Retro Girls’ Annuals
13th Oct 2010
Girls’ annuals were a big part of my childhood, despite being almost obsolete when I discovered them. A family friend gave me a collection she no longer wanted, then my mum remembered she had some 1950s ones stashed away somewhere.
And so it was that I grew up reading comic strips about innocent girls and their catty enemies, attempting bizarre craft projects and wondering whether my handwriting really could define my personality.
Many of the stories and comic strips have themes of identity and self-discovery – timeless issues for teenagers (and adults) everywhere. The innocence of the fiction is precious, and the posters are more likely to be of dogs and horses than men (although in the 70s annuals there are a few pin-ups of David Essex and the Bay City Rollers).
The comic strips and illustrations are stunning and the characters have such great style sense that they could be icons of their respective time periods. I deeply wanted to look like some of them, and confess to taking ongoing inspiration from them in the way that I dress.
The stories are not exactly feminist, but they provided girls with a world where females were the focus of every story. Along with this came a lot of bitchiness (or, um, ‘cattiness’) in the guise of quarrelling sisters and back-biting schoolmates. Perhaps not the healthiest of role models, but entertaining nevertheless.
Despite having discovered the annuals at the perfect time in my life, I can’t help feeling I missed out on the golden age. I can just imagine the excitement of unwrapping a Christmas present to find the latest annual of a favourite comic or magazine, then swapping with friends after reading.
During the 1990s, my friends were in fact prematurely reading Cosmopolitan while I was getting stuck into an epic story of a girl who scarred her face, changed her identity and wore a mask for several months without anyone noticing. And I wondered why I didn’t fit in at school…
But at least I learned a lot about girls’ hobbies and fashions throughout the decades, which seemed more interesting than anything Cosmo had to offer to a pre-teen.
I went on to collect more vintage annuals which I found at car boot sales and charity shops, sometimes for as little as 20p. With the rise in popularity of all things vintage, the price tags can now be quite high, regardless of whether or not they are collectible and in good condition.
No doubt many were consigned to the bin when their proud owners had finished scribbling in them, but I like to think the surviving ones will be cherished for years to come, squirrelled away in the bedrooms of misfit girls nationwide.