On this day, 4 March 1972: Sandie
On this day, 4 March 1972 … I haven’t written previously on the blog about Sandie, of which this issue is one of the earliest from its twenty-month run between February 1972 and October 1973, but it’s one that I’ve been particular interested in because my partner Sharon remembers reading it. It was one of her midweek comics (along with, at various times, Diana, Tammy, Mandy, Judy and Bunty, and opposed to her Saturday comics, more likely to be the humour titles which seemed to her to be more aimed at boys), which she would most likely have read on the living room sofa, ideally with a bag of sweets, head buried in comic in much the same why our own kids will be transfixed on their phones while life carries on around them. I asked her to read this edition of Sandie and tell me her thoughts about it now.
No-one Cheers for Norah is the first strip in the comic, in which Norah Day goes to live with her snobby cousin Lorna while her dad is in hospital, and has a trial to join Lorna’s exclusive swimming club. Sharon is unimpressed. ‘It’s about swimming – there was always so much sporty stuff – and class war, and girls bitching against each other. And Norah’s such a people-pleaser when she shouldn’t have to be. It’s boring and predictable!’
Some of these themes continued in Odd Mann Out (sibling rivalry and posh people-pleasing as Susie Mann joins a Hogwarts-style boarding school in the shadow of her head girl sister), Anna’s Forbidden Friend (class rivalry and prejudice as Anna Martin of ‘the Madeley Buildings’ develops a secret friendship with the daughter of the rich and snobby estate landlord), Wee Sue (sport and authority figure-pleasing as diminutive Sue Strong saves herself from expulsion with a match-winning hockey performance and then cleans the spark plugs to get the school bus running), Sandra Must Dance (sort-of-sport, posh people-pleasing and sibling rivalry as psychic twins Sandra and Joan fall out over who will get to join the prestigious Southern Ballet Company) and Silver is a Star (sport, class prejudice, rivalry, bitching, posh people-pleasing … the whole works as wannabe show-jumping star Trudy Parker tries to place her horse Silver at posh new stables after those owned by her benevolent scrap-dealer friend burn down). Particularly vexatious for Sharon were Odd Mann Out and Wee Sue, both of which seem to present very boyish storylines. Odd Mann Out (interesting choice of surname) even has fagging at Susie’s all-girl boarding school; and as for Wee Sue … ‘She’s sporty and clever. I hate you already, Wee Sue! Wee Sue is a Mary Sue – she’s good at everything, apart from being tall. Every Mary Sue has to have one minor thing wrong with them to prevent the illusion of being completely perfect. Usually it’s just that they’re clumsy, but Wee Sue’s only crime is that she’s a bit short. Pathetic! The dialogue’s awful, it’s really bad writing – “You can’t expel her, Head. She only broke the rules so that she could swot up her French.” – Oh my God, now Wee Sue’s fixing the engine on the bus!’
It wasn’t all bad. Sharon enjoyed the cartoony strips Wendy the Witch and Brenda’s Brownies (both by Mike Brown), even laughing out loud at the final frame of the latter strip as the terrified troupe hide from the sarge-like Brenda inside a dustbin (‘I’ve always loved cartoon eyes peeping out of the dark – like Scooby Doo or Penelope Pitstop!’). She really liked the artwork (by Spanish illustrator Manuel Quesada) on Anna’s Forbidden Friend: ‘Artwork that’s feminine and pretty always appealed to me, with big hair and long eyelashes making the girls look really glamorous’. And The School of No Escape (in which teachers go missing in a gothic boarding school and a group of friends discover cryptic clues and secret ventilator shafts as they attempt to solve the mystery) came out as her favourite story in the comic: ‘This is a bit more like it. It’s got a bit of woo-woo supernatural mystery. The last frame [in which the girls discover a hidden drawer containing a box engraved with the letter ‘V’] is the first cliff-hanger that makes me actually want to know what happens next.’
Would these have been Sharon’s reactions when she read the comic as a child? Were there really only two or three stories she liked amid many more that annoyed her? ‘Yes. But this was all we had. There weren’t any other choices. As an adult it’s very easy to see that men were writing these comics. So much of it is written from a male perspective – it’s all about rivalry and conflict, sport and saving the day. Apart from the spooky stories and the funny ones, it’s not so much about what motivates girls.’
I realised that this is the point at which Sandie (as well as the earlier issues of Jinty and Tammy that I’ve read) fits in with what I’ve been exploring recently about the ground-shift in tone that seemed to occur in IPC comics in the mid- to late-1970s. With the growth in editorial influence of Pat Mills, John Wagner, Steve MacManus et al came a new style of narrative that was less deferential to establishment and authority, less public school and less patronising. In Action, Battle and 2000AD, in Krazy and Cheeky, there were stories that were more relevant, streetwise and iconoclastic. In girls’ comics the stories became darker and grittier in Jinty and Tammy, and there was more humour and more written on supernatural themes – peaking, of course, in 1978 with the dawn of Misty – which corresponds with what Sharon says she really wanted from her comics in 1972. Sandie has hints of what would become great in IPC’s girls comics, but in these early issues at least it seems to be mainly formulaic, talk-down, establishment-values fare – not dissimilar to Tiger at this time, or elements of Lion and Valiant.
I should also mention that Sharon’s most fondly-remembered Sandie strip – Jeannie and her Uncle Meanie – hadn’t yet started by 4 March 1972, so that might have put a happier spin on things. Jeannie began in July 1972 and, perhaps unsurprisingly, was written by John Wagner who was also editor of the comic for a while before it was merged into Tammy. He has said that he didn’t feel that he was able to do much to save the comic at the time (he didn’t yet wield much influence at IPC), but that he wrote one of its more popular stories is a sign of better things to come. For a future blog post I hope Sharon can bear to come back to a later issue of Sandie to see whether she thinks things got any better over time.