Exhibit / October 30, 2017
Buoyed by the vast amount of genre fiction and film in circulation, as well as widespread fascination with the occult, which had bled over into the mainstream from the counterculture, interest in supernatural phenomena was perhaps at a historical peak in late 1970s Britain. It was also a time when the national comics industry—a mainstay of the country’s mass-produced popular culture since the 1930s—was booming. Comics were ubiquitous, and the country’s newsagents featured rack upon rack of weekly publications, most of which were anthologies, published mainly by IPC, Fleetway, and D.C Thompson.
British comics were divided by age, gender, and theme, with humorous children’s comics like The Beano, The Beezer, The Dandy, Whizzer and Chips, and Whoopee!, and adventure and war comics like Commando, Warlord, Battle Picture Weekly, and War Picture Library aimed at pre-teen boys. There were also a large number of comics aimed at pre-teen girls, with a plethora of titles including Bunty, Lindy, Sally, Debbie, Diana, Emma, Judy, June, Mandy, Nikki, Jackie, Tracy, Penny, Tammy, Sandy, and Girl. Some of these sold in vast numbers—after its launch in 1971, for example, Tammy was selling an estimated 250,000 copies per week.
Misty, which aimed to combine the atmospheres of gothic romance with the horror comic in a form appetizing for girls, was intended to be Fleetway’s riposte to rival publisher D.C. Thompson’s Spellbound, a girl-targeted, horror-themed weekly that had launched in 1976 and ceased publication by the time Misty appeared in newsagents’ shops. Taking its title from the 1971 thriller Play Misty For Me, the comic was the brainchild of writer and editor Pat Mills, creator of 1977’s science fiction-themed weekly 2000 AD, who said the inspiration for his new comic was “Carrie and Audrey Rose, suitably modified for a younger audience.” He wanted to take the same anthology approach used in 2000 AD, and his intention was that Misty would feature striking artwork and ongoing stories with an emphasis on the supernatural and paranormal.
Misty was also the name of the comic’s “host”—a witchy character who provided a brief editorial—similar to the Crypt-Keeper in EC Comics’ seminal Tales from the Crypt—setting the mood at the beginning of each issue. Misty herself and many of the comic’s most memorable covers were created by the late Shirley Bellwood. Originally from Yorkshire and an alumnus of Leeds College of Art, Bellwood, a respected illustrator and still life and portrait painter, had been working in girls’ comics since the 1950s. She based Misty’s appearance on her younger self, and the beautifully-rendered covers above perfectly evoked the comic’s eerie pop mystique.
Though the one-off stories tended to be morality fables where—again, Tales from the Crypt-like—wrongdoing was cruelly punished, the Misty serials were more nuanced affairs. Stories like “The Sentinels,” featuring a tower block that also exists in an alternative Britain occupied by Nazis, “Paint it Black,” with its haunted paintbox, and the Carrie-like “Moonchild” offered what scholar Julia Round called “a strongly subversive message that celebrates female power and openness as brave girls are enabled to defeat a host of evils.” Such was Misty‘s allure that its appeal crossed the imposed gender lines. At the time, a boy buying a girl’s comic would have been considered as bizarre a transgression as a boy buying a doll, but many (myself included) went to great lengths to read the copies belonging to female acquaintances.
Respected for the quality of its writing and artwork and initially successful (upon launch, Mills estimates it was selling around 170,000 copies a week), Misty originally possessed two sister publications: the aforementioned Tammy, first published in 1971, with its Cinderella-esque stories of hardships endured by put-upon girls, and 1975’s Jinty, which specialized in science fiction and fantasy strips (including The Human Zoo, where abducted children are kept as pets on another planet). As sales dwindled, however, all three were progressively merged with one another before being absorbed by Girl.