Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!
Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.
One missing gem is MOONCHILD, a 1978 horror serial by Pat Mills and John Armstrong. This 13-part serial originally ran in the pages of Misty and is fondly remembered for its wonderful, slow burn of a buildup to a a great little conclusion. It's a great story which gets around the horrific things that a kids' comic probably couldn't get away with at the time by presenting excellent characters that rise above the usual girls' comics archetypes.
For several decades, Britain had a thriving industry of comics aimed at girls. These were enormously successful, and each of them sold better than 100,000 copies a week. Most of them were launched in the 1950s and ably tackled most of the expected tropes of girls' fiction, including rotten schoolmasters, wannabe ballerinas with broken ankles, evil uncles crushing your plans to join the school swim team, horses, girls who wanted to own horses, girls who dreamed of horses, and evil uncles cheating girls out of the inheritance they were going to use to buy horses. There were a lot of evil uncles in the pages of Judy, Tammy, Jinty and the like. And horses.
Misty was among the later girls' titles and there were all kinds of evil uncles in it, although comparatively few horses. There were also Bast-worshipping cults who wanted to turn plucky young heroines into cats, and abandoned tower blocks which sent plucky young heroines to a parallel universe where the Nazis won, and haunted paintbrushes which contained the emotional echoes of a 19th Century nanny who tried to communicate with a plucky young heroine who suddenly found herself painting in the style of the unfortunate ancestor of a local MP, evil garden gnomes and butterfly collectors, and a whole hell of a lot of horror and death and gruesome twist endings. Misty wasn't your typical girls' comic at all; it was the one you didn't want your parents to know you were reading.
Most of the boys' comics of the day featured character-led stories which, if successful, carried on for several months or years. While there were exceptions in the girls' comics, like the famous Four Marys which ran in Bunty for more than 40 years, most of the strips you'd find in them were shorter serials. A typical issue of Misty would usually have three one-offs and four installments of serials that ran from about six to eighteen weeks.
Moonchild is probably the most celebrated and best-remembered of the Misty stories. It's a fairly obvious cash-in on Stephen King's Carrie, but it's great fun. Pat Mills was launching lots of comics in the '70s with an obvious starting point; Hook Jaw was Jaws, both Dredger and Judge Dredd have Dirty Harry as ancestors, and so on. Moonchild loses almost all of Carrie's puberty-as-trauma subtext in favor of a gentler depiction of ESP as a natural family gift, but the story's construction is very clever, with a slow and deliberate buildup to our heroine's explosive smackdown of the school bullies who have betrayed her.
The serials in Misty don't really lend themselves to single-story collections the way that the much longer, character-driven stories from boys and sports comics did. Moonchild, even with all its twists and bully-driven plotting, is not even 60 pages long, far too short for a good collected hardback.
I fear that the art is another strike against it. John Armstrong was an extremely successful artist whose young ballerina strip, Bella, had run for almost a decade in the pages of Tammy, but I think that this charming art really looks very dated, and isn't likely to find too many fans today. There's a little more to it than these samples can provide, a real sense of movement and balance across the pages, and great characterization in the faces. Yet it's so far removed from what passes for good art in girls' horror comics these days - I mean, have you seen that godawful Twilight comic?! - that I doubt today's young fangirls would give it a second glance.
Titan Books has the reprint rights to Misty, but a proposed hardcover "best-of" collection has barely made it out of the rumor stage. I'm sure assembling the book must be a chore, with its unusual mix of short serials and one-offs, without a single well-known artist to hang promotion around. Whatever Titan comes up with, I think that Moonchild could certainly form the backbone of a nice 200-page "best-of" teamed with two other serials and nine or ten one-offs. I hope they've got something like that in mind!
There are some more details about Misty at Mistycomic.co.uk, a pretty good fan site which contains complete details of the comic's long publication history through multiple mergers and closures. Give 'em a visit!