A Brief History of British Comics: Part 5a – Mistyfying

So, I was going to cover Misty and Roy of the Rovers in one go, but given that 1) it’s nearly Halloween, so it’d make far more sense to discuss something spooky and 2) I have a lot to say about Misty, on top of a lot of things to say about Roy of the Rovers, it’s kinder to the poor buggers who have to edit this to split it into two parts. This article, part a, will focus on the glorious frights of Misty, and part b will be all about how I kind of fell in love with a footballer.

Here’s the thing about the huge aftermath of the Comics Code Authority on comics in the US: it killed the diversity of the comics market. I mean that in every sense – not just diversity of characters and stories, but also which audiences were catered to. After the CCA basically ended EC comics (which covered horror, satire and crime) and censored romance comics into dying a slow death, the only genre that survived, that consistently remained, was superheroes.

Arguably, the only comics market I can think of that has had a wide range of genres and audiences, consistently, for all this time is Japan. They have always had manga markets and genres for every age and demographic out there.

Things have expanded for all markets now that we have the internet and we can access basically any kind of comic we like, which has allowed for a renaissance in variety. Now we have gorgeously produced and illustrated comics for fantasy, horror, science fiction, drama, romance; you name it! From across the world, too! It’s so easy to buy comics and to circumnavigate big publishers too (support indie creators please) that perhaps talking about ‘markets’ at all is kind of silly, but bear with me.

Thing is, unlike the US, the variety of genres in British comics continued into the ’80s at least, even after our own version of the CCA (which included actual government censorship holy shit). We kept our war, horror and sci-fi. Hell, near 60 years later, that’s pretty much all of the adult British comics market. I focus on the ’70s a lot lately, since that seemed to be a peak period of comics for sheer range of genres and the start of many a career for some of our top writers and artists… and 2000AD, who are, it’s fair to say, pretty much the only game in town right now, outside of a thriving indie scene.

Speaking of – they released a second volume of Scream and Misty, having released the first one this time last year (which featured the debut of Yāo: The Demon Touched, who later reappeared in The Vigilant which I reviewed here). This is part of Rebellion’s ongoing mission to acquire every noteworthy title from the entire history of British comics which, y’know, means I can now buy entire backlogs of amazing comics.

Scream and Misty is an mash up of Scream! – a one-off anthology from 1984 – and Misty, which is half of what this part of my rough and badly organized dive into British comics will be looking at now. I will get to the other half in a moment, because Misty is… amazing. It’s so amazing, I’m kind of mad I’ve only really got into it in the last couple of months. Where was this gorgeous piece of witchy, horror-flavoured goodness when I was growing up? It had everything that would have got me obsessed from the moment I opened it! Where were you, Misty?!

Oh, right, ceased publication four years before I was born. Bollocks.

Misty was an anthology comic, marketed for girls and focusing on stories of supernatural tales of dread, horror and suspense. We’re talking cat-goddess cults, haunted houses, nightmare time travel, supernatural recompense… you name it, Misty had it. It was, like a lot of comics from this period onward, “narrated” by Misty, a mysterious and beautiful woman who looked as though she lived in a Hammer horror movie. Ghost? Vampire? Witch? It was never explained (as far as I can tell) and I adore her. The comic also came with a horoscope section, numerology, spells, a letter to the editor (where you could be paid a whole five quid for your letter to get printed – about £24 in today’s money, which is not to be sniffed at!) and free gifts. They also held writing competitions where the reader needed to think of the spookiest local ghost story they knew to win the princely sum of £25 – about £135 today!

The artwork is beautiful, a familiar aesthetic to those of us who love ’70s horror movies, especially Euro-horror of that era. If they added more out and out gore, these stories would feel right at home directed by Lucio Fulci. And these stories were for teenage girls, you guys. I felt completely creeped out by them at 34, imagine how many young girls were fascinated by these stories! At least, I hope there were a lot.

There’ve been a few British comics that were “overseen” by some force of nature. Scream was edited by a ghostly creature named Ghastly McNasty, and 2000AD continues to be edited by Tharg the Mighty. It’s how we roll. Don’t ask.

It’s so wild to think that once upon a time there was a glut of comics for girls – Misty was joined by Tammy and Jinty – which focused on sad, kitchen sink drama and science fiction respectively. They also featured some, frankly, downright existential stories and that same creative ’70s era art. It wasn’t the only supernatural comic for girls, either: there was also Spellbound, published by D.C. Thompson (the people who published The Beano and The Dandy). Jinty in particular had some strange tales from history and science fiction, including this one called The Loneliest Girl in the World. This is some straight up Twilight Zone level mind fuckery – again, can’t stress this enough- for teenage girls.

They all ended up merging eventually, like most British comics, before finally closing, though there were annuals published until much later. The impact seems… more stunted than it should be, which is a crime, frankly. I am quite upset that there isn’t a bigger deal made of these comics, but I am not surprised. We all know the reason why these comics aren’t remembered or revered: because they were for girls. Despite their dark subject matter, their flawless artwork, and wealth of imaginative writing and art, they are forgotten mostly because they were for girls. How can something be of value if it is for girls? I mean really?

I’m not bitter, I swear. I’m just a little… miffed that a whole generation of girls missed out on horror, science fiction, and drama comics aimed at them. (Sigh.) At least the novel market stepped in. That’s where girls mostly get their fiction now and, if comics publishers were even halfway smart, they’d start aiming their publications that way too. Also, not to give Rebellion advice or anything, but I’d say that it might be worth making a Misty title for the audience it was intended for – a collected volume to sell to young girls in bookshops. I know they’ve already done Scream and Misty, and maybe making anything for print in this day and age is basically throwing money away, but it could come with those same cool little extras like maybe some spooky music to recommend? Dark fashion? Ghost stories? Haunted photos? We’re in the middle of an “insta-witch” era, where witches and dark, existential imagery abound, backlit by neon. Have you seen Curious Creations of Christine McConnell? They’ve rebooted Sabrina the Teenage Witch (the comic and the TV show) as a dark, gothic spookfest. Just a cursory glance through Tumblr and Instragram shows that if there’s ever a time to relaunch Misty for young girls, it’s now. May I suggest one where a group of witchy teen girls stick hot pins into an effigy of… oh, you know who.

I’m just saying, girls need spooky stuff. Witches are, historically, one of our only cultural touchstones that actually get any agency or power (even if they end up as the bad guys or dead), I’m pretty sure that’s why they’re kind of in now. Also, Practical Magic turned 20 this year. Everyone deserves a Practical Magic or The Craft – that’s what I got. The generation before me got Misty. Now… well, I guess there’re plenty of contemporary comics that fill the purpose, Blackbird being the most recent, but Misty is right there. Rebellion. Do it. Even as just a one off. Scream and Misty sold well, you might as well give Misty a new solo book.

Incidentally, not to depress anyone or anything, but the only downside to Misty, Tammy and Jinty was that the art, writing and editorial teams were, ironically, almost entirely dudes. With only a few stories and covers written or illustrated by women.

Which.

(Sigh.)

Okay. It was the ’70s.

Luckily, Scream and Misty managed to get the current Comics Laureate (I didn’t know was a thing, but I’m very glad it is!) to reboot The Sentinals, the most spine shrivellingly terrifying story from Misty about stumbling into a reality where Britain is occupied by Nazis (So, our world in like, ten years, then?).

Some progress has been made, but there are plenty more British women writing horror, and we have some talented artists who dabble in the spooky- or even go further abroad. The new Scream and Misty has a variant by Czech illustrator Lenka Šimečková who has that dark, demonic aesthetic that Rebellion really ought to be capitalizing on. Just saying.

Girls’ comics were settled on the “dark” end of the British comic book spectrum. What a twist. Again, if you can, please get a hold of the collected volumes from Rebellion. They’re pricey, but if you like European gothic spookiness (Doctor Who fans, especially classic era Who, might recognize that aesthetic), then you will lap this up like freshly spilled blood. Or something.

In closing, enjoy Halloween. I intend to lounge in my bat onesie, watch some scary movies, and stuff my face with sweets that my daughter discarded from trick or treating.

Next time: get ready for the most gloriously silly, if wonderfully endearing, British sporting machismo you will ever read.

Sources:

The twitter account @PulpLibrarian did a whole thread about Misty and it’s where I took a lot of the images I used in this article.

Also there’s @Scarredforlife2 which had a whole load of great Jinty pages.

An excellent article from the News Statesman (also a great source for scans).

A great blog called Girl Comics of Yesteryear goes into so much more depth and history into other British comics aimed at girls!

Another great article from The Guardian.

Great News For All Readers

 

I’m a thirty something British nerd-mum and wannabe author, fueled by tea, poor decision making and a need to be distracted. Cursed to watch favourite characters die and ships sink. Send help.

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