In-Shallow Profile: Look Alive magazine

In the early 1980s the Powers That Be in IPC decided to test the water with a “lifestyle” magazine aimed at boys in their early-to-mid teens. There was already one-and-a-half plethoras of mags for girls in that age-range, and some of them were selling very well indeed, but there was nothing comparable for boys.

look alive #1So Look Alive was conceived, a weekly magazine that would cover all the things in which teenage boys of the time were interested. With the expected exceptions, of course, as dictated by decency and market restrictions.

The name was presumably chosen to suggest a connection with the successful Look and Learn (1049 issues between January 1962 and May 1982). Comparative girls’ mags were sometimes given girls’ names — Diana, Jackie, etc. — but I really can’t picture teenaged boys buying a publication called Stephen or Nigel.

Look Alive‘s first issue was cover-dated 18th September 1982, and I snatched it up eagerly. I was sixteen and a half years old, at the top end of the intended age-range, I suspect, but it was packed with potentially interesting stuff: dinosaurs, computers, Vince Clarke from Yazoo, a very nice-looking comic-strip that was written by Alan Grant and drawn by Angus McBride, and free poster mags for the first eight issues — how could it possibly fail?

Sadly, fail it did. Look Alive lasted only five issues before the plug was pulled. According to the editorial in the final issue, the mag went to the printers “six weeks ahead of the day the actual issue arrives in your newsagent.” This means that that the publishers knew from day one that it was a non-starter. I’m sure that was a bitter pill for the editorial team to swallow. (That final issue didn’t know that it was the final issue: it includes several references to a “next week” that never came.)

Why didn’t it work? Well, probably there are several reasons, but I reckon that the top of the list is occupied by “There Was No Precedent.”

Back in that era, teenage girls’ mags such as Oh Boy and My Guy had articles on fashion and make-up and pop-stars and movie-stars, there were horoscopes and pin-ups and photo-stories of true love and a black-and-white comic-strip or two. These mags were stepping-stones between all-strip comics like DebbieTammy, Bunty and the like and proper grown-up women’s magazines like Woman’s World or Cosmopolitan.

But general-purpose magazines aimed at grown-up men didn’t really exist. Men’s mags tended to be specialised, focussing exclusively on one topic like fishing or golf or cars or hi-fi systems or women’s unclad bodies.

There had been a few all-purpose boy’s magazines before, but they hadn’t been overly successful: Top Spot, for example, ran for 58 issues from October 1958 to January 1960 before it was absorbed into Film Fun. Ranger clocked up 40 issues between September 1965 and June 1966, when it was absorbed by Look and Learn.

That, I reckon, is where Look Alive fell down: it was meant to be a step away from comics, but a step in which direction? It’s hard to fill a gap when you have now idea how far it is to the other side. Plus boys of that era just weren’t accustomed to buying non-specialist magazines.

Look Alive‘s scattergun approach was, for me, the second reason it didn’t take off. See, here’s the entire first issue in small-o-vision:

look alive #1 layout

Let’s break those thirty-two pages down, and see how the contents appealed to young Rusty…

01: Cover
02-03: Editorial & News
04-06: Sports. Feature on rally cars
07-11: Frontline Britain. Feature on British fighter jets and aircraft carriers
12-13: Street Level: “Are you Neat on the Street?” Boys’ fashion stuff
14: Advertisement
15: Chip Shop. Computers and such
16-17: Comic-strip: The Chronicles of Genghis Grimtoad
18-20: Silicon Chip Superstars — Interview with Vince Clarke
20-21: Live Action: Future letters page, stuff about CB radios, misc. news
22: Have Your Say: Would it matter if there weren’t any whales?
23-25: I, Dinosaur. Article on dinosaurs
26: Advertisement
27-30: London Floods: What would happen if London flooded?
31-32: Acti-File: Boardsailing

That’s twenty-nine pages of content, not counting the cover. I’ve no interest in sports, so take away the three pages on rally cars and two on boardsailing (I swear I thought that was called “Sailboarding”). Fashion? Pfff! Another two pages gone. CB radios and the filler where the letters would go? Nope. Another 1½ pages not for me. I wasn’t that pushed about the war stuff, either, so ditch a further five pages. That leaves around half of the magazine that would have been of interest to me.

That’s actually a very good hit-rate for a magazine — even with a specialist mag you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who loved every single element of a given issue — but I was more used to anthology comics where I’d skip maybe one story out of six. While I did enjoy a lot of the articles in Look Alive, the other stuff just left me completely cold.

Since Look Alive only ran for five issues, and I have all five (except for the free poster-mags: I know I must have had them — because the ends of the magazines’ staples are not lying flat, indicating that something was pulled out of the middle pages — but I can only remember the Genghis Grimtoad poster/map from #3, and I’ve no idea what happened to it), let’s extend my analysis for the whole run, putting Rusty’s Feature Interest Index (i.e., marks out of ten for how much I care about the topic) for each feature on a nice little graph…

look alive interest level
The red line indicates my ongoing average level of interest. That’s not much use to anyone, I know, but the data is there so I might as well present it, right?

Look Alive was a brave experiment, and it’s a shame it didn’t catch on because the potential was enormous. But it’s also no surprise, with hindsight: the market just wasn’t there.

A few years later, Newsfield Publications — which had experienced tremendous sales and acclaim with their computer games magazines Crash, Zzap! 64 and Amtix — attempted a similar late-teenage boys’ lifestyle magazine, LM, but with even less success than Look Alive: it lasted a mere four issues.

It was another decade before male-targeted lifestyle magazines like Loaded — aimed at even older readers, and with rather more “grown-up” content — would see lasting success. Whether or not that was a good thing… is outside the scope of this article!

Look Alive‘s strongest feature, in my opinion, was The Chronicles of Genghis Grimtoad. Eight years later it was revived — with its existing ten pages redrawn by Ian Gibson, and with John Wagner now credited as co-writer — in Marvel UK’s Strip magazine, which ran from 17 February to 10 November 1990, for twenty issues.

For those interested in such things, and indeed also for those who aren’t, I present here the first episode of both the Look Alive and Strip versions… Same script, different artists!

grimtoad la 01
grimtoad la 02

grimtoad gn 01
grimtoad gn 02

grimtoad gn cover sLater still, the story was completed and published by Marvel as a 48-page graphic novel.

It ends with “Here ends Book One of the Grimtoad Chronicles” but — to the best of my knowledge — it has yet to be continued, but it’s well-worth a read if you can track down a copy.

(Note to publishers: how about a new edition of the book, complete with the Look Alive pages along with the poster and map given away with issue #3? That’d be great, thanks!)


Bonus: As is well known, comics fans are extremely fashion-conscious and trendy and “with it” and such, so here’s a closer look at the fashion pages from the first issue of Look Alive:

look alive fasion 1

look alive fasion 2

12 thoughts on “In-Shallow Profile: Look Alive magazine

  1. Thanks for uploading this article Mike, any chance you could do an article on the street level fashion section?
    As its to small to look at on my ipad.

    Just brought a copy of issue 3 for the poster,some incredible art on Grimtoad.

    It many be an interesting comparison to note further to my earlier comment that the magazine uses a lot of similar graphical styles to the 82 Eagle which was more in my age range at the time, so much so that id say the magazine is very much like the Eagle without the comic/photo strip element and would maybe make sense that some of the same models were used for photo shoots.

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    1. Hi Matt,
      I’m not going to do an entire article on just one two-page feature from the mag! But what I will do is add the two fashion pages to the original article in a more readable size! Shouldn’t take more than a few minutes…

      Like

  2. Thanks mike,
    Interesting to read that one lad spent £60 on fashion in 1981 thats got to be like spending a couple of hundred quid these days,would have kept my young self in comics for years back then.

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  3. I can report that issue 1 and at least issue 4 made it here to New Zealand and into my hands, I still possess the stealth aircraft poster from the latter. The publication would have folded several months before the last issue reached us..all the UK magazines were around 3 or 4 months old by the time they reached the local shops back in those days. I think it was bought it as a gift to keep me quiet when I visited my grandmother..has links to that in my memory anyway.

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