On this day, 28 April 1979: Penny
On this day, 28 April 1979 … I nearly didn’t write this blog post. The cover of the first issue of Penny (as, in fact, most of the issues in the first few months of its run) features a picture of a girl who looks so young that I worried it seemed a bit odd for a big bloke in his mid-40s to to be writing about it. It appears to be about as far outside my parameters of interests as anything else I’m likely to feature on the blog. But then again, it does fall within the blog’s remit of IPC comics published in the 1970s and 1980s (I’ve excluded pre-school comics, but Penny is pitched at an older age than that) and a first issue is significant, so why not? There are a couple of stories that later transferred to Jinty (Tansy of Jubilee Street and Snoopa), and a few artists that are familiar from other comics in the range. Also, I’m fortunate enough to have a copy still accompanied by the original ‘Mouse in Cheese pendant’ free gift, so it’s a good chance to show off that without the usual mockery I get when I wear it down the pub or at the Arsenal.
In fact, contrary to what the cover suggests, this is not a comic only to be enjoyed by mid-Primary age girls. It contains some good stories, with scripting and artwork as good as anything else one is likely to find in 1979. The comic fits very clearly in the genre of Jinty (with which it would eventually merge) and Tammy – a little bit of angsty drama, a bit of humour, some historicals, some mysteries, some pets and some craft articles – with a few signs that its aimed at a slightly more junior level (the stories’ protagonists look a bit younger, and features such as the Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven adaptation and the Little Women text story are a bit more childish).
I did ask my daughter Hannah if she would read this issue for me and tell me what she thinks for the blog. Hannah is eleven, and heading to Secondary School in the autumn, so probably still a bit outside Penny’s target readership. She’s a keen reader, mainly of Manga, Jacqueline Wilson and 5 Seconds of Summer fan books, but a look of distant fear comes into her and her brother’s eyes whenever I suggest they might like to read one of my old comics. Something to do with black and white, dust and ‘old people’ stuff (Hannah once asked to take a whole pile of Jintys up to her bedroom, not because she wanted to read them, but less hearteningly because she was playing schools and wanted to show the comics to her imaginary class as examples of ‘how things were in the old days’).
But after a bit of nagging (and when there was nothing else left to be done except homework) she dutifully sat down and read the comic for me. She sat there for quite a while, reading just about every word and soaking it all in, for which I was surprised and grateful, and reported at the end that it was ‘fine’, ‘a bit too young’ but she did like Tales of Katy Jane (a Victorian gardener makes a doll for the daughter of his employer, but she rejects the toy which will go on to be discovered by different children in future episodes), Ginny and Shep (a girl has to come to terms with news that her dog is to be put down after being injured in a car accident) and The Village Clock (a girl moves to a mysterious country village in which the tower clock can stop time and cast her back to an earlier age) – which suggests that the ‘darker’ stories hold appeal today as they did ‘in the old days’. Hannah’s most delighted moment came at the end, not because she had finished but because she loved the kitten picture on the back cover, and instantly pulled out her phone to take a picture for her screen saver and to post on Instagram. While comics may have struggled to remain relevant over the years, pictures of cute cats will survive the Apocalypse.