Thursday, October 28, 2010

British Girls' Comics: School Friend Annual 1959


School Friend was a British weekly girls' comic paper clearly aimed at an actual or aspiring middle and upper middle class audience. This one is the 1959 hardbound annual. The cover illustration says it all - would any school other than an upper crust private school be holding a regatta!!? It's all a jolly good show. The interior stories feature scenarios that working class British kids, certainly urban kids, would be unlikely to partake in - ballet, horse riding, skiing in the Alps. Nevertheless, there's a very interesting message pervading this and other girls' comics of the period - kind of a similarity with the world of Wonder Woman and the Amazons - powerful females able to assert themselves when they exist in a realm devoid of men, or in a dimension slightly to the side of that ruled by men. In these spaces between the activities of the patriarchs, females are able to reach their full potential.

There are quite a few sequential art stories in the book, and I've just chosen three for this post. Ironically, after what I've said above, the first, although it does have a female protagonist, Paddy, and antagonist, Claudette, also has a lot of male characters, including a main character, Terry. In fact Paddy is kind of a sidekick to Terry, but one who carries out a crucial role in apprehending the thief in this story.






In this next feature, The Jackson Family members are the heroes. With the parents absent (apparently deceased), it is headed by an older girl, with two younger siblings. They live out West, and are somehow self-sufficient in this rugged country. By including the utterance of "Gee", the author convinces us of their American identity, although much of their speech echoes British late 50s middle class parlance. Like the story above, another example of some accomplished artwork.











"Rival on the Alpine Snows" takes us to the resorts of the wealthier and nouveau riche echelons of mid-20th Century British society. In the early 60s it was skiing holidays that the up-and-coming aspired for.Then it became Spain, and nowadays the Brits seek an escape in Florida. Here again we see girls doing really adventurous and daring stuff competently and independent of any reliance upon males. I wonder what influence, if any, this kind of reading material had on those who would be in their twenties during the heyday of the Women's Movement, or whether it reflected the undercurrent of independence which was beginning to surface as the 1960s commenced.









31 comments:

  1. KB: I've been reading and collecting a lot of British war comics lately, and wow does this comic have what I can only call the "English Style' of comic art - all those fine, nearly illustrative panels. Really excellent stuff. It seems to me that these English comics, particularly from the late 1950s through the 1970s, really brought the scripting much more to the forefront than American comics of the same time period. Excellent stuff, as this post demonstrates.

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  2. I'm intrigued by the little text summaries at the end of the stories. I can't say that really happens too often in the American romance comics.

    With the absence of romantic pursuits these stories definitely read more like "girl adventure" type tales. I like!!!

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  3. Mykal: I agree regarding the distinctive style of the British comics. There are a lot of British war comics - all those Commando books, etc. - but I know virtually nothing about them - I only read American comics when I was a kid, or the British funny papers like the Beano. I don't think I'd know where to start trying to find out about the British war stuff - like all British comics there's relatively little written about them in comparison to their American counterparts.

    Jacque: It does seem that there were two or three strata in the British girls comics of the 60s: stories for younger girls, then those like this in School Friend, for maybe junior high school age girls, and then the Jackie-type aimed at older girls for whom dating and boys were not taboo subjects. Then there were the romance picture stories for older girls and women. I came across a really interesting series called Valentine in which the stories are all romance tales based on the titles of pop songs. I think it was big in the early and mid-1960s at the same time as the 'British Invasion' bands were in their ascendancy. It looks like a precursor to the likes of Jackie. I also found a 1974 Valentine annual, by which time I think the influence was going in the other direction - i.e. Jackie was the model for other comics for older girls, and the strategy of using song titles on which to base the comics had been abandoned. I'll post bits of both so you can see what I'm talking about. The individual weekly Valentine comics are very hard to find and can get expensive for what they are. Actually comics, including American comics, seem way more expensive here than in the USA. I also saw on eBay but couldn't win another what looked like a similar comic paper from the late 50s and early 60s called Roxy. Anyway keep a look out and I'll post those Valentines over the next few days.

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  4. Hi

    I'm from Malaysia and growing up in the fifties and sixties has left me with memories that actually need to be documented so that the coming generations will have a window to an era that will never return. An integral part of our growing up days was the time we spent on comics - reading them, anticipating the arrival of the next comic, re-reading, imagining life of young children halfway across the world and wanting to have blue eyes and blonde hair - that was before contact lenses and loreal.

    we read schools girls, school friend, princess, and the weekly serials in bunty, judy and so many others.

    Sue Day and the Happy Days
    The ballet dancers
    Penny and her riding school

    We were voracious readers and the school and parents had to restrict us - comics were not good for us. but they were, the pictures, the stories, the anticipation - comics united us. Blue eyes or black, white skin or brown, we all had the same feelings for joy, frustration, fear and contentment. how totally we empathised with the characters.

    todays children in today's world of computers and play stations and games, hardly read a book - its a virtual world. our children have moved away from real life people and gone into a world that is so unreal that it is totally real to them.

    i spend a lot of my time scouring the flea markets and have found lots of these publications from the fifties and sixties.

    to all comic lovers - those comics united children all over the world. i became so familiar with the world that british comics introduced me to, that i told rev mother that i walk past an oak tree on my way to school!!!

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  5. Prasanna - thanks for your observations and recollections from a person who read this material back in the day!

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  6. Hi, i also run a blog about British comics, but i mainly focus on the Boys' adventure kind from the 1890's to 1920's. However i'll post a bit of everything.
    If memory serves correctly the School Friend was originally a text story-paper from before the war, which featured stories about Bessie Bunter written by the amazing Charles Hamilton. There was a similar one called Girl's Crystal, formerly just The Crystal, which had similar-format annuals in the 50's. Girl's Crystal annuals carried right on into the 70's! But i only have one of those and it has plenty of pages missing. By then text stories were in the minority of course.

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  7. You speak with hindsight

    Post war Europe was desperately poor.

    These annuals and comics brought us much joy. So what if they were middle class at least we could dream -and at least they used the King's English!

    I have a complete 50s decade of School Friend, Girls Chrystal and Girl.

    They remind me in comparative affluence just how hard life was in the UK in the late 40s and early 50s

    But despite that we still helped displaced families and shared with others.

    Don't think they were patronising -they weren't they gave us what we needed after babyhood in an air raid shelter!

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  8. Prasanna, my collections have been stolen... You went to fleemarket.. which fleemarket in malaysia did you visit to get those comics? I longed for those comic. I saw your article and would like to contact you.

    I shared the same passion for those comics.

    Fatimah Salleh,
    Selangor.


    p/s : KB, do you have any download links to download these comics; which are schools girls, school friend, princess. Your help is very much appreciated. Thank you.

    this is my daughter's email : farahiah.huda@gmail.com

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  9. Mike: Thanks for that info. I know very little about these comics. They are fascinating to me as I am seeing them for the first time.

    Anonymous: Thank you for your reflections on the actual reading of those comics in the post-war period.

    Fatimah - You can download the scans that are on my blog. I don't know anywhere else these kinds of comics are located on the internet. Are you sure you want your daughter's e-mail address available on the internet like that? Shall I remove it?

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  10. I read school girls comics in East Pakistan ( Bangladesh).I live in the US, and have searched for these old school girls comic books. But alas, no luck. Finally, a friend from UK sent me several Bunty comic books that I treasure. Sure, these books were about upper-crust English children, but they brought sense of adventure that I find missing in today's books. It was clean fun--no sex, no drugs, no rock n' roll, if you know what I mean. These stories bring back so many childhood memories. Sitting under a tree, having Indian snacks, and reading school girls! That in and of itself is a globalized reading culture. Could you please scan some more of these old school girls, or let me know where to find them in the US. Thanks.

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  11. Anonymous: Thanks for your comment. I like these old British comics for the same reasons - they're clean, innocent. I have not seen any in the 17 years I've lived in the USA. I have a few I bought in England when I was staying over there a couple of years ago now, and they were not particularly easy to find there. The best way to obtain these is to look for them on eBay.uk and pay the international shipping. I will scan and post whatever else I have that I've not posted already, but it will take a while as i am very busy at present.

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  12. If you really want to get your hands on these annuals -then try the English Oxfam shops. I recently saw several in one priced at £4 a book. (don't know what that is in dollars)

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  13. KB: Sadly your profile is not available via Blogger, so I can't contact your personally. More sadly, in the light of the comments above from around the world, your blog appears to have come to a standstill. I have quite a few old British annuals (girls' and boys'), including some with which I was associated in an editing and writing capacity in the 1960s. Please contact me if you would like some occasional help with the supply of scans. The annuals with their complete stories are, of course, ideal sources of British material, given that the weekly comics ran mostly serials over many weeks while the digest-sized "pocket libraries" ran their stories over 64 pages.

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    1. I'm hoping to resume blogging in the summer - been a hectic 12 months with no free time. I will take you up on that offer of scans. The British material on my blog gets a lot of traffic so there are plenty of people out there interested whom I'm sure would like to see more. I'll be back in touch.

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  14. another source of 'interest' of this time in England is the Childrens Foundation' Films. The Enid Blyton Famous Five in particular. As for their dialogue, my grandaughters are quite amazed! But what fun to be reminded of the times when we could all roam the woods and hills, climb trees, fall in the river etc. I lived next to an army camp but we were never restricted and dodged gamekeepers, saw the gypsies. Things my grandchildren will never do.

    Perhaps having been born with bombs dropping on us every night gave us an added sense of freedom?

    Anonymous English grandma

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  15. By the way you are wrong. The School Friend was not aimed at upper and middle classes. We all used to have it at school -an ordinary Secondary modern school in rural Hampshire. Nothing like a session of learning Shakespeare to send you off in the playground for the latest adventure of Princess Anita!

    You have no idea how poor people were in the 40s and early 50s. I lived on a country estate after the war (grandaughter of the Head Gardener)but I do not remember the 'daughters' of the house taking the School Friend when home from Boarding School but we estate children did.

    anonymous English grandma

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  16. Hi English Grandma - note that I said included 'aspiring'. Thanks for your comments!

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  17. devi shivdas,coimbatore,indiaMarch 8, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    I remember sue day comics and talk abt it to the younger gen.i felt i was one of the characters back then.i wish i could get at least one copy to see why i stiil remember these books even now after 50 odd yrs!!

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    1. If you are willing to pay the shipping, you can find these annuals on eBay UK. There's plenty on there right now. The books don't cost much but the shipping will probably be quite a bit.For example, there is a copy of the book this story is from on eBay UK right now for £2.99 but the shipping to India is £9.50. That's about 300 Rupees for the book and over 900 Rupees for the postage.

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  18. my elder granddaughter is reading my School Friend Annuals and Girls Crystal and is about to start The Girl. No one these days produces stories for pre teenage girls tho the Girl was for early teens with articles on careers.
    Has anyone tried Worrals books? The female equivalent of Biggles. Or Daily Mail Annuals?

    English Grandma

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    1. Hi English Grandma from an ex-pat English Grandpa - I've never seen the Worrals books. The Daily Mail Annuals look interesting - will try to pick one up next time I'm in the Old Country. My granddaughter has been reading lots of Harvey comics (Casper the Friendly Ghost, Little Audrey, Little Dot, Richie Rich, etc.) and she's graduated onto Archie Comics. She's also read some of my British girls' annuals of various types - she likes the text stories as well as the comics. I agree that there's nothing much in the way of comics for younger girls nowadays except maybe some kinds of manga.

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  19. How lucky, very lucky to stumble on this site. Please do you know anything about Mimi the Mesmerist? There were a number of Mimi titles. I am quite desperate to lay my hands on these Mimi titles.
    Thank you
    Sonia

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    1. Glad you enjoyed this, Sonia. There's one comic with Mimi the Mesmerist on eBay UK at the moment:

      http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/3-x-JUNE-SCHOOL-FRIEND-COMIC-MAGAZINE-1965-66-MIMI-THE-MESMERIST-ADVENTURE-/231486064111?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_15&hash=item35e5a505ef

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  20. I am so glad I found this site. Used to read School Friend &Girls Crystal in the Fifties while still back in Cyprus. Couldn't wait for the next issues. How I would love to own some of those weeklies now. I acquired some of the annuals from e-bay. They don't make stories like these any more. Every time I read them reminds me of my blissful childhood back in Cyprus. Thank you for posting these treasures.

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    1. I'm very happy that these stories brought back such great memories for you, Annie. Thank you for sharing your response.

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  21. Hi KB:
    Would you happen to have any Girls Crystal weeklies? The story in particular is titled "My Tyrolean Penfriend". That title has stuck in my head since the Fifties, and if you could find it, could you please post it on your page? These treasures are just that - TREASURES. Thanks KB.

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  22. Hi Annie, I may have one or two of the Girls' Crystal Weeklies but I'm pretty sure they are pre-1950s, when it was just text stories and before it became a comic. The actual weekly comics are so rare... I'll look at the ones I have and post, but very unlikely to be the one you are looking for I'm afraid.

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  23. Isn't Tyrolean Penfriend in one of the annuals? In the 50s?

    Amazon sell quite a few of the annuals as do Abe books.

    My grandchildren have taken most of mine.

    Have been out of the loop due to unexpected breast cancer but the old girl is still here!
    English grandma

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    1. Sorry to hear about your illness English Grandma - I hope you're making a full recovery. It's great to hear from someone who read these British girls' comics as a youngster.

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  24. sorry had to go...

    Worrals -I think Biggles came after WW1? Worrals was definitely WW2 as she was Worrals of the WAAF and published in the late 1940s. I have four of them picked up in Charity Shops

    Many people collect the E.J. Oxenham books all about folk dancing some of the rarer editions cost £600but the market has fallen.

    (Well lets face it after this stupid Brexit vote everything has fallen I wonder of the ravens are still in the tower!)
    English grandma

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    1. I bang the drum by the way =whichever country we are in
      if you have a woman over 70 in your family =make them go for a mammogram.

      It was a wake up call so am passing my annuals to my granddaughters!
      But can still walk the dog a couple of miles...!
      English Grandma

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