Boys

Boys was one of the lesser-known “middle class” story papers produced in the late 19th century (in the vein of The Boys’ Own Paper, Chums and The Captain). It ran for just two years between 1892 and 1894. In common with it’s rivals, it was also sold as monthly “magazine editons” and yearly hardback editions, which were called Boys’ Illustrated Annual.

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It can’t have sold well, because it merged with The Boys’ Own Paper in September 1894. Apparently the Boys’ Own Paper didn’t even mention the merger! Copies are incredibly rare today, even the hardback yearly versions are thin on the ground. I don’t have the first volume, though would like to get it one day

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Boys was a high-quality paper, though. The serial stories were by famous authors of the day, as as G.M. Fenn and G.A. Henty. Of course The Boys’ Own Paper famously secured the services of Jules Verne and Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, who are still well known today!

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Some longer than others

Each serial story was complete in a volume, so you can buy the annuals without worrying about only getting the end of one or the start of another. The main serial in this volume, running for more than half it’s length and always on the ‘cover’ (more about that later) was Fire Island by George Manville Fenn. The story begins with a ship caught in a kind of ‘reverse tsunami’ which drags it onto an erupting volcanic island and somehow ‘puts out’ the volcano (the first part doesn’t make much sense). After that the gentleman adventurers and scientists aboard decide to explore the uncharted island, take specimens of wildlife and rocks, and also study the barely-dormant volcano.

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Refreshingly, Fire Island doesn’t feature battles against “savages” all the time, though a couple of canoefuls do turn up towards the end. Most of the serial is about the ship’s passengers, all scientists, exploring the island and collecting samples. The crew of the ship continue to live as if at sea, and comic releif is provided by two sailors who often misunderstand what the scientists are talking about, and regularly have to save those over-curious souls from danger.

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As well as Fire Island, the other initial story is called The Ransom of Kilgour, and is set “five and forty years ago”, in the late1840’s. It’s about a Scottish schoolboy who goes sailing, then is captured by Arab pirates and held to ransom. In one part of the story he terrifies his captors with the unholy sound of bagpipes XD.

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Another early serial (replacing the one above) is The Adventures and Misadventures of a Breton Boy. This story is about a voyage round the world with Portugese soldiers, including to Japan and “China”, which appears to be full of people with Japanese-style topknots and samurai swords XD.

The serial instalments were always just under 3 pages in length, and sometimes unillustrated. The longer serials were truly “novel length”, with plenty of character development, excitment and interesting incidents.

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In addition to the serials, there is at least one short, complete story in every issue. Fairly regularly, through the first part of the volume, there is a series of stories “Told by the boys in the big dormitory”, which are framed by characters sitting in bed at a public school trying to out-do each other’s yarns. This is the “second series”, presumably the first series was spread throughout the first volume. One of the stories, interestingly for the time, is a war story with a German hero!

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In the Franco-Prussian war of the 1870’s

Other complete stories appear, towards the end of the volume some issues contain up to 3. The editor must have been trying to use them up, as production of the paper was wound down.

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As well as the stories, Boys contained many long, detailed articles. A lot of them are about animals, insects and plants. “Natural History” (butterly, egg and rock collecting, for instance) was a popular hobby among the more well-0ff at the time. Going for walks in the country was a common recreational activity, so the study of natural history may simply have been a way of looking like they’d done something useful with their time. Of course, today getting kids out and about walking around at all would be considered “useful”!

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Stag Beetles

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A long-lived tortoise

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Chrysanthemns

As well as the natural history articles, other regular subjects included famous authors, such as Jules Verne. Here the article is detailed enough that the first page doesn’t even mention any of his works, only details of his life. While Corpse Talk in The Phoenix is a noble gesture, I think I prefer this!

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Another of the series articles is “Boys at Work”. In those days, the children of working class families only received the most basic education and were then thrust upon the world and went to work in a factory or down a mine. Oh how I wish I’d lived in days like that, none of this “having a career”, or as I put it “not knowing where I’m going”. Anyway, as this paper was probably read by slightly better-off boys who went to public school, or at least to a more ‘genteel’ job in an office (or an officer in the forces!), these articles probably helped them to understand what life was like for the less fortunate.

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This article is about the old coal gas works. When the North Sea gas runs out we may see this again!

Of course, there was the usual “make and do” section. An early article giving instructions for building a telescope, with which to study the planets, or distant animals.

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A later article in the series shows you how to build “An electrical machine”. This briefly confused me, an electrical machine that does what? Then I realised it was a machine for making the electricity! No popping down the shops to buy a battery in those days! The writer of the article all but tells his readers to use it to electrocute their teachers with… Boys was not quite up to the high moral standards of the B.O.P or The Captain after all!

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Within the lifetime of the reader’s grandparents, this would have seemed like witchcraft!

The early articles in the volume are quite long, running to 2-3 large pages and great detail. For instance, this tour of the Tower of London, with plenty of melodramatic description for readers in distant parts who may never see it.

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However, many of the later articles are much shorter and crammed-in among poems and jokes. It’s possible that the articles in preparation for volume 3 had to be quickly used up when the merger with the Boy’s Own was announced, so were printed in a much shorter form, quickly written from the basic notes. Some of the illustrations for these shorter articles are just as good as the earlier ones, though. They’d probably been prepared ahead of time, and the editor was going to get his money’s worth, having paid the artists!

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There’s also the inevitable stamp collecting column. Unlike The Captain, which often had quite “chatty” (to borrow a term from the mid 20’s) articles, describing stamps in detail and talking about the history and political manouvres that created them, Boys just has a plain list of new issues.

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There’s also a lengthy chess section with problems, the solutions to previous problems, chess news and even it’s own small letters section.

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And then there’s Our Boys’ Bookshelf, which is a column reviewing books that readers may be interested in. Which brings me on to an interesting point about where “the rot set in” to the British comic industry. Most of our great comic stories, such as Dan Dare, Charley’s War and so on, have only been published in collected form fairly recently. Even then, these collected books have been forced to use the printed artwork, not the original boards. But it wasn’t always like that – one of the highest highs of the British comic industry was in the 1890’s, with titles aimed at all ages and classes. The serial stories that appeared in the higher-class papers were not left to simply ‘evaporate’, but were reprinted only weeks or months after their end, so they could be enjoyed again and again. It was also likely that boys who did not read Boys would buy the books, or be given them as presents, and so would not miss out on a particularly good story after it had ended.

Of course, the problems of the “wait for the trade” mentality are well-known, which is why Boys and papers like it also contained the interesting articles, jokes, and short stories – to make it worth buying them as well as the collected books of favourite serials. But then again, the entire year’s run of Boys was also reprinted as a book. I guess they just didn’t think of “waiting for the trade” 120 years ago!

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The story “The Black Bar” was a serial in volume 1, and soon after reprinted as a seperate book

The lack of credits in most British comics throughout the 20th century is well-documented, and likely to have been one of the many reasons for their downfall. Having no credits makes the work seem “worthless”, as if there’s nobody special creating it. It also cuts out a huge range of advertising possibilities, artists and writers can’t become “celebrities” and sell comics with their names alone. But again, it wasn’t like that back in the enlightened times of the 1890’s, Here the editor devotes a lengthy section to reporting the death of R.M. Ballantyne, an author of books and serials for several papers. He even mentions that a fund has been set up so that his fans may build some sort of memorial to him. Would a comic writer or artist in Britain get that today? Will J.K. Rowling, even?

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Contrast the attitude towards today’s creators with that towards G.A. Henty. He wrote his stories in serial form for publication in “mere comics”. One of them, A Desperate Gang, appears in the latter part of this volume.

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While he’s hardly a household name like Jules Verne, Henty is pretty well remembered. There’s an Anglo-American “Henty Society”, old copies of his books can fetch a high premium and, of course, his stories which originally appeared as serials in story papers, can more easily be found in long-lasting book form.

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Though made a long time ago, the decision not to continue including credits, and not to continue reprinting the best serials as books, began to weaken the reputation of even the high-minded story papers and comics such as this. Of course, this has been mostly rectified today, but it’s too little, too late. Our industry appears to have already entered a terminal death spiral. How different might things have been if the practices of the 1890’s had persisted?

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Not to make any implications about anything…

But, to continue with the article… in the earlier part of the volume, extra space in the columns is filled with “Splinters”. These are small jokes, which are even printed in a smaller font. Most of them are truly horrendous puns, which would quickly have attracted a storm of projectiles at the local music hall.

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Later on, this section lost it’s name. Later still, the jokes were expanded to the full-size font, and even given their own titles, or were arranged into themed groups (school jokes, work jokes etc). Presumably there was more space to be filled in the then-winding-down paper. The “quality” of the humour didn’t improve at all, though.

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Boys contained a few poems through it’s run, most of them comic. Here’s a rare full-page one, wonderfully illustrated, from around Christmas 1893. Boys also contained one solitary comic strip, the first volume of Chums, produced the year before, had one in every issue. I think this one is better illustrated, though.

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On the back page of each issue was a Correspondence section. In the style of the time, this did not reprint the letters the readers had sent in, only the answers. Some of them are long explanations of practical advice for hobbies (how to develop photos, and so on), whilst others are something vague like “yes, try it and see”. Many of these correspondence pages have a one-off illustration for the title, used only once!

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That last one looks a bit ‘Japanese’, there was an on-and-off craze for Japanese things throughout the period

Many of the other illustrations are top-class too. While a lot of the story illustrations are disappointingly small, some excellent ones accompany the articles. A few are labelled as being “from a photograph”. Reproducing photographs in print must have been a very rare and expensive process in those days, so much so it was cheaper to hire a good artist to draw an illustration from the photo!

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An early steamship, fully rigged “for safety”

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Part of the upper workings in a coal mine

With regard to the covers, this volume reproduces all of the weekly editions for that year, but without the price or date on them. It’s possible that they were actually sold in another, advert-filled cover. Early editions of papers such as Union Jack also had a cover with an interesting picture on the front, but only adverts on the back (and inside covers, though these could also be blank!). Many people who bound their issues threw the covers away, and it was often the same with the official volumes of higher-class papers (though not Chums, which actually reproduces all the adverts in early annuals!).

There’s a few clues to what the covers may have looked like throughout. The Editor, referring to a letter received from Canada, says he is pleased that “our yellow cover” can be seen on sale in that land. He also refers to his paper becoming known as “Yellow Boys”. It is possible this refers to an advert-filled yellow cover wrapping the weekly editions, though Boys was also evidently produced in a 4-week omnibus “Magazine edition” (in common with Chums and Chatterbox). Chums and Chatterbox monthly editions, at certain points, had coloured covers, some of which would be included in the yearly volumes as coloured plates. However, Boys only contains a few plates, and most of them are not colour – so the yellow covers may have been used on the monthly editions, and the weekly ones were as they appear in the yearly volume (though with a date and price, of course!).

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Big gatefold one from the front of the volume

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Many other plates are blue, not coloured!

A few tantalising illustrations appear, showing issues of Boys on sale, or being read. They appear to show the cover as being covered with squiggles, with a contents section in the lower right corner. Of course, there’s no indication as to whether these are weekly or monthly editions.

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Very obviously a later addition to that blue plate!

A cover with lots of fanciful twirls and twists obviously didn’t help much, for at the end of volume 2 the merger with the Boy’s Own was announced, in place of the usual correspondence section. The editor tries to play up the merger as a partnership of equals, but actually Boys was being obliterated entirely. It didn’t do the Boy’s Own much harm, as it ran into the late 1950’s (though by then as a small monthly).

Curiously, the publisher of Boys, Sampson Low, continued to exist as a book publisher. They even put out the misleadingly-covered Schoolboy Speed Kings, reviewed elsewhere on this blog. I’m not aware of any other story papers produced by Sampson Low – did they find the market too competitive, and retired from the field?

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Great news inside, chums!

Bunty in the 90’s

Remember this book?

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It was pretty good, wasn’t it? Mind you, it wasn’t as good as this one:

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Because that one REPRINTED THE STORIES. And of course we much prefer comic nostalgia books when they REPRINT THE STORIES, don’t we? So let’s hope DC Thomson or the various arms of IPC aren’t planning to do a book about, say, Sexton Blake in the style of those recent Copperplate and Frank Reid books from Yankland, which are just a bunch of cod-historical articles with photoshops that make out these “steampunk” (which Sexton Blake wasn’t, anyway) characters were real. Because of course we expect any new books about classic British comic characters to REPRINT THE STORIES, or they won’t really be worth buying.

Anyway, the Bunty book featured a reproduction of the first-ever Bunty cover:

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British first issues at that time rarely had impressive covers. Mind you, they were usually covered with stuck-on gifts.

And at the end of the final (and very short, they know exactly who they were aiming this book at!) chapter, The 80’s:

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It reproduces the last-ever cover, from 2001.

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Is that a text story I see being advertised?

Hang on, haven’t we missed something there? Well then, as I not-so-recently-now made a haul of about 100 Bunty’s from 1993 – 1995 for only a fiver, I may as well create that missing chapter myself!

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Some typical covers

By this time, the illustrated covers (the first 30 years or so of the comic featured Bunty, the mascot, in short comedy strips on the covers) had given way to magazine-style photos of girls, with lots of plain word-processed text advertising the features inside. A prototype of the horrible covers that graced The Dandy Extreme or the current Beano.

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Are these girls generic model photos from an agency archive, or did DC Thomson hoover up the pupils of a nearby school?

The paper was not glossy, though. It was the same kind that was being used for the Beano and Dandy at the time, though perhaps a little thicker, so photos would reproduce better.

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The main story in the comic was still The Four Marys, an old-fashioned story about a same-sex boarding school. It wasn’t set in the past, though, and the girls would wear fashionable 90’s clothes when going into the nearby town. Modern cars and tape players could also be seen. The Four Marys’ stories were arranged into serials with clear beginnings and endings, it appears that any character development that went on through the serials was slight, and that each one was basically a brand new story. Typical storylines would involve a new and/or naive girl being tricked into trouble by the bullies, or one of the Mary’s falling out with the others because of a misunderstanding.

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The Four Marys was inescapably old fashioned, though I’m not sure I agree with the statement a manga (you know, those comics full of magical ninjas and killer notebooks) fan once made about it being “irrelevant” to modern children. Why are British comics, especially school and war stories, held up to more exacting standards than other forms of media? It’s almost as if people are actively trying to find reasons to criticise and write them off.

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More up to date was the other main Bunty story, The Comp. This was also a school story, but it was set in Redvale Comprehensive, a modern secondary school with characters that appeared to be forever in about year 8 (ages 12-13). Unlike The Four Marys, this was more of a soap opera with a story that kept on running. Different characters would be involved in different events, the beginnings and endings of which would overlap.

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The attitudes of the girls atRedvale were also a bit more modern than The Four Marys. One Four Marys story involved them helping to clear a bully of a false charge that had been made against her. The girls of The Comp would probably just let her be expelled!

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Another regular story, though it was sometimes temporarily replaced, was the photo-strip Luv, Lisa. This was also a soap-like story, but was told from the point of view of one girl, writing in her diary. She has an annoying little brother who keeps getting involved in noisy hobbies. There’s also the usual crushes and bullies at school. Of course, it would have been better with illustrated artwork!

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Bunty herself was also still there, no longer on the covers, but shoved on an inside page above some adverts (though to be fair, the old stories on the covers had large panels, and so were not very long). The artwork was also not as good as the old, painted version. In fact it often seems to have been drawn in a hurry.

In addition to the regular stories, there was a selection of serials on different themes which came and went. These usually got the black and white pages, though would occasionally have the first or last page in colour. Some would even be full colour, but it was rare – the colour printing was reserved for the regulars!

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Haunted Hotel was about the daughter of a hotel owner who was the only one who could see the ghosts of the old owners (and guests!). The ghosts helped to foil criminals, warn the owners about how the guests felt and spark off romance. Typically bonkers British comic premise! This story appears in many of the issues I have, perhaps the characters had more than one “outing”.

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Oh Boy! is about a girl who dresses in boyish clothes, and who is picked to act a male part in a TV show after she moves to a new town. She has to hide her identity from the rest of the crew, for fear of being sacked. She also has to hide it from her parents, who wouldn’t like it if they found out she was “lying”. In the end she is found out – but the fact she’d been “acting” so well all along only helps her new career!

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Top of The Class is one of the ‘other’ photo stories that appeared from time to time. This one is the “choose your true friends” dilemma that was long used in girl’s school stories (and some boy’s ones too!) right back into the twenties.

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The Newcomers is an amusing story in the vein of Third Rock from the Sun (was that on in 1993?). It’s about an alien family who come to study Earth, and need to try to blend in with human culture, with amusing results. In another part of the story they go on holiday, thinking the train is the hotel. They like the idea of a hotel that moves, so you always have a different view, but are quite put out to find you have to share it with a load of strangers!

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In Pippa’s Place is about two cousins of the same age, who were adopted by sisters. The sister who adopted Pippa becomes rich and successful, and the other girl, Penny, is jealous, because it could have been her adopted into a rich family. She starts to get Pippa into trouble by starting nasty rumours. As an aside, look at that hideously cheesy dialogue in the first panel! It’s no wonder kids of that era were put off traditional comics, with characters speaking wooden lines that look more like they belong in a Viz parody.

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The Price of Success is about Geraldine Price (cwatdeydidthar?), a girl who envies her friends with rich, successful parents. But then her own start a fashion business, which takes off in a big way. While her parents can now spend a lot of money on her, they’re also busy all the time. In one episode she’s assigned a homework project about recent history, but never has time to ask her parents about it, instead just getting a set of encylopaedias dumped on her. This is one of the ‘other’ serials which has every page in colour. In Pippa’s Place and The Newcomers have black and white pages too.

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Miss Popularity is about a girl who lands a dream job as a model in advertising, but everything she does is sabotaged by somebody, and she needs to work out who. A spoiled, jealous girl at her school is the prime suspect… but it probably turns out it was actually somebody else, a minor character only seen at the start of the story. Because it always is!

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 My Secret Sister is about girls who hate each other when they first meet, only for them to discover they are estranged twins! The ‘lost’ sister has had a rough life, shunted through children’s homes and foster families, and so has a rather different outlook on life.

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Forbidden Island is a mystery story that would not have been out of place in the 1940’s, a girl is adopted by her Aunt and Uncle, who live in a big house with large grounds and an island, on which she spots mysterious lights. Of course, she’s banned from going there so can’t just row over and investigate. This story has some fantastic artwork, with some lovely countryside scenes.

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“Achtung, vere are die Heinkels? I haff been signalling to zem for 50 years!”

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A New Life for Lily is a Victorian orphan story, rendered with appropriate grime and squalor. Polly Bond is left to take care of her little sister Lily on her own, so decides to dump her on the doorstep of a well-off family. Four years later, she ends up working as a servant to that same family, and discovers a life of wealth has not improved her sister any.

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Rock School is about some girls who start a rock band at their local school. Just like the Japanese anime K-On!, which began as a 4-panel joke strip, but was later adapted into a successful animated series (so successful that an impromptu ‘shrine’ to the series has been set up in the ex-school (now a library) that was used as art reference!). There was also a feature-length version of K-On! where the band goes to perform in London. I wonder if Rock School ends in the same way? At least it’s not as far to go for these girls!

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Mum Knows Best! is about a girl whose sister died as a baby, so her parents are over-protective. No doubt many girls in Bunty’s apparent target age of 11-14 saw a reflection of themselves in the story.

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Colouring seems a bit rushed on this one. Black and white story ‘upgraded’ at short notice?

Lessons from Lindy is about a quiet and shy girl who decides she wants to get noticed, so teams up with the worst rebel in the school. She becomes torn between her put-on rebellious attitude and her better nature. Interestingly, Lindy, the name of the rebel, is quite a rare and unusual name. But it was also the name of a short-lived IPC comic from 1974!

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THERE WERE THIS FING CAM AP!

My School Chum Mum is about a girl’s mum who gets reverted to her daughter’s age, and has to pretend to be her cousin until the effects of the miracle anti-ageing cream wears off. Their nosy neighbor is always snooping around and making trouble, too.

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Heartbreak House is a general haunted house story. A scary version of Haunted Hotel! Of course, as this is a British girl’s comic, the ghost and her activities are only known to the main character, her parents think it’s her causing all the trouble.

As well as the comic strips, there was a few feature pages. By this time most of the other girl’s comics had either ended, or had become magazines that were almost all feature pages and very little, or no, comic strips. Bunty’s letter’s page was called Girl Talk, and tied in with a range of clothes, toys and stationary. I can remember seeing that logo EVERYWHERE when I was at primary school. I bet most of the girls didn’t read Bunty, though.

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This also had it’s own short gag strips called “Girls Talking”.

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Another feature was “Design A Fashion”, where readers would design clothes and send them in, to be drawn by “The Bunty Artist”.

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If some company had actually produced these, would you have worn them?

 “The Bunty Artist”, that phrase sums up everything that went wrong with British comics, doesn’t it? The individual artists were reduced the status of one anonymous cipher, their hard work made to look worthless and without meaning. Imagine if the artists who drew this page every week were both named and rotated. Imagine if the girls sending their designs in were even able to choose their favourite artist to illustrate them. Imagine if the issues hyped this up, with “next week, our fashion page will be drawn by XY, artist of The Four Mary’s”. Not only would these anonymous toilers get the respect they deserved, it may even have helped to keep readers aboard, knowing that there was somebody out there whose job depended on their 45p.

Of course, attitudes to artist credits were far more enlightened 100 years previously, as I’ll talk about in the next entry!

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I live in a huge building site!

Starring YOU! is a page where readers send in information about themselves, and one is chosen to be featured. This is an interesting one, a girl who lives in Dubai. I should think a lot of British people had never heard of that city at the time!

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Wonder if any of these girls, now grown up, will stumble upon this blog? XD

Pick a Pen Pal is a page where readers can exchange letters (using reference codes to begin with, they didn’t go revealing the addresses of random children in that day and age… they left that sort of behavior to 1913!). Of course, if Bunty was still around today it would probably have it’s own heavily-moderated Facebook-like social network instead.

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There was the occasional feature where a girl gets to experience the world of work for a day, this one working as a volunteer in an Oxfam shop. Wish I could go back in time to that shop, I bet it had loads of adventure comic annuals from the 70’s and 80’s for less than a pound! In another of these features a girl got to work at a Burger King for a day, and helped a younger kid join the Kids Club, which I vaguely remember. Apparently it had it’s own comic… where’d it all go wrong, eh?

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“Eco Friendliness” comes and goes like a fad. People were mad on it in the early 90’s, so Bunty started a “Green Scene” page, a mixture of puzzles, “eco” stuff like recycling and using CFC-free aerosols, and information about biology and botany. Look at that “Pet Protectors” logo, how 90’s is that?

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For one year they got to fill two pages of every fourth issue with a calendar.  This one is interesting for featuring Will Smith as the star of a ‘mere’ sitcom, not the household-name Hollywood A-lister he would become only a few years later! More interestingly, from the point of view of this blog, is an ad The Beano Videostars, the second (of two) straight-to-video animated Beano cartoons. Later in the 90’s we’d get the brilliant Dennis The Menace series, still far and away the best attempt at bringing The Beano to the screen!

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The back covers of most issues have star pictures, most of the ones in my collection have been doodled on, like Take That at the top left XD. Here’s a few names that you may still actually remember… though at the time, when I heard people talking about “Betty Boo”, I thought they meant the 40’s cartoon character! The eyes of this one are way more enchanting.

And finally, how’s this for an Atlantic-spanning comic “crossover”?

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