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excellent writing
skilled art
historical bonus 2
total score 7
Sunday Paper 1 _ Sunday Paper 2 _ Sunday Paper 3
Sunday Paper #1
Sunday Paper #2 Sunday Paper #3
Sunday Paper 4 _ Sunday Paper 5 _ _ Sunday Paper 7
Sunday Paper #4
Sunday Paper #5 Sunday Paper #6 Sunday Paper #7
The Sunday Paper

1972 / The Sunday Paper (John Bryan)
John Bryan was a newspaperman, plain and simple. He was the son of a Cleveland newspaperman and worked in the business for most of his life. He toiled as a reporter for seven newspapers in multiple cities before getting fed up with everyone in the mainstream press, which he believed hid the truth and sucked up to the establishment. So he quit the San Francisco Chronicle in 1964 and launched Open City Press, San Francisco's first underground newspaper (predating the Berkeley Barb by almost a year). Open City Press was such a one-man operation that Bryan bought a case of metal monotype and hand-set his own copy.

Open City Press only survived for 15 issues before Bryan had to shut it down. He moved down to Los Angeles to work as the managing editor for the L.A. Free Press, but still felt he could produce a better paper. So Bryan quit the Press and launched a new version of Open City for the L.A. market, which became his greatest success. The SoCal version of Open City ran weekly for almost a year and circulated 35,000 copies at its peak.
Charles Bukowski was one of Open City's regular writers and contributed a popular column, "Notes of a Dirty Old Man." Aesthetically, the paper was ahead of its time, making extensive use of colored inks and bold illustration while covering a broad range of topics, including entertainment, drugs (Bryan's wife Joan provided pot recipes), the draft and the police. Open City was brazenly graphic when it came to sex and that couldn't fly for long. Bryan's silly belief in free speech eventually got him busted for obscenity. The $1,000 fine the court levied on him (about seven grand in today's money) put Open City out of business.
_ _Open City #21
Open City #21

(click for larger image)
Before long, Bryan and his wife headed back up to San Francisco. Since he'd left, the underground comix movement has exploded on the scene and Bryan was intrigued. In February 1972, Bryan launched his most ambitious project ever with The Sunday Paper. The weekly newspaper was produced in two sections, the first being an eight-page broadsheet (the largest format of newspapers) with two full pages of color comics, which wrapped around a thicker tabloid-sized section that contained most of the news and articles.

Larry Todd designed the masthead and Willy Murphy was hired to edit the color comics section, which featured mostly underground comic creators. The news sections had articles like other underground papers, with coverage of local and national politics and entertainment events, as well as reporting on a variety of social issues (more on the news sections later in this review).

But given Bryan's absolute belief in freedom of the press, it's a bit surprising that the comics section of The Sunday Paper is somewhat tepid by underground standards. Contributors included Murphy, Todd, Gilbert Shelton, Justin Green, Trina Robbins, Bobby London, Bill Griffith, Shary Flenniken, Ted Richards, Jay Lynch and Art Spiegelman, among others, but only Robbins seems to push the envelope much at all. The others all display their sophisticated wit and many of the comics are funny, but there's not much audacious content to speak of. There's very little drug use, no sex or graphic violence, and nothing socially or politically radical. And these were some of the most intelligent and erudite underground creators in the industry.

It makes me think that perhaps Bryan gave the artists guidelines to follow for the comics, but that doesn't make sense at all given his vehement opposition to censorship. Gerald Nicosia, a San Francisco author who knew Bryan well, said that Bryan "felt that America needed an underground press with real teeth, wildness and fearlessness both in language and content." Indeed he's right, but that underground press doesn't show up in The Sunday Paper comics section.

The "news" part of the newspaper fared a bit better, as it certainly had a strong leftist slant and covered all sorts of countercultural faves like student unrest and rock albums. But some of the news sections were a bit tame, with everyday articles about Nixon or landlord disputes and titles like "How Astrology & Sex Come Together." At least there was a strong show of support for gays and reporting on the gay scene (as any respectable underground paper in San Francisco should). But then there was a critical column mocking John and Yoko Lennon (!) and an article about brain damage from smoking marijuana.

The Sunday Paper only ran seven issues (in seven short weeks) before Bryan ran out of money and had to shut it down. Of course it's a shame that it couldn't survive for any longer than it did. As Don Donahue told Patrick Rosenkranz, "Everybody loved working for the Sunday Paper because they got to see their stuff in color. There were newsboys hawking it on the street corners. It was really great."

Indeed, it was pretty great (though the color registration on the comics was often horrible). But considering it came from someone as legendarily fierce and independent as John Bryan, I think The Sunday Paper ended up being a something of a mixed bag. Sweeter than it is bitter, but still providing mostly empty calories (with some notable exceptions).

Still, there's nothing better than paging through these old underground papers and discovering amazing gems hidden in their pages, like Trina Robbins giving a movie review of Fritz the Cat. Or a full-page article by Clay Geerdes about the underground scene (including advice for aspiring underground artists). Or any number of amusing classified ads: "Waterbed $30—purple frame; king-size, no heater, has liner: really groovy looking. Only used on Sundays by two little old ladies in beautiful downtown Burbank."

So get The Sunday Paper for the same reasons you get vintage issues of the Berkeley Barb, L.A. Free Press or East Village Other. They certainly take you back in time, whether you yourself go that far back in time or not. The color comics by underground comix legends are just a nice bonus.
I've never owned the 7th issue of The Sunday Paper, but I included a review page for it with a picture of half of the front section just to provide a reference for how part of the issue appears. Also, the sixth issue that I bought years ago had the identical "section two news section" as the fifth issue that I bought with it (which I didn't notice until months I got screwed). But of course I still included the sixth issue comic section in the individual issue reviews. Anyone with a complete issue #6 or #7 is welcome to contact me for a quick sale!