MISTY – THE FEMALE 2000AD

Apologies for this digression from the Judge Dredd story, but there is so much interest in Misty – the female 2000AD – that there is now a Bring Back Misty Facebook group.  Because Misty was connected with the origins of 2000AD, I thought I’d talk about it here.

It was the last few weeks before I left 2000AD and I was looking forward to starting work on my next creation: Misty. I took the title from the film, Play Misty For Me and my plan was to use my 2000AD approach on a girls’ comic: big visuals and longer, more sophisticated stories with the emphasis on the supernatural and horror. My role models were Carrie and Audrey Rose, suitably modified for a younger audience.  John Sanders and I had several meetings to discuss its content and we could both see how it could be a hit; potentially bigger than 2000AD as girls comics sales were always higher than boys. (On launch: Tammy: 250,000 copies per week; 2000AD: 220,000 copies per week; Misty: 170, 000 copies a week. Approximate figures.)

But given the success of 2000AD, I felt if I was going to create another hit for IPC juveniles, I should really have a share of the profits. John Sanders said his board of directors would never agree but I wouldn’t budge either.  So I left and went back to freelancing. Later, I relented and agreed to be the consultant editor for Misty and guide it on its way, but without taking responsibility for it, like 2000AD. I also agreed to write the lead story for Misty – Moonchild – inspired by Carrie; and later Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel, inspired by Audrey Rose, a story about reincarnation.

Without my direct involvement, the stories were not as hard-hitting as I would have liked them to be and some punches were pulled. There were far too many short, self-contained stories, some a bit weak, not enough serials - which are vital to hook the reader – and more than a little “old school” thinking slowly starting to creep back in. Despite this, Misty was still very good, the art was fantastic – often better than 2000AD – and it was very much  part of the Comic Revolution. Here’s how Will Brooker, author of Batman Unmasked and an expert on popular culture recalls Misty: “Pacts with the devil, schoolgirl sacrifice, the ghosts of hanged girls, sinister cults, evil scientists experimenting on the innocent and terrifying parallel worlds where the Nazis won the Second World War.”

The pages below give you a taste of Misty (apologies for the poor scan quality).  They’re from Moonchild, by me and John Armstrong, the top artist in girls comics. And my short story called Roots.  Don’t know the artist, I’m afraid, but it’s beautifully drawn. I’ve blanked the last picture out which was too safe and reassuring and was added by editorial, against my wishes. I wanted it to end on this note of horror with no punches pulled. Some of my other horror stories were similarly toned down by editorial, applying “old school” thinking – not to scare the readers “too much”.

Next are three pages from The Sentinels by my colleague Scottish writer Malcolm Shaw about a tower block which shares an alternative reality with a Nazi-occupied Britain.

Many Misty readers recall The Sentinels with particular affection. Malcolm, who sadly died very young, was same generation as John Wagner, myself and Gerry Finley-Day (creator of Tammy). Why was it mainly guys on girls comics, I hear you ask? Answer: because all the younger female magazine journalists looked down on girls comics and didn’t want to write or edit them, aspiring to teenage and women’s glossy magazines instead.

Malcolm was a brilliant writer of girls comics and also some early Judge Dredds. We started Jinty together, dreaming up a selection of stories, before Mavis Miller (previously editor of June) was appointed editor and turned it into a very successful comic with a strong science fiction edge. Malcolm really deserves a separate article on his important contribution to the Comic Revolution, but I only worked with him for a brief period, so my knowledge of his work is rather limited, I’m afraid. Another of his excellent Misty stories was Four Faces of Eve about a girl who looks absolutely normal but is really a female Frankenstein’s monster-  she’s actually made up of four girls. That was a truly awesome and scary serial with great art by Brian Delaney.

I’ve always regretted not creating Misty the way I created 2000AD. I’ve little doubt if I had, it would still be around today and it could have changed the British comics landscape for the better.

Alas, Misty eventually died, for the reasons I’ve given, but it’s still well-thought of to this day.  Many of us hope it could be reprinted with collected stories, just as 2000AD stories have been successfully collected. There’s a huge archive of supernatural girls comic stories from Misty that would make a great Best of Misty which would appeal to new readers as well as nostalgia readers and their daughters. Although they would need to be the right stories. A Misty Souvenir Special (2009) bombed because – as Misty  readers confirmed to me – it was The Worst of Misty. Whoever put it together hadn’t got a clue what the comic was about and just slung together a collection of boring features, text stories, and “nice” safe, mildly creepy, self-contained comic strip stories.

But it seems to me there is a chasm in the market for female comic readers.  Significantly, Twilight,Vampire Diaries and House of Night are in the same genre and are trying to fill that gap by adapting their text to graphic novels. And Misty works for us guys, too, of course. Great stories and great artwork cross generations, age-groups and gender.

To assess if this was still the case, my wife and I did a straw poll of local kids aged 8-11. The feedback on our poll was very encouraging. The kids read episodes from three stories:  Moonchild, The Four Faces of Eve and my Glenda’s Glossy Pages (a supernatural story I wrote for Tammy) and enjoyed them all.  Here are just two of their many positive quotes:

Moonchild

I loved how it was building up and how they discovered her powers after a while. I would like to read more of those sorts of comics.

The Four Faces of Eve

It’s really exciting, and it always leaves a mystery at the end of each page.

Clearly they are timeless classics, rather than ephemeral.  None of these young readers thought they were old fashioned.

A contact of ours (Jo Bevan) is passionate on this subject and recently carried out a larger, more detailed survey on kids’ reading habits, with encouraging results.  Over two thirds wanted to see more comics available.  Jo is active on the influential Mumsnet and started an interesting thread where many mums were complaining that there were no decent story-based comics for their daughters – or  their sons, for that matter.

I know several women in the media who grew up with and were influenced by Misty, just as 2000AD inspired many artists, directors and writers. A few months ago it was mentioned in the Daily Mail You magazine where renowned artist and designer Julie Verhoeven found Misty’s dark and mysterious content an inspiration.

As John Freeman (Down the Tubes) said to me, “With writers Jacqueline Rayner out there (as well as yourself) pushing girls comics, why the hell is no-one reprinting them?”  Jacqueline’s Guardian article is here, and she also has a very entertaining blog on the subject.

Good question. And with films like Hunger Games – a typical girls comic story – and Black Swan and Twilight, doing so well, how risky is it to do a Best of Misty?  My good friends at Titan Books had the option to reprint Misty, but unfortunately they couldn’t find anyone to edit it at the time. That’s totally understandable. It is a specialist subject and you do have to know which were the cool and popular stories. (Damn! I should have suggested I’d edit it, just to get it out there.) So Titan handed the project back to copyright holders, Egmont, who have since turned down at least one publisher from reprinting it because they weren’t big enough. They may be hoping for a larger publisher, but I fear only Titan is the likely contender. I’ve suggested it to other publishers I know but it’s simply not their genre.  So it doesn’t look good at the moment, but we can still hope. If Egmont gave Titan a new license, I’m sure it would do well for them.

If you’d like to see Misty reprinted, do give Bring Back Misty a look. Or ask Titan to reconsider (readerfeedback@titanemail.com).  Or I’ll pass on your thoughts to them. If there’s no-one else available, I’d edit a collection, just to see it return.

I hope to come back to the subject of girls comics soon because that’s where the Comic Revolution actually began with Gerry Finley-Day, creator and first editor of Tammy. Bunty was great, but Tammy was revolutionary!  For example, these astonishing stories from the early 1970s, all created by Gerry:

Slaves of War Orphan Farm. The wartime evacuee farm is run by the cruel Ma Thatcher (based on Mrs T, then infamous as Thatcher the Milk Snatcher) and was truly terrifying with the evacuees having to fight, escape and defeat genuinely evil monsters.

Ella on Easy Street – a profound and cool attack on middle-class values with beautiful artwork by Casanovas. Ella sabotages her parents plans to better themselves. She wants to stop them becoming high-achieving yuppies because she fears it could break up their happy family.

And Aunt Aggie: a working class, eccentric, ‘salt of the earth’ TV personality and national treasure with a heart of gold who makes children’s dreams come true on her mega-popular TV show, visiting orphans and helping the sick and the vulnerable. Behind the scenes, she cheats and mocks kids, hates them and lives a secret life of luxury, driving around in a customised Rolls-Royce. The heroine is Aunt Aggie’s orphan side-kick who sets out to sabotage her cruel plans.

Okay, sorry for that interruption, my normal Dredd chapter will be continued in my next post with:  “Don’t mention the Silver Surfer”.

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45 thoughts on “MISTY – THE FEMALE 2000AD

  1. Michael Crouch

    Hi, Pat, no apologies needed, the Misty feature was really interesting. While I was raised on 2000AD (still am), my younger sister would occasionally buy a girls title like Misty. I used to sneak a read now and then and remember one or two of the stories having a harder edge than some of the boys ones. Be good to see a few of them reprinted.

    Reply
  2. Steamshovelmama

    Oh I loved Misty! I read it religiously from 9 (1978) to about 13 (1982). And you are *so* right about the dearth of good plot and character driven comics for girls. I hadn’t considered it, but you are absolutely right that “Hunger Games” is classic comic book fare (and my 15 year old daughters favourite books).

    And, as a long standing feminist, THANK YOU for giving me stories with girls who did things and had great characters at a time when I was figuring out what it meant to be female.

    Off to check out “Bring Back Misty”.

    Reply
  3. Sue Roberts

    Never mind the younger girls, I’m in my fifties and after reading the excerpts above,I want to know what Moonchild and Eve saw!! Looks great and if Misty comes back, I can buy it for my granddaughter and borrow it afterwards!

    Reply
  4. petebangs0964

    You don’t need to apologise for this diversion. I have very fond memories of Misty particularly. My paper round took me a further half hour one day each week as I dawdled reading copies of Misty I was supposed to be delivering. Hope you’ll get back to girls comics soon, in the sort of depth you’ve given to 2000ad.

    Pete Bangs

    Reply
  5. Rémy Christin

    So as a recap, in Misty you have wrote (all the strips of these series?):
    - moonchild
    - Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel
    - the short story Roots
    Do you remind anything else you have written for Misty?

    And same question about Tammy, you have cited Glenda’s Glossy Pages but I’m sure there were other strips.

    Thanks for your insights!

    Rémy

    Reply
    1. Pat Mills Post author

      I think I did three one offs for Misty: Roots, plus a story about spiders which they toned down, plus a story called Paint it Black with they paid for but never used cos it was thought to be too scary. So they used the title for something else.

      Tammy? Lots of serials. Ditto Jinty, Sandie, Pink and Girl. I will get into them, but in the meantime Jacqueline Rayner’s blog covers some of them.

      Reply
  6. BristleKRS

    This is all fascinating stuff – even to someone who never had a sister whose comics I could sneakily snatch a read of!

    I only really got to hear anything about girls’ comics when I read Graham Kibble-White’s (somewhat patchy) Ultimate Book Of British Comics a few years back – but with your stuff on this blog, and that long interview on the Forbidden Planet blog, I find myself hooked.

    Please tell us more! A rich seam to mine, and as you can see, we’re rapt.

    Reply
  7. Mistyfan

    Thank you for this blog, Pat. I do hope we see Misty, or something along those lines soon. The example of Phoenix shows the direction that a new girls’ comic could go.
    Or if no new comic, a reprint volume for the nostalgia market and whet the appetites of the new generation. One thing I sure hope they do is reprint Cora Can’t Lose in its entirety – it always hacked me off that the final episode of that story was cut off with the cancellation of Tammy.

    Reply
    1. Mistyfan

      Tammy credited the ‘Roots’ artist as Barrera Gesali during the period she ran credits, but that may have been a pseudonym. It was not uncommon for the artists to use pseudonyms and, come to think of it, it does sound like a composite name. So if it’s Maria Barrera, then thank you.

      Reply
      1. Candela

        I think Gesali (G. Gesali) was the writer of some comic stories. So It could have been Barrera/Gesali and someone dropped the slash. Her full name is Maria Barrera Castell, she’s from Barcelona. I’m trying to contact her so I will enquire about the Gesali.

  8. Mistyfan

    Pat,

    I think you wrote Tammy’s ‘Thursday’s Child’, didn’t you? I also know you wrote ‘Girl in a Bubble’ and ‘Land of No Tears’ from Jinty.

    Reply
    1. Pat Mills Post author

      Yep… I wrote Thursday’s Child, School For Snobs, Aunt Aggie, Granny’s Town and Glenda’s Glossy Pages for Tammy. But probably only Glenda and Thursday would stand the test of time.

      Reply
      1. mistyfan

        School for Snobs is still very enjoyable.

        It’s interesting to look back on Thursday’s Child and see how close it came to anticipating life after 2000. You did come very close with that motorised wheelchair.

      2. Pat Mills Post author

        I must check that out. It’s ages since I looked at Thursday’s Child. I always felt i should have extracted a little more out of the story. And I remember not being entirely happy with my explanation for why it happened.

  9. Candela

    Oh well, sorted. As it happens G. Gesali is another artist from Spain and they worked together sometimes. I do not have more data on him at the moment, though.

    Reply
  10. Mistyfan

    I think another problem with Misty was no ‘regulars’ except for Miss T and Misty herself. This became telling when Misty merged with Tammy because it is the regulars who keep going in a merger and carry on after the comic they came from disappears. Just look at Bessie Bunter, The Storyteller, Pam of Pond Hill and The Comp. They carried on for years after the comics they came from disappeared. Bessie and The Storyteller even carried through two mergers.

    Reply
    1. Pat Mills Post author

      That’s so true. It’s part of the malaise of British comics, where people would always take the easy way out. It takes no thought at all to commission short stories, but a lot of energy to commission and get a serial right. But there were so many great possibilities as inspiration: a toned down version of Flowers in the Attic, for instance.

      Reply
    1. mistyfan

      Yes – probably the sort of publicity where parents and teachers scream blue murder. But when parents hate it, it’s the sure sign that you’ve nailed it!

      Reply
  11. mistyfan

    Slightly off topic: Ever since I read about you discussing Battle’s “Terror behind the Bamboo Curtain” on the Web, an unsuccessful attempt to bring the girls’ slave story to boys, I had to track it down and did so. I don’t have any prison camp stories from boys’ comics to compare it to, but I can see the formula of the slave story in this serial: the captives subjected to every torture the writers can think of, the captive who refuses to be bowed and suffers all the more for it, and the mystery that must be solved. But I must say that there are still differences – the girls do not take punches, guns and other weapons to their oppressors, but the men definitely do here!

    Reply
  12. BristleKRS

    mistyfan: Talk about synchronicity, I’ve just been reading Battle from the start, and even though originally I didn’t read TBTBC in its natural habitat (I think I came across it in the 1980 Tornado annual), so many of the panels had been imprinted on my memory:

    …punji stake booby trap, bat attack, Blake beating up some guards with a rifle butt, the to-the-death duel with the dude in the mask, setting off the mines with a weighted boot, switching plates and poisoning Suki the cat, the blank faces of the brainwashed soldiers, Sado’s pistol against Blake’s head, worm’s-eye view of Blake shooting out a sentry tower searchlight, the quicksand, Blake’s fake tunnel, Sado’s back-firing gun… And so much of the dialogue I could remember too!

    For a ‘throwaway’ story, it’s stayed with me a long time. I doubt I’d read that annual for a good 15, maybe 20 years.

    Reply
    1. Pat Mills Post author

      John Wagner and I put a lot of energy into writing Terror Beyond The Bamboo Curtain – and learnt a hard lesson: that girls love mystery, boys don’t! It wasn’t the big success we thought it would be. Despite the mystery, it has some great moments as you say. My favorite – Blake trying to rescue his buddy who is sinking into a swamp. “Will Big Jim save his friend? Find out next week!” Next week Blake fails to save his friend who sinks and dies. I took such pleasure in writing that scene, because it raises truths we all have to deal with, that heroes don’t always arrive in time. And it mocks the cliche ending! Even today, in comics, we don’t challenge the cliches enough – although I do my best in Marshal Law.

      Reply
  13. BristleKRS

    That’s interesting – so was the short life of Scream! connected to that? Its stories certainly seemed to owe more to the tropes of the girls’ rather than boys’ weeklies (especially Monster).

    As for TBTBC, the effort you and John Wagner put into it definitely seem to have paid off for some readers – and inspired some memorable work from Giancarlo Alessandrini, who seemed sometimes to channel the spirit of Ronald Searle through his depictions of a grinning Sado.

    Reply
    1. Pat Mills Post author

      No, I think Scream came from another direction altogether.

      Sado was popular in the company while we were writing it. One guy made and wore a “SAVE SADO” badge.

      Reply
      1. Mistyfan

        I guess Sado was popular because he was so campy, even if he was evil? Making him a stereotype sure gave him the funniest lines, such as:

        “See Fearnly run! He think he okey dokey, but he no get far – you see!”
        “See – Suki like. Big boy like, too! Please to eat.”
        “Aiee! Off! No scratch Sado!”
        “Bouncie, bouncie! Big boy bounce along path like rubber ball!”

        He wouldn’t have been nearly so interesting if his English had been better.

    2. Mistyfan

      I reckon the short life of Scream! was due to the same IPC strike that toppled Tammy. At least Scream! got to carry on in Eagle, concluding “Monster”, and “The Thirteenth Floor” became one of Eagle’s established features.

      Reply
  14. mistyfan

    You said that there were three lynchpins to a girls’ comic: the slave story, the Cinderella story and the friendship story. Well, I believe there is a fourth: the regular story. I have seen so many comics that faded very quickly once they were merged because they had no “regulars” except for cartoons, such as Misty, Princess and Lindy. In contrast, School Friend spanned two merges through the regulars Bessie Bunter and The Storyteller.

    Reply
    1. Pat Mills Post author

      You’re so right. And the regular story is one we all seriously neglected.

      I hated the Storyteller btw. I recall – rather stupidly – changing a script so he was blowing raspberries at the readers. As it was a Spanish artist who drew it, that’s what he literally drew – raspberries! Doubly silly. But it gives you an idea of how I loathed that patronising introduction to stories.

      Reply
      1. mistyfan

        Yes, if I was part of a girls’ comic now, one of the first things I’d have would be a regular.

        I loved the Storyteller section; it and Bessie Bunter were the sections I’d turn to first in Tammy. But now you mention it, he was a bit patronising and moralising – especially when he had the revised title ‘Tales from Uncle Pete’ (yuk!). He lacked the supernatural aura of other spooky story storytellers like Misty or Gypsy Rose.

        BTW, who would you prefer to give us these spooky stories? Gypsy Rose does have the advantage that she can also interact with her stories, acting as adviser and even exorcist. But then, she was not really spooky like Misty or Diana’s Man in Black who looked like Dracula minus fangs. And let us not forget Bones, the storytelling skeleton from Judy’s Skeleton Corner.

      2. Pat Mills Post author

        I think if I was to do something like this today, I’d look for someone more 2012, or maybe no storyteller at all. I didn’t know about Tales From Uncle Pete. That’s awful. That terrible patronising of readers really killed a lot of comics.

  15. mistyfan

    ‘Tale from Uncle Pete’ was the Storyteller operating under a revised title in the Jinty annuals.

    Would you just have complete spooky stories with no Storyteller – just a caption with something like ‘Tales from the Dark Side’? You know, rather like the Misty stories captioned ‘Nightmare!’ or ‘Beasts’, or ‘Monster Tales’ from Tammy & Jinty?

    Reply

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