Tuesday, April 01, 2014
Comic oddities: ON THE EDGE (1961)
Amongst the numerous joke magazines available in the late 1950s came a curious idea called On The Edge published by a small independent company called Loofa Laughs who usually specialised in cheap jokes for seaside resorts (such as the infamous Nail-Through-Toe trick or notorious Jam Soap bars, banned in Margate in 1955).
The idea behind On The Edge was extremely controversial. Jack Varney, the publisher, and father of three teenage sons, was well aware that his lads often took the long route on the way home from school in the hopes of finding discarded 'glamour' magazines in the hedges along by the canal. Varney hit upon the idea that if he published a comic full of 'saucy' cartoons and strips (mostly reprinted from American 'humor' magazines) and left them under the hedges along canal routes he could well be onto a winning publication for teenagers and weary shift-workers. Varney speculated that this would eliminate the need for retail distribution and the costly effect of paying newsagents a percentage of the cover price, therefore increasing his profits.
Yet how could such a publication make money? The enterprising publisher decided to fill half of the comic's 40 pages (and part of its cover) with advertisements, bringing in good revenue. He also asked the finders of the comic for a gratuity, - 6d if possible, or whatever they could afford, - to be left under the hedge at the spot where the comic was found.
Unfortunately, unlike the pages of his comic, Varney came unstuck. His plan was too ambitious. After the Margate Jam Soap scandal of 1955 he trusted no one, so he took it upon himself to distribute the 500,000 issue print run by renting a barge and traveling along canals, stopping every 200 yards to carefully place a few issues under selected hedges. With barges restricted to a speed of 4mph, and the time taken to securely tether the barge to the embankment, plus the lure of numerous pub breaks, Varney only managed to hide 200 copies under hedges before he was apprehended by police for littering whilst intoxicated.
In 1961, even mildly saucy cartoons raised the eyebrows of the arresting officers and Varney was charged under the Obscene Publications Act, fined £500, and had the remaining copies of On The Edge incinerated. Devastated by the experience, Varney turned his back on comics forever and returned to the world of cheap seaside jokes, making his fortune with the popular Queasy Sailor puppets of the mid-sixties.
Only a few copies of On The Edge have survived, and none in good condition as there was a rainstorm on the night Varney 'distributed' his copies under hedges. In the end, Varney's idea was as wet as the comics he left behind.