By Norman Pett & J.H.G. (“Don”) Freeman (Titian Books)
Jane is one of the most important and well-regarded comic strips in British, if not World, history. It debuted on December 5th 1932 as Jane’s Journal: or The Diary of a Bright Young Thing, a frothy, frivolous gag-a-day strip in the Daily Mirror, created by (then) freelance cartoonist Norman Pett.
Originally a comedic vehicle, it consisted of a series of panels with cursive script embedded within to simulate a diary page. It switched to the more formal strip frames and balloons in late 1938, when scripter Don Freeman came on board and Mirror Group supremo Harry Guy Bartholomew was looking to renovate the serial for a more adventure- and escape-hungry audience. It was also felt that a continuity feature such as Freeman’s other strip Pip, Squeak and Wilfred would keep readers coming back – as if Jane’s inevitable – if usually unplanned – bouts of near nudity wouldn’t…
Jane’s secret was skin. Even before war broke out there were torn skirts and lost blouses aplenty, but once the shooting started and Jane became an operative for British Intelligence her clothes came off with terrifying regularity and machine gun rapidity. She even went topless when the Blitz was at its worst.
Pett drew the strip with verve and style, imparting a uniquely English family feel: a joyous innocence and lack of tawdriness. He worked from models and life, famously using first his wife, his secretary Betty Burton, editorial assistant Doris Keay but most famously actress and model Chrystabel Leighton-Porter until May 1948 when Pett left for another newspaper and another clothing-challenged comic star.
His art assistant Michael Hubbard assumed full control of the feature (prior to that he had drawn backgrounds and male characters), and carried the series, increasingly a safe, flesh-free soap-opera and less a racy glamour strip, to its conclusion on October 10th 1959.
Now Titan Books have added the saucy secret weapon to their growing arsenal of classic British comics and strips, and paid her the respect she deserves with a snappy black and white hardcover collection, complete with colour inserts.
Following a fascinating and informative article taken from Canadian paper The Maple Leaf (which disseminated her adventures to returning ANZAC servicemen), Jane’s last two war stories (running from May 1944 to June 1945) are reprinted in their entirety, beginning with ‘N.A.A.F.I, Say Die!’ wherein the hapless but ever-so-effective intelligence agent is posted to a British Army base where somebody’s wagging tongue is letting pre “D-Day” secrets out and only Jane and her new sidekick and best friend Dinah Tate can stop the rot.
This is promptly followed by ‘Behind the Front’ wherein Jan and Dinah invade the continent tracking down spies, collaborators and boyfriends in Paris before joining a ENSA concert party, accidentally invading Germany just as the Russians arrive.
The comedy is based on musical hall fundamentals and the drama and action are right out of the patriotic and comedy cinema of the day (as you’d expect: but if you’ve ever seen Will Hay, Alistair Sim or Arthur Askey at their peak you’ll know that’s no bad thing) and this book also contains a lot of rare goodies to drool over.
Jane was so popular that there were three glamour/style books called Jane’s Journal for which Pett produced many full-colour pin-ups, paintings and general cheese-cake illustration. From these this book includes ‘The Perfect Model’ a strip “revealing” how the artist met his muse Chrystabel Leighton-Porter, ‘Caravanseraglio!’, an eight page strip starring Jane and erring, recurring boyfriend Georgie Porgie and 15 pages of the very best partially and un-draped Jane pin-ups.
Jane’s war record is frankly astounding. As a morale booster she was reckoned worth more than divisions of infantry and her exploits were cited in Parliament and discussed by Eisenhower and Churchill. Legend has it that TheMirror’s Editor was among the few who knew the date of “D-Day” so as to co-ordinate her exploits with the Normandy landings. In 1944, on the day she went full frontal, the American Service newspaper Roundup (provided to US soldiers) went with the headline “JANE GIVES ALL” and the sub-heading “YOU CAN ALL GO HOME NOW”. Chrystabel Leighton-Porter toured as Jane in a services revue – she stripped for the boys – during the war and in 1949 starred in the film The Adventures of Jane.
Although the product of simpler, though certainly more hazardous, times, the charming, thrilling, innocently saucy adventures of Jane, patient but dedicated beau Georgie Porgie and especially her intrepid Dachshund Count Fritz Von Pumpernickel are landmarks of the art-form, not simply for their impact but also for the plain and simple reason that they are superbly drawn and huge fun to read.
After years of neglect, don’t let’s waste the opportunity to keep such a historical icon in our lives. You should buy this book, buy your friends this book, and most importantly, agitate to have her entire splendid run reprinted in more books like this one. Do your duty lads and lassies…
Jane © 2009 MGN Ltd/Mirrorpix. All Rights Reserved.