Sunday, January 30, 2011

Top Spot - The 'Clint' of 1958?


"Comics aren't just for kids any more" was the type of statement that you may have read a lot over the past 25 years in various articles on comics, most recently with the launch of Clint. Truth is, comics for adults aren't a recent phenomenon. As most readers of this blog will know, the very first British comics were aimed at adults. Over the years it became accepted that children were a more viable audience and the tone shifted, but from time to time there have always been various attempts to target the adult market.

One such comic was Top Spot, a weekly published by the Amalgamated Press in 1958. Like many attempts to capture the adult reader it didn't really catch on, lasting just 58 issues before merging into Film Fun. However, it was a curious item that deserves to be remembered.

The target audience for Top Spot was adult males, specifically late teens, early twenties, and to attract this demographic the paper (for it was more than a comic) used a mixture of tough comic strips and prose stories, articles on such items as jazz and sport, jokes, and titillating photos of glamorous models. Just look at the cover to issue 4 below; Brigitte Bardot's cleavage, sport, a bloke getting his head kicked in, and a robot looking at a lady's frillies. Could a comic be any more manly than that?


Inside, Top Spot ran a strip featuring Fabian of the Yard in Manhunt, with such tough talking dialogue as "I want him on the end of my fists before I dock him!" which probably means something entirely different today.


Other comic strips would feature topics such as war, sport, westerns, true life adventure and historical drama. They even ran The Monty Story in photo and picture strip before Eagle's better-remembered Frank Bellamy version of a few years later.


The tone of the strips was more mature than those seen in the children's comics, with slightly more complex plots and wordier dialogue. The illustrations were top quality, though sadly uncredited. Here's a snapshot of The Greedy Gun from issue 4, by Italian artist Renato Polese...


The writers and artists often didn't miss a trick to show a bit of female leg where possible, such as in Ten Little Soccer Boys with artwork, I think, by Geoff Campion...


Even an adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse's A Bacon and Egg Affair by Cecil Orr featured a hint of a see-through nightie...


Covers of the early issues featured various glamour models...


...as did the centrespread pin-up (not so glamorous with rusty staples, admittedly)...


...and other pages would feature photos of models alongside jokes and comic strips...


Some features engaged the readers with believe-it-or-not type stories of other cultures, such as this item about zombies in Haiti!


I don't want to give the impression that Top Spot was a sleazy publication though. From the few issues that I have it appears to be a well produced comic paper, only slightly risque, with a higher standard of writing and art than many other comics of the time.


Top Spot tried to be all things to the young adult male readership it was pitched at, and was no doubt enjoyed by many. Perhaps it would have endured a longer run had it not fallen victim to the printers strike of 1959. That summer saw Top Spot and other publications appear infrequently, and when it returned to regular publication it limped on for a few months before merging into Film Fun in January 1960.

Most of the strip content was adventure based, although it seems there were some humour strips at times such as this one drawn by Paul White...


The early issues featured around 22 pages of comic strips out of 32 pages. By issue 13 it was down to 9 pages out of 28. Later in 1958 it was up to 15 pages of strip out of 28, so the content did seem to fluctuate with the comic changing direction slightly during its run. Later issues saw comic strips appear on the cover as it geared up for its merger with Film Fun...


Would Top Spot have survived for longer if it hadn't been affected by the strike? Impossible to say. Perhaps readers didn't like the mix of comics and cheesecake and it would have folded anyway? Perhaps lads in 1958 with fourpence ha'penny to spend would rather put it towards Tit Bits or Blighty, thinking themselves too old for comics? Who knows? Personally I would have loved a comic like this when I was 17. It's a shame that Top Spot didn't last as it may have encouraged a few other comics to gear their material towards an older readership. As it was, the 1960s and subsequent decades saw most publishers stick to their course of aiming comics at an increasingly younger age group, for better or worse.

There's more information about Top Spot at this excellent website:
http://www.dandare.info/history/TopSpot-notes.htm

10 comments:

Chris D said...

Very interesting. I'd never heard of it. I think any comic aimed at 18-21 year olds will only work if the actual readership is 12-16 year olds.

John Barleycorn Must Die said...

I remember my sisters boyfriend giveing me a pile of old, top spot's, for my comic colection when I was about six years old. My mum took them from me. I never did get them back.

Lew Stringer said...

Very true Chris. Kids like to feel they're not being talked down to, plus it helps to have the added factor of them feeling they're reading something a bit dangerous and grown up. Weekly UK comics used to have the attitude that if they were aimed at 7 to 11 year olds you wrote for the 11 year old and the younger ones would catch up. In recent years it's often the reverse; make sure that 7 year olds can understand every word, which unfortunately means the 11 year olds drop it for being too "babyish".

Anonymous said...

Lew

All I previously knew about Top Spot was that it existed, and was aimed at an older audience, so many thanks for this post.

David Simpson

John said...

Hi Lew,

Perhaps you will find some interesting info on Top Spot here:
-http://www.dandare.info/history/TopSpot-notes.htm
and here:
-http://www.technodelic.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/Interviews/BrianWoodford.htm

Playhour editor David Roberts was the genius behind Top Spot, and for a couple of weeks he had his own page, interviewing celebrities before 'he fell ill' and moved on to other projects.
You will find some photographs of him talking to Diana Dors and other famous stars in the first couple of issues.

Brian Woodford said...

While David Roberts did indeed write some interview articles in the early days of Top Spot he was not its creator. TopSpot was the brainchild of Leonard Matthews and the original concept was for it be a male counterpart to the very success Valentine published by AP. I worked on TopSpot as an editorial assistant from its first issue when we had an extensive staff and put together the last issue as editor when we were down to just two people...myself and staff writer Edmund H. Burke.

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks for the info, Brian. It's always good to hear from people who worked on those old titles. Any idea why Top Spot didn't last longer? Do you think the market was overcrowded or perhaps the format wasn't quite right (eg: would it have been more popular as a glossy perhaps?).

George R said...

Hi Lew. Many thanks for your interesting blog. I have fond memories of Top Spot. I used to buy it when I was 12 and felt REALLY grown up reading it. I've forgotten what exactly was in it - just remember I really enjoyed it and was sad when it stopped. So your article was a real memory jogger.

Dave Wessels said...

Hi Lew,
Thanks for that credit on Norman Fox's 'The Greedy Gun', which was (as I now know) done by Italian artist Renato Polese. Amazing stuff!
Love your blog,

Take care,

Dave Wessels.

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks Dave!

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