse stories because this is the only way the story is resolved. The blackmailer holds an entire school in her power; in some cases even the teachers and principal are in her thraldom, as in The Power of Petra (Judy). Only one brave girl refuses to succumb, and she is determined to find out exactly what hold the blackmailer has so she can break it. In Poison Penny (Spellbound) Penny Benson blackmails and terrorises her classmates by claiming to have supernatural powers. Only Sandra Main stands up to Penny because she suspects Penny is a fraud. But if Sandra is to prove Penny a fraud she needs to unravel how Penny’s “powers” work.
Nowhere is the message stronger than in Wendy’s Web (M & J). When Carol moves to a new school, she finds her new friends are in the thraldom of the despicable Wendy Allen. Carol investigates to find out exactly what hold Wendy has over them and discovers she is blackmailing all three girls with false information – something they would have found out for themselves if they had told their parents instead of suffering in silence.
Related to blackmail themes are the “Reluctant Toady” stories, in which the heroine is forced to be “nice” to an unpopular girl and consequently becomes ostracised by her classmates who are outraged at her apparent toadying. Some stories with this theme include It’s a Dog’s Life (M & J) and Dear Diary – I Hate You! In Be Nice to Nancy (Judy) aka Be Nice to Nikki (M & J), it isn’t actually Nancy Norden the bully who forces Yvonne Baxter to be “nice” to her but Yvonne’s own father. Why? Because Mr Norden asked Yvonne to help his daughter settle into her new school – and Mr Norden is Mr Baxter’s boss! The trouble is, Nancy is a vicious bully who rapidly makes herself the most hated pupil in the school, so being “nice” to her is making Yvonne unpopular as well. Unusually for the heroine, Yvonne does try to tell her parents, but Dad refuses to listen while Mum appears to understand but doesn’t do anything to help. In the end it is Mr Norden himself who saves Yvonne when he catches Nancy red-handed. He tells Nancy she is now bound for special school and then explains to Yvonne that Nancy was expelled from her previous school for bullying. He wanted Yvonne to be friends with Nancy in the hope that having “some nice friends” might help “change her ways”. Sorry, naive Mr Norden, you have it backwards – Nancy has to change her ways before she can have nice friends!
Bullying is at its most extreme and most dangerous when it is not just schoolchildren who are responsible, but a whole community. They may ostracise the heroine when she or her father is falsely accused of a crime, such as in Belinda Black Sheep (Tammy) and Paula’s Puppets (Jinty), or they are a bigoted lot who are prejudiced against a newcomer because she is a “stranger”, is “different”, or whatever. The heroine faces an uphill battle to overcome the prejudice and be accepted. It is here that we sometimes see a very rare theme in girls’ comics: a girl (or even less often, an animal) who is persecuted by superstitious, ignorant villagers who still believe in witches.
In Witch! (Bunty), when Ellie Ross and her parents move to their ancestral village, Littledene, the villagers rally to drive her out (and eventually succeed). They believe Ellie is descended from the village witch, Elizabeth “Black Bess” Ross, and it must be said that there is evidence pointing to a connection. Worse still, strange things begin happening to Ellie. These are carefully kept ambiguous so it can never be properly determined if they have logical explanations, are a product of the hysteria and possibly some fraud (the ringleaders are in it to buy the Rosses’ house for development – only to discover it is listed), or whether the supernatural really is involved. Unfortunately it convinces Ellie’s only friend, townie Lynne Taylor, who then defects to the persecutors’ side. At times it even has Ellie herself wondering if she does have powers.
However, supernatural forces, strange powers and Ellie’s ancestry are quite beside the point. The real problem is that Ellie simply refuses to tell her parents because she wants to spare their feelings: “It will only upset Mum and Dad if they know about my problems. It’s best if I don’t let on to them how bad things are.” Nothing the persecutors do makes her budge from this decision, not even when they vandalise her mother’s pottery workshop. But even Ellie does not have much choice after Mum calls in the police to rescue her from a lynch mob.
*Sigh* . . . how many real-life victims have allowed bullying situations to get out of hand because of such misguided compassion? Victims may not get lynched, but they can readily end up as Ellie nearly was – badly hurt, or even dead. And so we learn another lesson: if you are being bullied, staying quiet for whatever reason will only make the bullying worse. Don’t let misguided considerations for your family prevent you speaking out; you, after all, are suffering far more than they would be.
Stories told from the bully’s point of view are unusual. When they do occur, they usually deal with turning a bully around or showing the shock she feels when her reign of terror ends. In The Clock and Cluny Jones (Tammy) Cluny Jones turns to bullying because her belief (or self-justification) is that life is tough, so you have to be tough to get what you want. Then she is flung into a brutal parallel world where she becomes the bullied instead of the bully.
One serial, Fancy Free! (Jinty) will be discussed here because it explores something that ‘bully’ serials seldom do – that kids often turn to bullying they have emotional problems and come from unhappy backgrounds. Fancy Cole comes from a broken home, which is an utter tip as well. She has no father figure because he disappeared years ago, and her mother is an old trout who cares more about bingo than her own daughter. Later we learn that Mrs Cole is an embittered woman. Her husband absconded from prison (for a crime he denied committing) and remains at large. Mrs Cole is angry with him for, in her view, “ending up a stinking jailbird”, abandoning his family for a life of crime and leaving her to raise a daughter on her own. It is no wonder that Fancy is a bully, a loner, an underachiever and a rebel – in short, “the most difficult pupil” in the school.
The turning point comes when Fancy meets Ben, a naturalist who teaches her how to treat injured wildlife. In Ben, Fancy finds the father figure she so desperately longs for, and she desperately wants to change her bullying ways for his sake as she learns about caring for animals. When Ben dies at the end of the story, evidence has emerged to suggest he really is Fancy’s missing father. We never find out for sure, but the whole point is to turn Fancy around and save her from the escalating downward spiral.
Saving Grace (Tammy) reminds us that a bully may not be evil but a child with a problem, which he/she tries to mask with bullying, antisocial behaviour. Returning home from abroad, Sue Blackstone is shocked to discover that Grace Clark, once her best friend, is now a self-appointed loner, bully and outcast. Sue is determined to find out what is causing this, and whether there is any hope of saving Grace from herself. Despite Grace’s determination to repel Sue, she detects clues that Grace’s bad behaviour is a mask which hides not only a deeply hurt child but the warm, caring Grace that she used to know. It becomes increasingly obvious that Grace’s problem is linked to something terrible which has burned her entire family. But as Sue is to discover, unravelling the mystery is only part of the solution to saving Grace and her family.
Teachers who are being bullied by pupils are far more heard-of these days than previously. Therefore the 1969 June serial, Patsy and the Beast of Banchester, was really ahead of its time for starring a bullied teacher. The new teacher, Miss Rabbit is a prime target for bullying because this is her first job, so she lacks experience and confidence, and the toughs in her class compound the problem. Added to that, her surname makes her open to ridicule. Soon the toughs are no longer content with merely bullying Miss Rabbit – they want to get her sacked. Fortunately for Miss Rabbit, there are some very good pupils in her class who are doing their very best to protect her from the toughs. When the toughs finally succeed in getting Miss Rabbit sacked, they go on strike to get her back. Ah, wouldn’t real-life bullied teachers give their right arm for pupils like these?
Heroines often find bullying situations more bearable because they have a marvellous secret or talent. In Badgered Belinda (Jinty) Belinda Gibson is running away from her boarding school because of she is being badly bullied, but then she finds a set of orphaned badgers. She decides to stay on, bullies and all, so she can secretly tend to them. As with so many other heroines in her situation, Belinda’s secret turns out to be her salvation, for the badgers become the key to change the bullies’ ways.
Taking refuge in a love for an animal is a frequent method of handling bullying. The trouble is, the animal is so often a target for bullying as well. In It’s a Dog’s Life! (Tammy) Rowan Small finds herself being shoved around when she arrives at Hope House. The only thing that makes it bearable is the example she sees in Riley, the ill-treated dog next door who can keep his tail up despite being kicked and starved by the thuggish Bert. Even so, there are limits to how much Riley and Rowan can take. As with so many others in their position, Rowan and Riley try to run away and take refuge with a sympathetic person. The usual pattern is for the sympathetic person to make everything right, as in The Stables Slave (Tammy). However, in this case the police simply bring them back. Everything comes right when Rowan’s disappearance causes the bullies at the home to have a change of heart while Bert is caught red-handed and Riley removed from him.
Sometimes the bully resorts to an underhand type of bullying; playing sneaky tricks, and sometimes even pretending to be her victim’s friend, in order to get her victim into trouble. Jealousy is arguably the most frequent motive, but some bullies do this purely for kicks; in Dulcie Wears the Dunce’s Hat (Tammy), Annie Archer and her cronies keep sabotaging Dulcie Dobbs’ schoolwork just so they get a great big laugh out of seeing her wear the dunce’s hat. Some motives are even more sinister than jealousy, as in I’ll Take Care of Tina! (Mandy); Elaine Warnock and her father conspire to get Tina Marsden expelled so Mr Warnock can get Mr Marsden’s job.
The heroine may be too naive and/or deceived to realise exactly what is happening; she knows something terrible and strange is happening, but she can’t explain it. So how can she fight against it? Well, eventually the troublemaker may make some mistake that arouses her victim’s suspicions, and once these are confirmed she sets out to trap the miscreant. This is how the Warnocks’ plans to “take care of Tina” are foiled. Sometimes the culprit is simply caught straight out, as in False Friend (Mandy). In some stories only Providence can save the victim; no longer content with forcing Dulcie into the dunce’s hat, Annie Archer decides to get her expelled. Annie is on the verge of succeeding when a fire breaks out and sets in motion a chain of events which turns the situation around. There are also stories where the trouble stops with the troublemaker repenting, as in Friend or Foe? (Bunty) but this occurs less frequently; more often the troublemaker is discovered one way or another.
On a related theme are girls who are branded losers, nerds, wet blankets or whatever; nobody gives them any respect or encouragement, and they seem fit only to be the butt of teasing and jokes. They set out to prove themselves but they have an enemy who sabotages them at every turn because they want them to remain in the shadows. The enemy may be a classmate, a relative or even their own sister(s), who consider themselves as the ones who deserve all the glory, and they will brook no competition from the runt of the family. Serials with this theme include: Belinda Bookworm, Sheena so Shy, Make the Headlines, Hannah! (Tammy) and Tears of a Clown (Jinty).
A very popular device for overcoming bullying is the acquisition of some form of supernatural power, object or entity. With its help a girl who is bullied and teased for being new, timid, clumsy, a geek or a misfit, finds the confidence she needs. By the end of the story she loses the power but has no need for it anymore; she is now equipped to manage on her own. After all, we don’t want her to become bigheaded – which is precisely what she becomes if the power she is using turns out to be evil. Sure, it did help her, but it only did so to lure her into its grip. The heroine finds that her true battle is not with the bullies but with the evil force that binds her, and she discovers her true strength in breaking its hold.
In the Carrie-inspired Misty classic, Moonchild, the power and its user are not inherently evil but a monster of the bullies’ own making. There is something strange about Rosemary Black which makes her a prime target for bullying. The ringleader is Norma Sykes, a girl with “delinquent” written all over her (and she does end up in approved school in the final episode). Norma sets a trap to bring about Rosemary’s ultimate hurt and humiliation – but she has no idea just how strange Rosemary really is. Rosemary comes from a long line of telekinetics, and her powers are stirring in response to the bullying. When the trap is sprung, Rosemary retaliates with the full force of her powers and all hell breaks loose.
Morals in bully stories
By the 1980s the depiction of bullying was aimed more at preaching messages about bullying and portraying real-life situations – not only of the bully and the victim but how parents and teachers handle bullying situations. In Tears of a Clown Kathy Clowne is bullied because she is clumsy, gawky, slow- to-learn and has a surname which is open to ridicule. The ringleader thinks it is a huge joke and tremendous fun to poke fun at “The Clown”. True-life stories from Shout and other teen magazines show that all too often this is how a lot real-life bullies start: just a bit of fun which escalates into a serious and tragic situation because the bullies never thought what it might be like for their victim. Furthermore, the system lets her down. Her teachers don’t pick up on the problem, nobody steps in to help her as her grades slip to bottom, neither the school nor Kathy’s parents investigate to find out what is wrong and Kathy is too ashamed to speak out. Gradually the situation becomes too much and Kathy runs away. This shocks the bullies into repentance, her parents realise too late that they have failed her, the headmistress feels “rather responsible” – as she should – and joins the search for Kathy. When Kathy is located she finds that school has changed overnight.
Running away may have sorted out Kathy’s problem, but other bullying serials preach the message that running away from the bullying is not the answer. The victim in Bullied! (M & J) is too scared to speak out because she thinks the bullying will intensify if she “grasses.” She makes the common real-life mistake of playing truant to avoid the bully, but learns the hard way that this is not the answer – the bully finds her anyway! She gets run over while trying to get away from him. The bully is expelled, and the victim regrets not having spoken out.
A different sort of avoidance proves to be a mistake made in Living a Lie! (Bunty). The school bullies retreat when they mistake the new girl for the new headmaster’s daughter because they share the same surname. She perpetuates their mistake with deception so they will not bully her friends. Naturally the bullies discover the truth, and they are set to teach her a lesson. However the heroine decides to face up to them, and then they are caught by the headmaster. Her courage inspires the other girls to report what the bullies have done, and they are expelled. Other times things simply get out of hand; in Eva’s Evil Eye Eva Lee is picked on (even by the teacher) because she is a gypsy, so she pretends to have the evil eye to scare the bullies off. As with most lies, things snowball – especially when Eva’s arch-enemy hits upon a plan to expose Eva as a fraud – but does not stop to think her plan could also put Eva’s life in danger. . . .
The fear of bullying drives other heroines to elaborate deceptions. In Pop Starr (Bunty) Snowdrop Starr goes to great lengths at her exclusive school to keep her snobby classmates from finding out her father is a pop star. They bullied one girl for being a fishmonger’s daughter, and Snowdrop fears she will face the same ridicule if they discover her father’s occupation. In Donna’s Double Life (Bunty) when Donna Wade is transferred from Forden School to its sworn enemy, Grange School, she conducts an extremely elaborate deception to keep her friends at both schools from finding out. In the end they learn that hiding the truth is not the answer – if people do despise them for it, then they are the ones with the problem.
Some serials such as I Want to Be a Duffer! (Tracy) and Top of the Class (Bunty) deal with another common mistake – deliberately underachieving because bullies are picking on them for being clever. All it does is ruin their education and get them into trouble at school, as their real-life counterparts find out out. They learn the hard way that bullies pick on people for any reason they can think of.
And there are the serials which preach the message: don’t be afraid of the bully. Yes, they all teach it one way or another, but some serials preach it far more strongly than others. Extremely vicious bullies feature in The Black-and-White World of Shirley Grey (Tammy) and The Quiet One (M & J), but eventually the girls decide to stand up to the bully instead of being afraid of her. As a result she loses her power and is left miserable and defeated. Nobody is scared of her anymore, so she has nobody to bully. This is perhaps far more satisfying than merely seeing her expelled, and it encourages readers not to be afraid of real-life bullies as that is the key to their success.
Ultimately, though, the real lesson is to have the confidence to stand up for yourself. In Sister in the Shadows (Tammy) Wendy Weekes becomes a prime target for bullying because everyone (parents, teachers, classmates) compares her unfavourably with her all-round-winner sister, Stella. Bullies call her “Weak Sister Wendy”, and Wendy’s self-esteem plummets because of the constant comparison: “I’m a failure!” Then Wendy discovers Stella is hiding in shame from her own family because she has struck disaster for the first time ever (a victim of her own success). Wendy finds confidence in standing up to Stella, sticking up for her against their over-expectant parents and potential gossips, coaxing her to work through her misfortune instead of hiding from it and restoring her self-esteem. In turn, Stella teaches Wendy some techniques to deal with the bullies, as demonstrated above. Very handy – but they would be useless without Wendy’s new-found confidence that she can now handle the bullies.
Other heroines have to learn the true meaning of confidence before they find it. In Tag-Along Tania (Tammy) and Lessons from Lindy (Bunty) both heroines decide that they are tired of being pushed around and taken for granted, and they resolve to do something about it. The trouble is, they go about it the wrong way – they swing to the other extreme and start pushing other people around. Eventually they learn that true assertiveness comes from believing in themselves, not from stomping on other people. After all, they don’t like being pushed around either.
Parents and bullying situations
Bullying serials seem to preach plenty of morals about bullying for parents as well as children. Several serials have already been cited in this feature where parents let the child down for one reason or another. Some parents, such as the Weekes parents or Mr Norden, even aggravated the situation through being thoughtlessness. And there are even serials where the parents themselves create the bullying situation. In Dracula’s Daughter Mr Graves, a severe grammar school master, accepts the position of headmaster to free-and-easy Castlegate Comprehensive for one reason only – to force his grammar-school methods down its throat in an over-zealous crusade to turn it into a strict old-style grammar school. Backlash is inevitable but unfortunately it is his innocent daughter Lydia who is taking the brunt. She is losing her friends and finding herself the target of bullying.
At least MrGraves means well. The Street parents in Cora Can’t Lose (Tammy) don’t have that excuse for deriding poor Cora because she isn’t winning sports trophies as they did. Dad is particularly cruel: “Cora couldn’t beat a team of infants in a spoon and egg race!” he snarls as he prepares to throw his prized trophies into the loft because “now they remind me of something you’ll never do – win!” Even when Cora begins to shine at sport Dad still sneers at her. Determined to win their respect once and for all, Cora goes on a crazed campaign to win more trophies than her parents combined and then the trophy her mother failed to win. But in so doing she refuses to seek treatment for a head injury and ignores the warning signals, including an urgent television appeal from the hospital, which must treat her or she will die.
Unfortunately Tammy was abruptly cancelled just before the final episode of Cora, so it is not known how the story ended. Still, one can imagine two very shame-faced parents who nearly killed their own daughter with their hurtful sneers and have learned the hard, painful lesson of hubris....
So we have had parents who were responsible for, or at least abetted, bullying situations. But are there any serials where the parents take a hand to stop the bullying? Mr Norden did rescue Yvonne from the bullying in Be Nice to Nancy when he became suspicious and decided to investigate – but since he is to blame for Yvonne’s plight in the first place in the first place, he does not count. If there has been a serial where a parent saves the day in a bullying situation, I have yet to see it. Yes, there have been stories where the bullying was resolved when the school became suspicious, as in Forced to Fail (Judy) or Everyone’s Perfect Mum (Mandy) but these do not seem to be common.
A definite masochistic streak has frequently been observed in girls’ comics; heroines being forced into intolerable situations which they have to put up with for one reason or other. Bullying serials are no exception; all too often we find heroines who are willing to put up with unendurable bullying situations and not do anything about it because they are too naive, too scared, they just don’t know what to do about it, or nobody listens to them. Nor do we ever see them write to a problem page, which is what their real-life counterparts would do. No, the rescue either has to come from an outside source (supernatural or otherwise), the girl getting an inspiration of some sort, or by running away and giving everyone a shock. And with rare exceptions, everything ends happily.
But then, in real-life bullying situations; victims often suffer in silence instead of seeking help because they are too scared, just don’t know what to do, or some reason or other. So perhaps the fiction is not too far removed from reality.
So does the portrayal of a bullying victim as a masochist suffering in silence a bad message for readers? Or is it commenting upon the reality of bullying? Would it prompt readers to do something about a bullying situation and give readers messages about what to do if they were ever faced with a similar situation in real life? After reading Bullied!, would a real bullying victim be encouraged to speak out instead of avoiding the situation through truancy? After reading Witch!, would a reader be willing to go on enduring a bad situation in silence rather than worry her parents by telling them? After reading bullying serials, would readers be encouraged to speak out, look for help, write to problem pages and refuse to put up with the situation any longer, or retreat further into suffering in silence because that is how it seems to be in girls’ comics until the salvation comes to give them a happy ending? Or does reading about apparent masochistic heroines willing to put up with intolerable situations, including bullying, prompt a determined reaction from readers that they will not put up with anything like that themselves?
It is hard to say.
Still, bullying serials, one way or another, do preach the message: don’t suffer in silence – get help! Stand up for yourself! When we read how Ellie prefers to endure the harassment from the villagers rather than worry her parents, we want to scream at her, “for God’s sake, tell your parents! They wouldn’t want you to suffer on their account.” When we read how Sasha plays truant to avoid the bully because she is too scared to tell on him, we want to tell her “playing truant’s not going to work, you’ve got to tell someone what’s going on.” When we read those nasty remarks Cora is getting from her father, we would tell her to give as good as she gets, not wreck herself just to please the likes of him. When we read the blackmail stories, we come up with all sorts of ideas of how the heroine could escape her plight – such as call the blackmailer’s bluff. And we could suggest to Yvonne that she explain her situation to a teacher or write to a problem page – I would, anyway.
Ron Tiner, The Honourable S. J., Judy annual 1992, © D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd
John Richardson, Wee Sue, Tammy annual 1984, © Egmont UK Ltd
Carlos Freixas, Poison Penny, Spellbound 1977, © D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd
Edmond Ripol, Witch!, Bunty 1991, © D.C. Thomson & Co Ltd
John Armstrong, Patsy and the Beast of Banchester, June 1969, © Egmont UK Ltd
John Armstrong, Moonchild, Misty 1978, © Egmont UK Ltd
Phil Gascoigne, Tears of a Clown, Jinty 1980, © Egmont UK Ltd
Giorgio Giorgetti, Sister in the Shadows, Tammy 1979-80, © Egmont UK Ltd
Julia Buch, Cora Can’t Lose, Tammy 1984, © Egmont UK Ltd
Books Monthly is published on the first day of every month. If you'd like me to publish a story you've written, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org ~ no payment, I'm afraid, as I don't make any money from the magazine. The length of your story is no problem - long or full-length stories can be serialised. Similarly, if you have a feature article on a book, author or artist you would like me to publish, e-mail it to me and I'll fit it in. Deadline for inclusion in the next month's magazine is 15th of the month