The shop might be most easily remembered for its two famous comic-loving financial backers, Paul Gambaccini and Jonathan Ross, but there was much more to its story.
Zoe Urchin was the youngest and most-forward thinking manager running a department at Forbidden Planet at that time. She was head hunted by the celebrity duo at the same time as assistant manager, Karl. She foresaw a burgeoning market opportunity for an adult-aimed shop, focused on small press, graphic novels, comic artwork and back issues (including golden and silver age collectibles). She had the idea of tying the new shop in with the music scene and media.
The shop was based on the site of the 1970s original US comic retailer and bookshop “Dark they were and golden eyed” that had closed a decade earlier. Both were situated in St Anne's Court, Soho. That Top Ten boasted female management and diverse staff made it stand out in what had become a quite traditional UK comic world at that time.
Her first decision was to commission relatively unknown artist, Jamie Hewlett to design the shop's logo. This was when Hewitt was being showcased in ground breaking UK magazine, Deadline. The logo was recycled as a book cover many years later, but was originally created solely for the shop. Zoe arranged for this logo --
which featured a custom requested depiction of Tank Girl -- to be painted as a life-size mural on the shop window by influential UK artist, Garry Leach (A1/Miracle man). He also designed the shops innovative shelving system. The inside of the shop was lavishly decorated with hand painted artwork, including the striking ceiling panels handpainted by Paul Banfield. Press reports at that time christened it, "The Sistine Chapel of comic shops." It featured a weekly display of the staff’s top ten recommendations, which helped promote indie titles including 'Hate' and 'Love + Rockets' to a wider audience.
Top Ten was often used as the location for early MTV rock interviews. This meant visits from many of music's rising stars, the likes of Alice in Chains, Faith No More, Pantera, Anthrax and Danzig. Regular customers were a varied and interesting bunch. These included Lenny Henry, Malcolm McLaren and many Brit Pop bands.
The shop hosted a variety of artist or band signings. Reflecting Zoe's varied taste these spanned indie stars like Senseless Things, Cud and rock celebs such as Cannibal Corpse and Zodiac Mindwarp. Gorillaz fans might be interested to learn that Jamie Hewitt and Blur met in the
Top ten press quote: Tthe only strip shop in Soho that doesn't sell sex" Comics International
"the murals make this the Sistine Chapel of comic shops" Daily Mail
"Londons best independent gem of a shop, deep in Soho with the best range of back issues and silver age & knowledgeable enthusiastic staff" Comics Value Monthly
flesh for the first time at a Top Ten signing. Jamie had just created a Deadline cover for Blur from a photo and they collided in a sea of beer at the shop for a riotous signing with queues that stretched down Wardour Street. Far in the future Damon and Jamie would create Gorillaz together
Zoe was a huge Nirvana fan and was joyous when Kurt Cobain visited the shop one day because he was a comic fan and would be appearing later that day on Jonathan Ross ' TV show. The success of that performance led to commercial success for Nirvana's 'Nevermind' album -- which is why Top Ten had a gold disk for the album on the wall behind its counter.
While managing the shop Zoe became a regular writer for esteemed US comic publication Comics Value Monthly. True to form she wrote a monthly top ten and UK round up before she progressed to interviewing UK artists. She even contributed to the publication's book length annual and managed to author two front cover features promoting the UK art scene. All of this was before many of these artists had broken into the US market. Her fave interviewee was Simon Bisley.
Sadly all good things must come to an end and in 1995 Top Ten closed its doors, a victim of the financial crash and a locked upward-only lease. Closing at the same time was its neighbor, the sadly missed Shades rock record shop. Matching music, film and comic media way before the vogue for superhero movies became popular, Top Ten Soho was always just ahead of the game. Karl later went on to pioneer a similar scene at .Orbital Comics. while Zoe entered the music industry to help create some of London's freshest and most vibrant indie and rock music club nights.