By Kayleigh Hearn
Tammy, Jinty, Misty, Sally, Penny, Lindy. They sound like sisters, the kind of sporty, sun-kissed older girls you idolized when you were twelve. Closer inspection revealed their personalities: Tammy was the Cinderella type, Jinty liked science-fiction, and Misty… well, Misty was the spooky one who wore a lot of black.
These aren’t real girls, of course, but a clique of British comics for girls published by Fleetway in the 1970s and 80s. Tammy and Jinty were before my time, but as an American reader, I was immediately envious of the generation of girls that had grown up with these books. Comics! For girls! Not just serialized superhero stories like Cat Girl, but sports stories, science fiction stories, even horror stories, all aimed at the voracious young female reader. For context, I came of age at a time when the only comic books aimed at girls (or at least not openly hostile to them) were Archie, Elfquest, and when you were a little older, Strangers in Paradise and Sandman. If I wanted to read Sailor Moon when I was eleven, I had to read it in Mixx Zine alongside an ultra-violent monster manga aimed at adult men. It was bleak.
I can finally get a taste of what I missed the first time around with Tammy & Jinty Special 2020, published by Rebellion. As the cover proclaims, the special offers “two new sizzling summer stories” that carry on the Tammy and Jinty names for a new generation. The stories embody the books’ flair for melodrama (think boarding schools and ballerinas) alongside splashes of sci-fi adventure (the aforementioned Cat Girl). If the Tammy & Jinty Special sometimes feels like one of those sporty, sun-kissed women flipping through her yearbook, that sense of nostalgia walks hand in hand with personal reflection, bringing the comics into the twenty-first century. What did it mean to be Tammy and Jinty then, and who are they now?
“Boarding School,” by Rachael Smith and Yishan Lee, begins like a Frances Hodgson Burnett story. A sprawling, gated boarding school houses only two students. While her apple-cheeked brother Richard is doted on by pinch-faced governesses, young Tabatha is unloved and neglected and plays chess in the garden by herself. Also like a classic children’s story, she finds a special gateway to another world, though that gateway is no more magical than a hole in a fence. Leaving the school grounds for the first time in her life, Tabatha encounters a girl named Stacy—and Stacy’s smartphone. It turns out that the boarding school’s pristine, prewar setting is a ruse designed to calm and control Tabatha and Richard. The siblings were made to be living weapons with explosive superpowers, and though Richard’s abilities flare up with every temper tantrum, Tabatha is seemingly ordinary… which, unfortunately, makes her expendable.
Smith and Lee’s comic is essentially a bridge between two worlds, or two YA subgenres: the boarding school story and the superhero school story. Besides their shared setting, these stories are remarkably alike in theme, offering the same line of hope to their angsty, adolescent readers.
No matter their struggles, even the most overlooked, unloved orphan can be revealed in the end to be undeniably, uncannily special, whether that orphan is Sara Crewe (saintly child heiress to a diamond mine) or Scott Summers (mutant leader of the X-Men). I admit that my attention dipped a bit when I realized “Oh, this is another X-Men story,” but “Boarding School” supplies an intriguing mystery and a likable, resourceful heroine who breaks out of the past to secure her future.
The past and the future also collide in “Cat Girl Returns,” by RAMZEE and Elkys Nova. The original Cat Girl, who first appeared in Sally in 1969 before migrating over to Tammy, was blonde waif Cathy Carter. Wearing a full-body black catsuit given mystical powers by an African “witch doctor” (yikes), Cat Girl came to the aid of her private detective father to fight crime. (The Tammy & Jinty Special also includes an in-depth profile of Cat Girl’s co-creator, Italian artist Giorgio Giorgetti, that’s a worthwhile read.)
The new Cat Girl is Claire, Cathy’s biracial daughter. While dressing up for a Halloween party (in a summer special?), Claire finds her mother’s old costume and tries it on. “Ooh!” she beams. “Cool and vintage!” Before the night is over, Claire will have rescued a kidnapped influencer (who livetweets the whole ordeal) and followed in her mother’s crime-fighting footsteps.
That Cat Girl is a young Black girl introduced in a story by a BIPOC creative team should be recognized — the pervasive whiteness of the original 70s and 80s comics that used racist tropes like “witch doctors” to give blonde heroines magical props is a scar on those stories, and this is an important turning of the page. Reimagining Cat Girl as a legacy superheroine was a smart move for a book seeking to revitalize its brand. Claire is a plucky lead, bursting with youth and exuberance; Nova’s art imbues her with fittingly feline grace and bright expressions reminiscent of Jamie Hewlett. (I dare you not to smile at the costume change montage that whisks Claire from being an Oompa Loompa-ish pumpkin to the world’s cutest Judge Dredd.)
“Boarding School” and “Cat Girl Returns” are breezy, spirited reads, with nothing overworked about them. A Tammy & Jinty special could have felt dusty and musty (Dusty and Musty — now there are two rejected Fleetway titles), a yellowed blouse found in an old trunk. Instead, it’s crisp and fresh, tailored to fit just right. Creators Smith, Lee, RAMZEE, and Nova recognize the winning Tammy and Jinty formulas — courageous heroines defending their family, overcoming the odds, defining their own identities — while bringing them forward into the twenty-first century. We live in a golden age for comics aimed at young girls, and it’s a testament to its quality that the Tammy & Jinty Special 2020 stands out on a crowded shelf.
Tammy & Jinty Summer Special
Written by Rachael Smith and RAMZEE
Art by Yishan Li and Elkys Nova
Colours by Pippa Bowland
Letters by Jim Campbell and Simon Bowland
Kayleigh Hearn is the comics reviews editor for WomenWriteAbout Comics, and has written for publications including The MNT and Deadshirt. You can drop some money in her Ko-Fi account right here, and follow her on Twitter here!
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