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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Misadventures of Jane

Simple mention of the name Jane should be enough of a clue for most readers to know the subject of Titan's latest book is the famous character whose adventures appeared in the Daily Mirror for many years. The Misadventures of Jane reprints two long strips from Jane's wartime adventures when Jane was the pin-up of choice of the British Army, Navy and Air Force. Although Norman Pett had created her in the early 1930s, the strip debuting shortly before Christmas in 1932, she was originally the star of one-off situations. It wasn't until the arrival of Don Freeman six years later that she became the star of continuity strips.

Strips being the apt word. Increasingly, the attractive flapper of the early Thirties became more sultry and less clothed. Pett was always at his best when using live models. His model for Jane was Crystabel Leighton-Porter, who was working at a Birmingham telephone exchange and modelling part-time when discovered by Pett in 1939. Her arrival coincided with the advent of war and, with hundreds of thousands of young men posted away from parents, wives and families, Jane reached her pinnacle. During the war there was a degree of freedom allowed that had not existed a few years earlier: artistic photos of nudes, whilst not encouraged, were not discouraged from open sale and Jane also reflected this new freedom. Although there had been many a glimpse of thigh above the stocking line, Jane finally revealed all in 1944.

While Crystabel moved into variety and burlesque shows during the war years (and would later star in the 1949 The Adventures of Jane movie), Pett found himself another model, Betty Burton, although photographs of Crystabel filled the pages of Jane's Journal, which Pett published in the years immediately after the war. These Journals were filled with pin-up art, photographs, stories and comic strips, some of which make a very welcome appearance in the Titan volume. For many fans these will be the draw (the black & white strips having already appeared in the earlier, now out-of-print, Jane at War) as the Journals contained much of Pett's best work.

Overall it's a nice selection. Even the strips that have appeared before are reproduced better (and on far superior paper) than in the Jane at War collection. An excellent feature from the pages of the Canadian magazine The Maple Leaf (18, 19 & 24 July 1945) offers a detailed background to the strip and an excellent introduction to Pett and his work.

The timing of the collection couldn't be better: as we remember the 70th anniversary of the Second World War what better way to celebrate than with Jane, the forces sweetheart.

The Misadventures of Jane. Titan Books ISBN 978-1848561670, 25 September 2009.

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