By Steven Heller
December 5, 2011
Between 1967 and 1972, when the baby-boom counterculture was at its height, many lives were dramatically altered and futures were shaped. Mine was one of them. During 1968, my last year in high school, I had been drawing cartoons that explored adolescent fixations with sex and death. People who saw them presumed I had a disturbed childhood and urged me to seek therapy. Instead I took my makeshift portfolio around to four Manhattan-based influential underground papers: the New York Free Press, the East Village Other, the Rat, and the Avatar.
The Underground Press, as it was called, was a groundswell of media activity running the gamut from radically political to seriously satirical. A new book, On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S. (PM Press) Edited by Sean Stewart (who between 2007 and 2009 owned and operated Babylon Falling, a bookstore and gallery in San Francisco), recalls the Underground epoch. Through interlacing interviews with Emory Douglas (Black Panther), Paul Krassner (The Realist), Art Kunkin (The L.A. Free Press), Abe Peck (The Chicago Seed), John Wilcock (Other Scenes), Jeff Shero (The Rat), Trina Robbins (Gothic Blimp Works) and many more (including Al Goldstein of Screw), the remarkable journals that shaped my life (and career) are revived as oral history.
In this moment when the OCCUPY movement is seeking its visual identity, its instructive to see how the anti-war, anti-racism, pro-sex, drugs and rock n’ roll generative movement sought to define is many disparate parts through media, and especially tabloid papers. There were many agendas – and graphically many styles – but as a whole the Underground Press defined a moment.
Also, watch my podcast on designing in the Sixties for more on the Underground and its cultural context.