Misty: The Jordi Badia Romero Collection
Jordi Badia Romero (art)
Just in time for Halloween comes this spooky new addition to Rebellion’s line of books reprinting classic British comics. Misty: The Jordi Badia Romero Collection is an inviting hardback tome that dips into the Misty archives and pulls out a shimmering set of stories drawn by one of the comic’s finest artists.
Jordi Badia Romero, a Spanish illustrator, provided comic art for publishers in France, Sweden, America and the UK before sadly dying at the age of 46 in 1984. Much of his work for British titles was in the genre of girls’ romance comics; meanwhile, his American assignments included drawing strips for Warren’s horror magazine Creepy under the pseudonym Jorge Galvez. With Misty, a horror comic aimed at young girls, Romero was able to tie each of these two strands together.
Most of the material in the book was originally published during the tail-end of the 1970s, and the collection serves as something of a time capsule from that grooviest of decades. The stories follow a bevy of teenage heroines – proudly flaunting their striped tops, thigh boots and shiny medallions – as they pout their way through a spooky Hammer-style landscape. The combination of late-’70s teen trendiness and quasi-Victorian Gothicism could easily have clashed, but Romero manages to synthesise an entire world of fantasy from the mixture. The crumbling castles and curvy eyelashes, the flared jeans and flowing period outfits, are all depicted with equal levels of care and conviction.
Romero’s artwork is clearly the focal point of the collection, and other elements of these forty-year-old comics have not aged quite as well. The lettering is basic, with a typed font, clumsy rectangular balloons and frequent typos. The colouring, seen on a few pages of this mostly black-and-white collection, is blotchy and does few favours to Romero’s chiaroscuro illustrations.
Where Rebellion’s previous Misty releases have collected long-running serials, this book consists mostly of short, done-in-one tales from uncredited scriptwriters that were used as filler material (the one exception is “Screaming Point”, an 81-page Dickens-does-Frankenstein saga included towards the end of the book). While sharing a genre with the notorious 1950s EC horror comics, the Misty stories are considerably tamer, as is to be expected from a comic aimed at a younger audience (although, that said, Romero does show a marked fondness for extremely skimpy harem outfits in the pseudo-historical stories). Many of the stories are modelled upon fairy tales, with the Bluebeard narrative being a recurring inspiration as Misty’s heroines seem unable to resist peeking inside the forbidden chamber or opening the forbidden box. Other source texts include the tales of Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood: witness the achingly hip young lady whom, against her mother’s advice, crosses a dangerous moor to get to a disco – and is set upon by her lycanthropic boyfriend.
Some of the stories are sweetly innocuous. One ends with the revelation that a man hired as a pest controller is secretly a vampire, albeit a relatively harmless one who prefers to feed on rats. Others, it is safe to say, must have sent many a shiver down the spines of the comic’s young readership – particularly the story where a modern teenager falls back in time while exploring an old castle, leaving only her mouldering skeleton to be discovered by her classmates.
The stories tend not to withstand close inspection. One tale, set in 1888, has a young girl become convinced that her lodger is Jack the Ripper; she looks inside his case and finds what she believes to be a body – but this turns out to be a ventriloquist’s dummy. In a double twist, the lodger is revealed to be not Jack the Ripper, but Count Dracula! Why Dracula has a ventriloquist’s dummy, meanwhile, is left unexplained.
However, any weaknesses in the scripts serve to highlight Romero’s skill at enlivening his material. Even the most routine narratives have a degree of visual inventiveness to them: take the story that ends with the not-particularly-original twist that the characters are just pieces in a game played by godlike beings, where Romero makes the weird decision to depict the otherworldly players as Planet of the Apes-style simian-people.
Perhaps the most shining example of Romero’s ability to elevate the stories is “Bookworm.” The story is about a selfish girl who neglects household duties to escape into a world of fantasy novels; yearning to become a character in one of these stories, she resorts to black magic in order to obtain her goal. But she mistakenly casts a spell on the wrong book, and instead of becoming the owner of a lush fantasy-land castle, she ends up as a victim of Count Dracula.
While the script is an unremarkable piece of children’s horror, Romero’s art succeeds in making every last panel a joy. From the archetypal witch’s hovel where the girl finds the book to the imposing, faceless figure of Dracula; from the dynamic viewpoints to the stark lighting choices, “Bookworm” becomes a sumptuous piece of late-seventies Gothic, all thanks to Romero’s pen.
For those who grew up with Misty, The Jordi Badia Romero Collection will be an enjoyable trip down a particularly gloomy corner of memory lane. But readers who never sampled the comic before will also be in for a treat: as this collection shows, Jordi Badia Romero deserves to be ranked alongside the likes of Graham Ingels and Wally Wood as one of the greats of the horror comic.