The Archive's Sunday Comics series has turned the spotlight on comics produced specifically for girls only once so far, with Tell It to Emma! That might not seem too odd at first glance, but it is ... because girls have always been bigger fiction readers than boys.
The point was raised recently by noted British comics scriptwriter and editor Pat Mills, who is trying to drum up interest in reviving the girls' comic market. And bibliographer Steve Holland once noted in an article headed "The Men Behind Girls' Fiction" that as long ago as just after the First World War at least one publisher's editor, a male, had been "highly impressed by the contributions of the [story] papers’ female readership; their letters proved girls were more opinionated and were generally more talkative and open about everything from their likes and dislikes to their pets."
The result was story papers, and later comics, for girls, very often written entirely by men. As "Frank Richards" before the Second World War, the prolific Charles Hamilton famously created Billy Bunter and Greyfriars School. Fewer people realize that he was also, as "Hilda Richards", creator of Cliff House School and Bessie Bunter, although the latter was never as warmly embraced by the girls as Billy was accepted by the boys.
Fast forward from the 1930s to the 1960s and we have Keith Chapman (in 2011 our friend the western novelist Chap O'Keefe) joining the staff of publishing company Odhams in London after a stint at Micron Publications, where he'd edited and written mainly war and western comic-books. Over to Keith:
"As I heard it, a less than entirely convenient romance between two Odhams book editors had proved disruptive and led to a departure. This, plus an expanding list of titles, had left managing editor George Beal short of staff. He took on two new recruits, one of them me. In view of my Micron experience, Mr Beal employed me at the age of 21 in an editorial role by day at full senior's pay. He was also amenable to letting me write scripts for the Odhams annuals, under another name, as a moonlighting freelance. I suspect Pat Taylor, the softly spoken but briskly efficient young Canadian mother who edited the girls' annuals, had doubts at first when it was suggested I could write for Girls' World. What did a childless male who was little more than a youth know about stories that would appeal to young girls? I think she was won over by the several scripts I promptly produced. Thus I became for a short while another of that long line of men behind girls' fiction.
"A Book for Belinda is, rather appropriately in the present context, about a girl who loves reading. In her very 1960s adventure she encounters a robed and bearded Indian mystic on a mission in the misty mountains of Wales. Now I wonder what inspired that?
"I think the stylish artwork was by one of the talented Tourret sisters; this time Pat, but possibly Shirley, since their styles are hard to tell apart. Both worked quite extensively in the sixties for the girls' papers and the romance comics like Boyfriend. Their sister Gwen's art, shown in Tell It to Emma!, had slightly less emphasis on line in the drawing.
"The Dutch comics website Lambiek says, 'The female comic artist Pat Tourret, together with Jenny Butterworth, created Tiffany Jones (panel above) in 1964 for the Daily Sketch. This strip, about a modern and independent young fashion model, who is aware of her own beauty, was one of the very few strips in England drawn by a woman.'
"UK Comics Wiki adds that Tiffany Jones appeared in the Sketch and then the Daily Mail from 1964 to 1977. It was also syndicated worldwide and was the basis for a 1973 film starring Anouska Hempel."
Girls' World Annual 1969 was a delightful mixture of the reading fare market researchers, retail chains, publishers, and even some editors apparently, tell us youngsters no longer want. It had eight picture-strip stories, seven text stories, five "making and doing" features, two "pop and people" features (Julie Andrews, the Tremeloes, Alan Price, Lulu, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Dave Dee and company), four "animals and pets" items, a poem, and six "finding out" articles. All sumptuously printed on high-quality paper and attractively bound in glossy hard covers by Jan de Lange of Deventer, Holland. Despite its age, our well-preserved copy shows no signs of browning, fading or other deterioration.
In fact, it could have been sold yesterday ... except that the kind of corner shops which once would have stocked it and a range of similar titles are no longer around except in our memories and dreams. Maybe what the world needs today is not more electronic gadgets but more story-loving Belindas!
For fun, we also have some Girls' World Annual pet photos. For the historians, there's a story illustration from The School Friend Annual 1931.