Writer: Chris Claremont
Pencils and inks: Ron Wagner
Colours: John Wilcox
Letters: Michael Heisler
Editor: Terry Kavanagh
Original publication date: February 1991
Well, this is it. The end of “Girls’ School from Heck” and the Claremont era of Excalibur. But we’re going out with a bang and our pom-poms raised high, as Anna, Mav, and Andrew are joined by Dr. Julia Round, an expert in all things gothic and girls’ comics, to talk exploitation vs character growth plus memories, hopes, and regrets in Excalibur #34, “School Spirit.” In which the Fenris Twins prove they’re no match for a motivated Phoebe Huntsman with a field hockey stick and Anna’s job is easy because Nightcrawler’s fur, fangs, and prehensile tail sell themselves to the teen girl demographic.
On girls’ comics and rebellion:
“British girls’ comics toed the link between conservatism and rebellion. But in audience studies, they’re not remembered as conservative by the women who read them. The protagonists are remembered as brave and stubborn and pushing on through. They’re survivors, not victims. The comics left enough space for readers to remember them as they wanted to remember them.” -Julia
On Kitty coming out to her friends:
“I really liked the fact that Kitty’s powers get discovered and everyone’s cool with it. In British girls’ comics, girls often find out they have powers which become a source of embarrassment, and that have to be kept secret, and become isolating. Here, in the space of one panel, everyone’s like, ‘oh awesome!’” -Julia
On character growth:
“I really like this as a third act for ‘Girls’ School from Heck,’ and I think this is a great place to leave Kitty, because it’s doing some important character work. For me this arc is about Kitty’s exploration of the femme or feminine gender identity. She participates in femininity but also kicks its butt.” -Andrew
“Kitty and Phoebe switch identities, which is a common theme in Claremont comics. Kitty puts on the blonde wig and becomes an image of femininity. While Phoebe becomes Kitty, putting on a dark wig. Through this reversal, Kitty becomes a cheerleader and Phoebe becomes a superhero. At least for a while.” -Anna
On exploitation imagery:
“As a girl who grew up in the Britney Spears era of sexy cheerleaders and schoolgirls, I have a strange reaction to some of these images, and the invitation to find them empowering. The one underwear shot, combined with the cameras and the commentary of the older male announcer, makes me uncomfortable.” -Anna
“Kitty quitting the competition is not the decision we’d expect in girls’ comics. The prized qualities in girls’ comics are humility, friendship, and camaraderie. Making the decision ‘I’m a hero, I’m going to go off and do something distinct,’ is something quite unusual.” -Julia
On Nightcrawler’s fan club:
“We have an acknowledgement in this comic of teen girls being fans of Nightcrawler, and seeing that perspective addressed means the world to me. They’re also fans of him in a very specific way, hinting at the interesting sexual possibilities of his body.” -Anna
On the end of an era:
“I’m disappointed by the unresolved plot threads. Though, to be as fair as possible to subsequent writers – Claremont does this. Claremont likes to put so many balls out there, nobody can hit them all. He writes like every issue like he’s got 14 more years to figure it out. Because for a while, he did.” -Mav
Want more Julia Round?
You can find links to lots of writing and talks on gothic, comics, and girls’ comics on her website, juliaround.com.
You can find her on Twitter @hypnojoo.
And! You can find her books, including Gothic for Girls: Misty and British Comics and Gothic in Comics and Graphic Novels, wherever fine books are sold.
And as usual:
You can find Anna on Twitter (@peppard_anna) and on her podcast with Andrew and Michael Hancock, Three Panel Contrast (@3PanelContrast).
You can find Andrew on Twitter (@ClaremontRun).
You can find Mav on Twitter (@chrismaverick) and on his podcast, VoxPopcast (@VoxPopcast).