Olden Life: What was Girl comic?
Girl comic, founded in 1951, was designed to be the complete antithesis to existing girls’ papers of the time which were printed on cheap paper, crudely drawn and badly written.
This new weekly comic would contain morally uplifting, real-life and fictional stories of women of achievement and be underpinned by a strong Christian ethic, as well it might as it was dreamed up by a clergyman, the Rev Marcus Morris. It would also, Morris decided, be a quality product, printed in colour on semi-glossy paper, well written and well drawn.
From the start, Girl, with its distinctive logo of a girl wearing a headband with hair flying backwards, proved wildly popular with pre-teenage girls, even though, at 4½d, it was more expensive than the average children’s comic at 2d or 3d. The original cover strip, Kitty Hawke and Her All-girl Air Crew, was not a great success and was soon replaced by Wendy and Jinx, best friends who had endless adventures at their posh boarding school. This strip was so popular that dark-haired Wendy and blonde Jinx stayed in the fourth form for about 10 years.
Then on the back there was a bible story, written by the Rev Chad Varah, a friend of Morris, who later founded the
Samaritans. Inside, the comic was mainly black and white, containing such ‘career’ strips as Susan Marsh, the student nurse, and Belle of the Ballet.
The ‘fun’ strip was Lettice Leefe, the greenest girl in school, eternally at odds with the headmistress Miss Froth and her sidekick Miss Tantrum. This was drawn by John Ryan of Captain Pugwash fame. Barbara Woodhouse, later a household name for her TV series on dog training, wrote the pets’ column and there were also short stories by leading children’s authors such as former showjumper Pat Smythe.
The overriding tone was educational. Through Girl, I first learned about the Brontë sisters of Haworth, war heroines Edith Cavell and Odette Churchill, the Nobel prizewinner Marie Curie, and glamorous or tragic queens such as Cleopatra and Marie Antoinette. All this stuff was completely new in girls’ comics and I couldn’t wait for my copy to drop through the letter box every week, to see what Wendy and Jinx or Belle and Mamie were getting up to now. Mostly, they were confounding dastardly men.
There was not the slightest hint of sex or romance, and the thrust of the comic was what we would now call aspirational. I learned that girls did not have to be boring housewives, although Morris, who abandoned the church to become a successful publisher, also founded the magazine Housewife. Instead, we could be high-flying career girls in our own right, as ballet stars, adventurers, pioneers, bestselling writers or groundbreaking scientists.
Fired up by the comic’s attractive drawings and highly visual appeal, I wanted to be a comic-strip artist myself and slavishly copied the strips, even inventing my own daring heroines, Esther and Rachel. Even if we did not always achieve our ambitions, we now knew that such things were possible.
The comic lasted until 1964, when due to falling sales and trendier rivals coming onto the scene, it folded. There has been nothing remotely like it since.