Wednesday afternoons, throughout the eighties, meant only one thing to me: Comic Day. My Gran would buy the current issue of my latest addiction and a Wispa. I would devour the comic; she, the Wispa. It was one of the happiest hours of the week (she used to slice the Wispa like a loaf of bread to make it last longer).
The object of my addiction changed with age, but the love of illustrated stories remained the same. I began with Twinkle (a name which sounds unfortunately euphemistic to my ears now); I moved through Bunty, Mandy and Jackie. Finally, with Just Seventeen, I gave it all up for proper books and Wednesdays were sadder for it.
I recently got hold of the Mandy annual for the year I was born (1976, just in case you all want to do some quick maths). A lot has changed. It was like opening a writing time-capsule. Right from the very first page, I realised my own past really has become a different country.
Take a look at this beach scene in the endpapers. All the kids are white. It looks like the BNP have taken up art direction. Even my little corner of North Wales wasn’t the monoculture depicted here. The only black character in the whole annual is a visiting American Jazz singer, playing her gran’pappy’s lucky piano. In fact, even when you’d expect to see a non-white character - for example, Valda, the Asian demi-god - you don’t. Valda (the one leaping the ravine in the picture below) lives in the Himalayas, but she looks more like she lives in Halifax.
There’s also a slightly disquieting theme which occurs again and again in different stories – girls taking responsibility for others: sick animals, small children, waifs, strays and incompetent boys. This is best illustrated by the Victorian girl with a broken leg who’s first concern is keeping the littlies out of the poorhouse. You’ve got a broken leg, woman, and it’s 1860, worry about sepsis, not siblings!
There were a few more gun-ho characters that tempered this girliness. I particularly enjoyed Fay Fearless ploughing through the bad-guys with her long-jump skills.
And Fay wasn’t the only thing I quite admired. Take another look at that beach. There’s not an adult in sight, no parents, no teachers, no lifeguards. And those kids are building a fire that’s almost as big as they are. Personally, I’m also a fan of the dog roaming around on the sand, which they aren’t allowed to do round these parts in summer.
Now, I’m sure that without sunhats and suncream those children on the beach will spend the night blistered and crying; but there is something quite appealing about the freedom that represents.
So, the class of ’76 was blind to the other cultures that made up Britain at the time; but it’s (white) girls were mostly caring and occasionally powerful. And none, not one, of the pages was a splash of pink and glitter, which I was very glad to see.
I wonder what I’d notice if I bought a magazine for girls now? I see a Wednesday afternoon project coming on.
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