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cover
 
excellent writing
masterpiece art
historical bonus 5
total score 10
San Francisco Oracle #8
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Back Cover
Wraparound Cover
(click for larger image)

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AVERAGE SCORE 8
1st/2nd Printing / Summer 1967 / 24 pages / San Francisco Oracle
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The San Francisco Oracle, also known as The Oracle of the City of San Francisco, was an extremely influential underground newspaper in the mid-to-late 1960s. Based in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, The Oracle featured some of the era's leading beat writers and poets and helped pioneer unique printing techniques and psychedelic aesthetics. It both reflected and influenced the counterculture, not only in San Francisco but all over the country, as copies of the paper were both mailed and carried to all corners of the world.

The Oracle was conceived in the summer of 1966 during a series of meetings held by a diverse group of artists, writers and political activists, who all felt the need for a new media voice in the Bay Area, but who held equally diverse ideas of exactly what the paper should advocate. The first culmination of this new paper was called P.O. Frisco, surreptitiously produced and edited by Dan Elliot and Richard Sassoon, but it was poorly received by the other leaders of the coalition. Elliot and Sassoon were exiled from the group and two weeks later San Francisco Oracle #1 was published, edited by George Tsongas and John Brownson and funded by Ron and Jay Thelin, two brothers who owned a local head shop.

The first two issues of The Oracle didn't have the aesthetic that the paper would become known for and the written content was more confrontational than it would soon become, but it was beginning to lean in the right direction. With the third issue, Allen Cohen took over as editor, a role he performed for the remainder of the run. Cohen hired Gabe Katz, a refugee artist from Madison Avenue, who began working with Oracle art director Michael Bowen to explore experimental design and layout methods for the paper.

Only 3,000 copies were printed of the first issue of The Oracle. By the fifth issue, they were up to 50,000 copies and the revenue was rising fast. The staff moved to newer, larger headquarters on Haight Street, where they kept their offices open 24 hours a day. They opened a retreat at a large stone house on 30 acres just south of Big Sur, where up to 100 people would crash for days at a time, dropping acid, eating peyote and brown rice, meditating, drumming and dancing around massive campfires.

The Oracle #6 was a landmark issue for the newspaper. Production moved from a Waller Press to a multi-web newspaper press at Howard Quinn Printers. Gabe Katz and two staff artists, Hetty McGee and Ami Magill, experimented with the ink compartment on different webs of the press, splitting it into three compartments with different color inks, producing a rainbow effect on the printed page. Further experimentation produced six separate colors, all blending in vibrant bands of color. The sixth issue had at least three different printings with an infinite variation of color on the covers. The staff would sometimes spray the printed pages with Jasmine perfume as they came off the press.

The seventh issue from the spring of '67 was 52 pages and employed much more color on the interior pages. Articles included the complete text of the "Houseboat Summit Meeting," in which Allen Ginsberg, Alan Watts, Gary Snyder and Timothy Leary explicated and debated the full spectrum of hippie philosophy. The functionality and tenets of the Underground Press Syndicate were established around this time, with founding members San Francisco Oracle, L.A. Free Press, East Village Other, Berkeley Barb, Chicago Seed, Austin Rag and several other newspapers.

By the summer of '67, every issue of The Oracle had at least two press runs, printing over 100,000 copies per issue, peaking at about 125,000. All aspects of design, typography, composition and color continued with free experimentation. But by the end of 1967, the Haight was already turning into a minefield of speed freaks, heroin addicts, teen runaways and violent crime. Local government and the police were cracking down on activities that just a few months earlier were celebrated in broad daylight. After the 12th issue in February 1968, perhaps sensing the changing dynamic in the city and their own subculture, the San Francisco Oracle ceased production. Ironically for underground comix fans, that was the same month that Zap Comix #1 hit the streets.

There weren't many underground comic creators in The Oracle, as most of them were contributing to the East Village Other in New York in 1967. Rick Griffin was one of the few who was featured more than once, and local artists Joel Beck, Robert Branaman (Robert Ronnie Branaman), Ron Cobb, Eve Furchgott (Far Out West) and John Thompson also made appearances. Influential rock poster artists Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Bruce Conner and Gary Grimshaw were also featured. Not surprisingly, the groundbreaking paper was quite influential in just about every local art scene, including underground comix, which occasionally replicated the split fount printing method in comic books.

The San Francisco Oracle may be gone, but it is still remembered by all who produced it and the hundreds of thousands who read it (across the nation). In 1990, Regents Press published The San Francisco Oracle Facsimile Edition, a deluxe hardcover book with all 12 issues of The Oracle reprinted in their entirety. The massive (11.5 x 14.5 inches) book incudes an extensive history of the paper by Allen Cohen. Copies of this book can still be found, but they cost $500 and up to get a used one.
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DVD Cover
There's also a paperback version that was published through Amazon's CreateSpace platform, but it's magazine size, which is way too small for the highly detailed art and often tiny type in The Oracle. Plus, it's still $90. But I do recommmend you get The San Francisco Oracle CD-ROM, which offers every page of the Facsimile Edition in digital form. Granted, the images are not monstrously high-resolution, but they are plenty big enough to read and enjoy on a computer (with a high-res monitor). The only problem with all of these new iterations of The Oracle is that the original newsprint pages of the paper have been cleaned up so much that they have bright white backgrounds, making them look a bit too modern for my tastes.
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San Francisco Oracle CD
 
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But you can easily find the CD for 10 or 12 bucks on eBay and it has all of the history and articles written by the contributors to the original book. Some of the artwork, even with bright white backgrounds, is truly beautiful to behold. And it sure beats trying to buy a full set of pristine original newspaper editions of The Oracle, which would set you back even more than the deluxe Facsimile Edition.
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keyline
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HISTORICAL FOOTNOTES:
The Oracle printed anywhere from 3,000 copies (the first issue) to over 100,000 copies (all of the last five or six issues). Beginning with the sixth issue, multiple printings were used and sometimes the actual content of the paper would change between issues, though I'm not aware of anyone who knows how these printings can be differentiated, so they are considered indistinguishable from one another.
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SAN FRANCISCO ORACLE KEY PERSONNEL:

Allen Cohen - managing editor, cofounder
Ron Thelin - cofounder
Jay Thelin - cofounder
George Tsongas - editor, contributor
John Brownson - editor, contributor
Michael Bowen - art director, cofounder
Gabe Katz - art editor
Ami Magill - staff artist
Hetty McGee - staff artist
Dangerfield Ashton - staff artist

SAN FRANCISCO ORACLE CONTRIBUTORS:
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Paul Krassner
Phillip Lamantia
Barbara LaMorticella
Lisa Law
Tom Law
Timothy Leary
Peter Legeria
George B. Leonard
Steven Levine
Leviton
Steve Lieper
Martin Linhart
Matt Littlemoon
Pat Lofthouse
Ernest Lowe
Norman Mailer
Michael McCausland
Michael McClure
Kitty McNeil
Ralph Metzner
Lee Meyerzove
Rick Miller
Pamela Millward
Chuck Mittman
Kent Minault
John Monahan
Harry Monroe
Daniel Moore
Stanley Mouse
Michael Murphy
Sri Brahmarishi Narad
Phil Normand
Owen
Jim Phillips
Michael Rachoff
Laureen Radunz
Red Dog Pie Face
Travis Rivers
Neil Rose
Carl Rogers
Dane Rudhyar
Alan Russo
Brian Rybolt
Laurie Sarlat
Steve Schafer
Stephen Schneck
John Reid Scudder
Bob Seiderman
Bob Simmons (aka Azul Zanpo)
John Sinclair
Dale Smith
Hap Smith
Neill Smith
Bob Snepf
Gary Snyder
Casey Sonnabend
Jean Paul Stone
Sunbear
Super Chick
Pat Sweeney
Robert Theobald
John Thompson
Tiffany
Joe Torres
Janine Pommy Vega
Stephen Walzer
Rosalind Sharpe Wall
Alan Watts
Judith Wehlau
Tom Weir
Alex Weiss
Lew Welch
Tom Weller
Philip Whalen
Allan W. Williams
Dion Wright
Michael X

Ralph Ackerman
Joan Alexander
Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass)
Gene Anthony
Moe Armstrong
Patrick Armstrong
Gavin Arthur
James Ash
Maria Magdalena Barciuska
Joel Beck
Connie Beeson
Francis R. Bell
Ted Berk
Frank Berry
Charles Botner
Bob "Ronnie" Branaman
Susan Branaman
Farrell Brody
Geoff Brown
Page Brownton
Bryden Bullington
Ed Bullins
William Burroughs
Armando Busick
Craig Carpenter
Kent Chapman
Ron Cobb
Harvey Cohen
John Collier, Jr.
Bob Collins
Bruce Conner
John Cooke
Robert Creeley
Mukundah Das Adhikary
Andy deLore
Don Denisoff
Mark DeVries
Penny DeVries
Bill Dodd
Gustav Doré
Erosis
Lynn Ferar
Michael Ferar
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Joel Fort, M.D.
Buckminster Fuller
Jack Fulton
Eve Furchgott
Allen Ginsberg
Arthur Goff
Gary Goldhill
R. J. Grabb, Jr.
Bill Graham
Herb Greene
Ida Griffin
Rick Griffin
Gary Grimshaw
Gene Grimm
Richard Grossinger
Gulyás
Israel Halpern
Claire Hamilton
Mike Hannon
David Harris
Carl Helbing
Paul Herbert
Michael Hilsenrad
Steven Holland
Ambrose Hollingsworth
Richard Honigman
Don Hutton
William Jahrmarkt
Paul Kagan
Lenore Kandel
Bob Kaufman
Kent
James Koller
Sister Mary Norbert Korte, O.P.