Story of a seven-year-old boy who loathed girl comics eventually becoming a fan of the genre thanks to Fleetway Group’s JSF aka June and School Friend.

I have been a voracious reader of comics of all kinds since age seven. Thrillers, science fiction, adventure, funny animals, westerns, historical fiction all are grist to my mill. There was one sub-genre of comics though that I abhorred as a youngster, at least in public. Girls’ comics. Comics aimed mainly at and featuring those basest of the Lord’s creations, girls. Pshaw, bah, tchah were the epithets that sprang to one’s lips when one saw these abominations (err I refer to the comics, not the girls). No self-respecting boy would be caught dead reading one. 

The problem was that they looked so damn enticing. Brilliant covers, terrific interior artwork, wonderful stories. How would I know? you ask. Well, I have finally come out of the closet and I confess. I loved the damn things. Of course, I had to read them on the sly, covered in brown paper so nobody would discover my shameful secret.

Now, in a more inclusive world, I finally shed my guilt and proclaim my affection for these wonderful comics to the world. The Fleetway Group’s ‘June and School Friend’ (JSF), ‘School Girl’ and ‘Princess’ Library series were the best. Recurring characters included Sue Day and her living Doll Tina, Janna of the Forest, The Silent Three, The Grey Ghosts, The Peewits, ‘ Mam’selle X’ that intrepid heroine of the Resistance, Aunt Jemima, Kim – Schoolgirl Detective and many, many more. There were other girl-oriented series too like Debbie, Mandy, Jinty and many more but these paled beside the magnificence of the JSF, Princess and Schoolfriend comics. 

JSF aka June and schoolfriends

The wonderful world of female comics

The fact remains that the publishers could have printed the same stories with brave, upstanding boy heroes. This would have saved us the trouble of sneaking around with the comics stuffed under our shirts, to be surreptitiously pulled out and read in dark and dimly lit alleys or under the bedclothes where nobody would observe our shameful addiction. There already were several series targeted at boys you say? Valiant, Warlord, Eagle, Knockout etc, etc. and these were only the British publications. 

I agree there were several but these were never enough. They shouldn’t have wasted that wonderful art and stories on the females of the species. However, what’s done is done and we had to make the best of it. We did too, reading every issue we could get our grubby hands on. As the years passed these issues vanished from the scene. A few occasionally popped up in second-hand bookshops, nestled among a stack of dog-eared paperbacks like pearls among swine. Fortunately, some die-hard JSF readers from around the world have tracked down these issues and digitized them. These have been shared among fellow enthusiasts and I will remain forever grateful to these giants among men and women.

British comics in the Indian market

Some of these British comics were reprinted in the eighties by Indian publishers such as Chellsons and others. Whether they had adhered to copyright laws while acquiring these is unclear but they did yeoman service in bringing these wonderful comics to the Indian market at an affordable price. Now even these issues, usually printed on poor quality paper with terrible printing are considered rare, or to use the term used by most sellers in India, ‘rearrr’ with the emphasis on the last syllable. ‘ Bhai saab, ye toh ekdum rearrrrr hai. Kahin nahi milenge aapko’ .

Funnily enough, these Indian issues, probably pirated and hugely inferior to the originals, sell for ten times the cost of the original. This is a testament to the innate gullibility and general lack of taste of many so-called collectors who contend that these comics are rare, valuable and of cultural significance since they are ‘Indian’.

What makes the fact that a British comic is pirated and printed in India a matter of national pride and something worth collecting and preserving for posterity is beyond me. You meet all kinds but I will not go further into this issue because it makes me froth at the mouth, and want to rush around biting random strangers on the ankles. 

My greatest regret is that the writers and artists of these wonderful comics remain largely unknown. Even the Grand Comics Database has nothing to offer in this regard. Hopefully, sometime in the future, the identities of these writers and artists will be known because they deserve a place in the pantheon of the comic book elite, so what if they didn’t do stories about supermen and women in tights. Hopefully, this small tribute to these wonderful comics will make you want to seek them out and read them and, for a brief moment, relive your childhood.

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Vineeth Abraham calls himself a “complete, utter and unapologetic bibliophile”. He owns a large personal library and resides in Irinjalakuda, Kerala. In Shelf Life, Abraham writes about reading, books, and beyond.

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