This post came about because I was reading a memoir by Mikey Cuddihy about her childhood, orphaned at 9 and uprooted from her New York family and sent away to the alternative school in Suffolk, Summerhill, in the 1960s. It's called A Conversation About Happiness and it's a lovely read by the way. Anyway, in the book Mikey recounts the parcels from other students' parents containing girls' comics - Bunty and Judy - and how they were passed round and devoured even though much of what happened in them, boarding school punishments and the like were foreign to Summerhill students.
This got me thinking. What strange beasts those comics were. I think most of them staggered on into the 1980s desperately trying and failing to re-invent themselves. I read them in the late sixties at my friend Sheila's house. Her older sister Jean got them every week, and not having English parents myself they offered a window onto - for me at least - an equally foreign world.
What I remember most of all is the thick strand of masochism - Wee Slavey always toiling away for the upper classes and being treated horribly. Ballerinas beaten by evil dancing instructors (of both sexes by the way), and also The Four Marys who never suffered quite so horribly but who had incredibly weird and strange haridos presumably so readers could identify one from the other. When you compare them to the American Comics that I can remember from the period, Archie, Richie Rich, there was none of that out and out suffering, that know your place Englishness going on at all.
There were ponies and dancing and orphanhood and ghosts - quite a bit of seeing things and psychicness (although having since done a bit of research rather than just remembering, this was Misty, the horror themed comic)- the odd tomboy - modelling, air hostesses, and plenty of suffering.
It was in these pages I learnt what a Bobby Dazzler was - she was Roberta on the cover of Judy. And how it was to be a boarding school girl even though I lived in a terrace house in North London. But most of all I learnt that to be a girl which always seemed involved a veil of tears and knowing one's place and of course, naturally, you had to be white. Luckily since I wasn't I knew that the world I read about was one that didn't apply to me.
Catherine Johnson's latest book is Sawbones published by Walker books.