Jane, by Norman Pett

Norman Pett was a British illustrator and comic artist, most famous for creating 'Jane' (1932-1959), one of the most infamous erotic comics of the 20th century. The frequently nude heroine excited many British readers with her constant wardrobe malfunctions. The series ran for over two decades, but was particularly popular during World War II, when it evolved into a spy adventure series. At the time, 'Jane' was as famous as any real-life pin-up. She inspired a striptease show and live-action sex comedy film. The British Ministry of Defense even valued the newspaper comic as a morale-booster for their young soldiers. Apart from 'Jane', Pett also drew the shorter-lived detective series 'Susie' (1948-1950s) and various one-shot realistically-drawn comics for children's magazines of the Amalgamated Press. He also wrote history by drawing the first comic strip adaptation of George Orwell's classic novel 'Animal Farm'. 

Early life
Norman Pett was born in 1891 in Kings Norton, Worcestershire as the son of a gold cutter. By 1911 his family moved to Birmingham. During the First World War, Pett joined the army but fell victim to a gas attack. The plus side was that he was allowed to return home. The downside was that the effects would plague him for the rest of his life. Back in England, he studied art at the Press Art School in Forest Hill, London. He later became an art teacher himself, working for the Mosely Road Junior Art School and the Birmingham Central School of Art. One of the future comics legends educated by Pett was Peter Maddocks.

First appearance of Jane, 5 December 1932.

Jane: the diary years (1932-1936)
On 5 December 1932, Pett launched his signature series: 'Jane's Journal, the Diary of a Bright Young Thing', which appeared in the newspaper The Daily Mirror. The chief editor instructed him to create a series that could reach the same popularity as Bertram Lamb and Austin Bowen Payne's funny animal children's comic 'Pip, Squeak and Wilfred', though aimed at an adult demographic. Within less than a decade, Pett achieved his goal. 'Jane' became one of the most widely read British newspaper comics of its time. The series stars a pretty young blonde, Jane Gay, who often finds herself in embarrassing situations. The original comic strip was comparable to a daily gag comic, with a clear punchline in the final panel. Just like the title implies Jane's adventures were presented as a daily journal, with her handwritten entries being combined with Pett's drawings. The original cast was minimal. Jane had a steady boyfriend, Georgie Porgie, and a little black dachshund, Fritz, inspired by Pett's own pet. In the early years, Pett let his own wife pose whenever he had to draw Jane. 


Jane: the nudity years (1936-1959)
Jane' only transformed into its nowadays recognizable form on 28 April 1936, when Jane accidentally lost her clothes for the very first time. Parts of her dress were ripped, though showed not much more than her bare shoulders. Four months later, on 19 August, she was saved from drowning, but lost her top. From June 1937 on, her unvoluntary strip acts increased. On 28 August of that year, she went swimming in a river, whereupon her clothes are stolen by an escaped convict. This marked the first time that she was depicted completely nude, though Jane finds a newspaper which she drapes around her body. As she tries to cross a nudist colony, she is ironically arrested for "not walking around naked." 

As The Daily Mirror became a more sensationalist tabloid, they opened the door for more sleazy nudity. Jane's (semi) nude apperances became a standard formula. The series' original long title was shortened to 'Jane', while the diary set-up was removed. It became a more traditional newspaper comic, told in serialized episodes. Although the narratives weren't that demanding, Pett still hired a scriptwriter from 1 April 1938 on: Don Freeman (1903-1972). Freeman had earlier also written plots for newspaper comics like Bertram Lamb & Austin Bowen Payne's 'Pip, Squeak & Wilfred' and Stephen P. Dowling's 'Garth' and 'Belinda Blue Eyes'. Interviewed about 'Jane' by Pathé News in 1943, Freeman once stated: "We must have had the best jobs in Britain, Norman and I. Our whole purpose in life, our raison d'être, was to think up ridiculous ways in which to get the clothes of a gorgeous woman; in fact, the woman who was probably desired by the majority of red-blooded males in the entire world! And, the best of it was that we were getting paid for it!" 

'Jane', The infamous full frontal nudity scene, printed on 7 June 1944, a day after D-Day...

Jane: World War II
In 1939, the United Kingdom entered World War II. The gag comic changed its format to a more patriotic, spy action-adventure series. Jane became a military spy, while her best friend Dinah was active with the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes). Jane's missions bring her behind enemy lines, where she is frequently confronted with Nazi spy Lola Pagola. Fritz the dachshund was briefly written out of the series, since Pett feared that the mutt's German-sounding name might displease readers. After a few weeks, Fritz simply returned, since he allowed for a lot of anti-German puns and jokes. Despite evolving into an Allied propaganda comic, Jane still found herself in erotic innuendo. Her military commander is a Colonel, whose wife Thelma got very suspicious whenever she saw her husband and Jane together. Jane also kept suffering wardrobe malfunctions, even though her breasts and genitals were typically hidden away. But for most readers at the time it was risqué enough, causing their imagination to go overdrive. 

On 6 June 1944, on D-Day, Allied Forces invaded Normandy and started reconquering Europe. To celebrate this historic breakthrough, the next episode of 'Jane' featured her completely nude, without objects covering her private parts. According to legend, the Daily Mail sold more copies than ever before, while later that week British forces advanced five miles in North Africa, while combatting general Erwin Rommel. From a more neutral perspective, the Daily Mail arguably sold more copies because of D-Day. Despite all the commotion, it wasn't the first time that Jane appeared completely naked, given her skinny-dipping scene printed on 28 August 1937. 


From the late 1930s, all the way throughout the 1940s, 'Jane' was one of the most popular British newspaper comics. Much like other (semi) erotic comics from the same era, like Milton Caniff's 'Male Call', Adolphe Barreaux's 'Sally the Sleuth' and William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter's Wonder Woman', the series was particularly beloved with lonely Allied soldiers at the front. British pilots painted Jane on the nose cones of their planes. She became as iconic as real-life pin-ups like Betty Grable, Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth. Pett received hundreds of overly excited letters from readers, many army recruits. Some particularly horny people even wrote wedding proposals. One time Pett was unable to produce new episodes for a couple of days, which alarmed enough readers to send in hundreds of letters of concern and protest. Pett reacted by drawing Jane peering naked behind some curtains and explaining: "In reply to all your many inquiries as to what has happened to me - Give me a break. I can't find my panties!" Much to his surprise, the Daily Mirror's letter department was flooded with truckloads of women's panties afterwards! Some military bases were concerned that 'Jane' would distract their recruits too much and considered censorship. But many military officers defended 'Jane', since it kept their soldiers morale up. The British Ministry of Defense went so far to order advance copies of the comic, so submariners could take several episodes along with them, while spending months under sea. Prime Minister Winston Churchill once paid Pett a huge compliment by claiming that 'Jane' was "their secret weapon". 

At the height of its success, 'Jane' ran in The Eighth Army News, Over Seas, Gunpit, Union Jack and countries like Australia, Canada and Italy. In 1945, an attempt was made to syndicate 'Jane' in the United States, but the U.S. press was far more prudish than in England. Pett was ordered to redraw every instance of too explicit imagery, which only made him fall behind his deadlines for The Daily Mirror. Apart from the newspaper comic itself, Pett also wrote and drew various booklets, titled 'Jane's Journal'. These were notable for featuring pin-up pictures and being printed in color. 

Media adaptations
'Jane' also found her way into different media. From 1938 on, professional model Chrystabel Leighton-Porter (1913-2000) posed for Pett's daily drawings. He had met her posing as a nude model at his former school in Birmingham. She also became her official stand-in during public appearances. Leighton-Porter toured the U.K. with a striptease act: 'Jane in the Mirror'. Each show she performed in front of audiences, with a stuffed pet dog on stage. Her signature song went: "I'm Jane, Jane: the model. That's plain. I can't sing. I can't act. I can't even croon. And the dog that I fondle is also a model that you've seen in a famous cartoon. The shows were particularly performed in areas with a high population of servicemen. To keep the fantasies of millions of men intact, Leighton-Porter's marriage was kept a secret. Edward G. Whiting also directed a live-action film adaptation, 'The Adventures of Jane' (1948), starring Leighton-Porter. Pett also has a cameo in the picture. Many people flocked to theaters in the hope of seeing some nudity, but the movie was basically a chaste, low-budget sex comedy. As a result it flopped and was quickly forgotten. 

In 1982 the BBC adapted the comic strip into a comedy TV series: 'Jane' (1982-1984) starring Glynis Barber. Another film adaptation was made a few years later by Terry Marcel, 'Jane and the Lost City' (1987), starring Kirsten Hughes in the title role. 

'Jane's Journal'.

Jane after Norman Pett's retirement
From 1946 on, Pett was assisted on 'Jane' by Michael Hubbard, who also succeeded him on 1 May 1948. Under Hubbard's pencil, the comic evolved into a more chaste soap opera. The series came to a close on 10 October 1959, when Jane married her boyfriend Georgie Porgie. A special tribute compilation was published, 'Farewell to Jane' (1960), collecting some war-time episodes in one book. A more complete collection followed in 1976, under the title: 'Jane At War'. 

The Daily Mirror realized they might lose readers and therefore rebooted 'Jane' in 1961 as a spin-off, revolving around the original character's daughter. Under the uninspired title 'Jane, Daughter of Jane' (1961-1963), new stories were scripted by Les Lilley and drawn by Dutch comic artist Alfred Mazure (of 'Dick Bos' fame). This version, however, didn't catch on and was soon cancelled again. It wasn't until the 1980s, when a 1982-1984 BBC comedy TV series 'Jane' revived interest in the original comic. The Daily Mirror therefore launched a second reboot in 1985, this time starring Jane's granddaughter. The scripts were written by Ian Gammidge, Hilary King, Tim Quinn and, again, Les Lilley, while the stories were drawn by John M. Burns and Roger Mahoney. Mahoney sometimes scripted episodes himself. This explicit version lasted a little longer than the previous reboot, but eventually also came to a close in 1989. In 2008 Titan Books collected the series in a prestigious book collection: 'The Misadventures of Jane'.

'Animal Farm'.

Although Pett had passed the pencil of his signature series 'Jane', he created a very similar newspaper comic for rival newspaper The Sunday Dispatch. 'Susie' (1948-1950s) featured an attractive young woman, Susie, who works as a private investigator for the advice bureau 'Problems Please'. Just like Jane, she has a dog, albeit a poodle named Poppet. Susie occasionally has wardrobe malfunctions, but not as often as Jane. For the most part, 'Susie' was a straightforward adventure serial. 

Animal Farm
Around 1950, the British Foreign Office secretly hired Norman Pett and his writer partner Don Freeman to adapt George Orwell's novel 'Animal Farm' into a comic strip, as part of their anti-communist foreign propaganda program. The 78-episode strip allegedly ran in papers in Burma (present-day Myanmar)  and Brazil, but no British publications are known. The concept didn't come to light until 1998, when the files were declassified. This would mark the first time that 'Animal Farm' was adapted in other media, a mere five years before John Halas and Joy Batchelor's classic animated feature 'Animal Farm' (1955), on which artists like Brian WhiteHarold Whitaker, Reginald Parlett and Bill Mevin worked too. Pett's version is also the first comic strip adaptation of 'Animal Farm', again five years before Harold Whitaker published a newspaper comic, based on the animated film. 

Other comics
In 1948, Pett drew a comic book adaptation of the Warner Bros swashbuckler film 'The New Adventures of Don Juan' (1948) starring Errol Flynn. He also contributed to some of the weekly comic magazines by the Amalgamated Press. For Comet he drew 'June' (1949), an adventure comic about a 20th-century girl who time travels to the Middle Ages, where she joins King Arthur and Sir Galahad. Pett illustrated 'Cardboard Cavalier' (1949) and the final installments of Reginald Heade's realistic comic 'The Captain from Castile' (1949) for Knock-Out. In 1951, Pett also drew 'Penny Wise' (1951), published in the girl's magazine Girl. 

'June' (Comet, 17 December 1949).

Final years and death
In 1960, Norman Pett passed away in Cuckfield, Sussex. 'Jane' was an influence on Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder's 'Little Annie Fanny', as well as the work of cartoonist Martin Brown.

Books about Norman Pett
For those interested in Pett's work, Andy Saunders' 'Jane: A Pin-up at War' (Pen & Sword Military, 2004) is a must-read.

Jane at war, by Norman Pett

Jane at war, by Norman Pett

Series and books by Norman Pett you can order today:


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