Remember this book?
It was pretty good, wasn’t it? Mind you, it wasn’t as good as this one:
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:
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:
It reproduces the last-ever cover, from 2001.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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”.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
“Achtung, vere are die Heinkels? I haff been signalling to zem for 50 years!”
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
This also had it’s own short gag strips called “Girls Talking”.
Another feature was “Design A Fashion”, where readers would design clothes and send them in, to be drawn by “The Bunty Artist”.
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!
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!
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.
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?
“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?
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!
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”?