JANEMedium: Newspaper comics
Appearing in: The Daily Mirror
First Appeared: 1932
Creator: Norman Pett
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There are certain types of entertainment that never go out of style — funny stories about home life exciting stories about great heroes pretty women who repeatedly strip or get stripped down to their underwear or less The first is represented in comics by such famous features as Blondie
and Hi & Lois, and the second by such famous features as Dick Tracy and Prince Valiant. But newspaper comics featuring the third are few and far between.
In America, at least. But Britain has had them since December 5, 1932, when Norman Pett's Jane's Journal: The Diary of a Bright Young Thing debuted in London's Daily Mirror (a leader in British comics, the most famous alumnus of which is Andy Capp). A couple of sources say the character was modeled after Pett's wife, but this may be a pious fiction, as other sources say she was based on model/actress/sexpot Christabel Leighton-Porter, who would have been 19 at the time.
The first episode of Jane (which became the official title of the strip not long after it began, and by the way, no relation) was rather mild, cheesecake-wise — just a one-panel glimpse of Jane (last name Gay, tho this was rarely mentioned) in a petticoat as she prepared to meet Count Fritz von Pumpernikel. But that one did set the stage in at least one way. Fritz, who turned out to be a dachshund, was her constant companion from that moment forward. Jane (with Fritz) continued a few years as a vehicle for daily gags (which often involved her innocently dressing, bathing or catching her skirt on a thorn), but those soon gave way to loose continuity and then, when Don Freeman came aboard as writer in 1938, to full-fledged adventure stories. It was in the middle of a spy adventure that she met Georgie Porgie, who was to be her adversary, ally, and eventually lover (tho from all indications, a chaste one).
Throughout these adventures, Freeman and Pett retained the comedy element. That way, Jane could remain innocent while they brought every manner of contrivance to bear in getting her clothes off. In fact, she stayed innocent even when she "gave her all", as newspaper reports described the event — that memorable day in 1943, when, in a hilarious scene, Freeman and Pett brought circumstances together that forced Jane to run through a cafe crowded with military men, naked as a jaybird.
A week later, the American newspaper Round-up reported on the event, and added, "The British 36th Division immediately gained six miles." Coincidence? Perhaps.
By that time, Jane had already become something of an icon in British popular culture, so it isn't surprising her doings were so closely followed by British soldiers. Even in America, she'd inspired a few imitators in the "Spicy" line of pulp magazines (the best remembered of which is Sally the Sleuth from Spicy Detective). Her first comic book, which combined reprints with new material, came out in 1944, and new ones appeared regularly for the rest of the '40s. She became the subject of a stage play shortly after World War II, and a movie, The Adventures of Jane, in 1949. Christabel Leighton-Porter (who by then was in her mid-30s) played the title role in both, of course.
In 1948, Pett moved to a rival paper, The Dispatch, and launched a rival clothes-shedding character, Susie. Pett's assistant, Michael Hubbard, took over the art on Jane. Hubbard used a more realistic style, and the strip had less humor as well. By then it had become practically an institution on the Mirror's comics page, but it lost steam over the next decade. On October 10, 1959, Jane accepted Georgie's proposal of marriage, they sailed off together into the sunset, and the now-legendary series was over.
That would be a good point to say "The End", but for Jane, it wasn't. Two years later, The Mirror debuted a new strip titled Jane, Daughter of Jane, attempting to bring her adventures forward into a new generation. But that one folded in 1963. There have been occasional attempts to revive Jane herself, one of which was by John Burns, who drew several of Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise stories. But she's been unable to re-establish an ongoing presence on the newspaper page. She was, however, the subject of another stage play in the 1970s, a TV show in the '80s (in which director Andrew Gosling used real actors in front of drawn backgrounds), and another movie, Jane & The Lost City, in 1987. And Pett's work is still reprinted from time to time.
Jane was followed by many other comics women who kept losing their clothes innocently. Maybe the cartoonists got the idea from her, and maybe not. It's said, for example, that Harvey Kurtzman (Goodman Beaver) was once asked if Jane had inspired his Little Annie Fanny, probably the most famous of them, and quickly changed the subject. Whatever the case may be, in the British cultural consciousness, apparently none will ever take the place of Norman Pett's original.