Saturday, 30 June 2018

BELLA AT THE BAR - Volume 1 Review

Whilst Rebellion's Treasury Of British Comivcs has so far focussed on titles aimed at either boys or boys and girls, 'Bella At The Bar' is their first release that was originally a straight 1970s girls comic story, with no sci fi or horror elements. That said, it's a wise choice, as the story was  very highly regarded and as a reult is remembered fondly by thousands of ladies who will have sympathised with the titular Bella every on every step of her journey.

Like many stories of the time, the lead character's troubles are cause by horrible relatives. Rarely was this the parents, and whilst stepmothers and stepfathers were a popular choice in this case it's Bella's aunt and uncle who treat her like dirt so she has something to fight against and ultimately rise above. Bella Barlow works for her uncle as a window cleaner, with him and her aunt teating her like a slave at home as well. There's no mention of what happens to her parents, but it's not really important. What is important is that Bella has a natural gift for gymnastics (not the law, if you were thinking that the 'bar' in the title was a legal one) . Whereas her guardians won't let her do it unless they can make a few quid, Bella's determination leads her down a few different paths (all filled with obstacles, naturally) in her quest to just be the best gymnast she can be.

Write Jenny Mcdade, who would go on to find fame by adapting 'Supergran' for TV amongst other things, joined UK girls comic Tammy and proceeded to knock it out of the park with this one. Similar to strips like 'Roy of The Rovers' or 'The Leopard From Lime Street', 'Bella At The Bar' shows a knack for making you want to read the next instalment straight away until you've finished the entire book. Bella herself is very likeable, a plucky little cockney ragamuffin, whilst the bad guys will have the reader booing internally with every curled lip, put down and cruel act. The art, by John Armstrong, is uniformly good throughout, with his figurework bringing the gynmastic scenes to life most effectively.

I know full well that I'd have enjoyed this as a lad, even if I wouldn't be seen dead reading a copy of Tammy, but I'm rather surprised at how much I enjoyed it as a 49 year old grumpy old man. There's a tad over 100 pages here, and like 'The Leopard From Lime Street' before it I was itching to read more of Bella's trials and tribulations. The cut off point is a natural one, though, with Bella actually getting a win for a change, though I'm pretty sure it doesn't last. Released on 12th July, this is definitely one for all those who didn't have a sister to nick comics off, and those who remember Bella with the fondness her strip deserves.

Buy HERE From The 2000 AD Shop

Thursday, 28 June 2018

JINTY Volume 1 - Land Of No Tears/The Human Zoo

When I was a kid, I saw all the girls comics on the shelves like Tammy and gave them a wide berth. After all, I was a boy, and boys didn't want to read stories about ponies, ballerinas and cooking. Yuk! Completely unknown to me there was a wealth of science fiction and cruelty nestled within the innocent looking covers, as girls comics focussed on making it as nasty as possible for thir strips' protagonists, because that's what female readers seemed to thrive on. Okay, so the heroine won in the end but not before she'd had the metephorical shit kicked right out of her first.

The first volume from Jinty (zero chance any 1970s boy would pick that up, right?) collects two stories that certainly fit the mould, with science fiction and hardship going hand in hand. First up is "Land Of No Tears" by Pat Mills, who would later go on to create some of the best stories in 2000AD. In the strip, Cassy Shaw is a schoolgirl with a damaged leg who has to wear a surgical shoe. the problem is that she's also a right cow, using her minor disability to gain sympathy and get out of trouble. As this is girls strip we know she's in for a hard time, but in this case we're looking forward to it!

Under the anasthetic during corrective surgery (which she doesn't want because she will be treated like anyone else) she goes through the standard space warp/plot device and awakes in a mirror world where anyone with a slight defect is a third class citizen and emotions are supressed. Lumped in with other rejected girls, she determines to show the up-their-own-arse perfect people that those they look down on can be just as good as their "betters". Subtle as a brick and with plenty of nice touches, this is very decent story with plenty of "What the hell?" moments. An old hand when this was published in 1977, Mills effectively nakes us root for Cassy as she learns her life lessons, and that's what this type of story is all about, innit.

Second story "The Human Zoo" is thankfully cut from a different cloth, giving the volume a more fleshed out feel. the science fiction element is ramped up to eleven by writer Malcom Shaw as sisters Shona and Jenny are abducted with their classmates after a trip to the zoo and taken to another planer where - gasp! - the aliens put humans in zoos!! Okay, so you could see that coming, but the old sci-fi role reversal ploy is played very well as the sisters are treated very differently as they accept the situation in their own way. Of course, there is nastiness aplenty as the aliens treat humans as we would dumb animals (they are telepathic and so don't see our noises as speech). The underlying moral, hammered home with a sledgehammer,  is unsurprisingly that we shouldn't treat animals badly. Regardless of any unsubtlety it's a cracking story that must have thrilled British girls back in the day and can happily do so again.

Special notice must go to the art, supplied by Guy Peeters on both strips. Clear and well laid out, he brings a great realism to the stories, with the only downbeat being a mysterious character in "Land Of No Tears", although when we learn their secret the werid look becomes more understandable. All in all, the writers were lucky to get him to flesh out their scripts.

"Junty Volume 1" is a cracking slice of 1970s comic history, with great art and involving stories. It's not mad science fiction but it's also certainly not remotely what I imagined these comics were doing at the time. Accessible to both male and female readers of any age, Rebellion must be thanked for giving these strips a fresh airing thanks to their treasury Of British Comics imprint.

By from the 2000AD SHOP