That immediate success was no flash in the pan: the many sequels that followed included Spot Goes to School (1984) and Spot Goes on Holiday (1985); Spot's adventures were translated into 60 languages; and sales figures topped 60m copies worldwide. And then there were award-winning adaptations for television and DVD, and all kinds of merchandising. More than 30 years later, Spot is a ubiquitous character who can be found on everything from stationery sets to bed linen, and is one of the most recognisable brands for young children.
As with many other popular children's books, the ideas for Spot came from close to home. The little puppy first appeared in the bedtime stories that Eric, a freelance graphic designer, told his son, Christopher, born in 1976. When it came to writing the story down, Eric drew on an advertising flier he had created, which had a flap that lifted up to reveal something amusing. Finding that Christopher was entertained by the device, Eric used it as a way of telling the story about Spot who, within a very domestic interior, simply sets off to search for his missing ball. At each wrong location, a surprise is revealed.
Just as flaps were helping to tell the story in advertising, so they had become part of picture books, too. Technology had enabled books with moving parts - flaps, tabs and pop-ups - to take hold; typically, these were busy books with a high entertainment value designed to appeal to as many readers as possible by moving away from bookishness and towards games and toys.
Eric took another tack; he created a book that was as simple as it could possibly be. He was determined to make every line count - very much in the way
At the time, the idea was bold and original.
Eric had a sharp eye for the market and knew exactly how he wanted the books to look. He chose the distinctive typeface - Century Schoolbook Infant - and, initially, insisted that images of Spot should be created only against white paper. His vision was kept intact in the original titles; but as the merchandising snowballed, variations in the typeface appeared and Spot began to be seen against all kinds of backgrounds.
The attention to detail was part of Eric's belief that Spot books should be produced to the highest possible specification, to make each one a work of art as well as an engaging toy. But the austere approach to design did not detract from his underlying view that Spot should have a playful element at its core. Speaking after the books had established themselves, Eric said: "I believe it's the sense of fun that makes the books so popular."
Amiable and warm-hearted, Eric put much of himself into the books, saying in a later interview: "When he shows excitement on
It really mattered to Eric that children enjoyed the books and he was moved when he was once presented with a family's somewhat battered copy of Where's Spot? to sign, as it reflected how much it had been used and enjoyed. Over the years, he identified more and more with Spot, to the extent that he would say: "Spot wouldn't like . . ."
Eric was born in
With the global success of Spot, Eric gave up his freelance work and moved to the US. Having long enjoyed staying on dude ranches, he and his second wife, Gillian, settled first in
Eric was proud to be selected as one of a handful of "literary ambassadors" at the
He is survived by Gillian, Christopher and a daughter, Jane, from his first marriage, to Barbara, which ended in divorce.
Hill at work in 2009. His first book, Where's Spot?, below, was an immediate bestseller Photograph:
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