1833 With the slogan "It Shines for All,” the first phase of
S U N begins in New York with the publication of The Sun on September 3,1833. Started by a legendary 23-year-old publisher named Benjamin Day, Sun is a pioneer of the penny press
(Sun only costs a cent when most papers cost at least six cents).
Sun relies on dramatically higher levels of circulation to make a profit, made possible with its use of steam-powered printing presses, allowing Sun to more cheaply print tens of thousands of copies for the masses. In order to increase distribution Sun is the first paper to use newsboys to sell its papers. The children are a cheap and plentiful form of labor, able to sell the directly to people in the street, where they shout its headlines for everyone to hear.
Sun changes the way that newspapers use storytelling to convey the news by focusing on “human-interest” and sensational stories. Newspapers up until this time mostly listed facts as they are known about an event — relying on readers to send in information or they simply publish unauthorized copies of stories from other newspapers. Sun is the first press to actually hire a stable of reporters that go out and collect information, in order to report crimes as well to tell stories about personal events such as deaths and divorces. It is the first paper to print an account of a suicide — looking for stories that help the reader connect in a more more emotional way to the paper.
Sun's sensationalism gets ahead of itself in 1835 when it embarks on one of its most infamous moments in what is later to be known as “The Great Moon Hoax." In a series of six articles Sun fabricates a story in great detail about an alien civilization on the moon seen through the lens of a high powered telescope. Most of its readership take the account for fact as Sun falsely attributes the discoveries to the renowned astronomer Sir John Herschel, and first published in the prestigious Edinburgh Journal of Science. The articles describe animals on the moon including bison, goats, unicorns, bipedal tail-less beavers and bat-like winged humanoids called Vespertilio-homo who built temples. There were trees, oceans and beaches. These discoveries were made with "an immense telescope of an entirely new principle.” Eventually the authors announced that the observations had ceased because of the destruction of the telescope by means of the Sun causing the lens to act as a "burning glass," setting fire to the observatory.
The accounts of the momentous discovery quickly set the city's media landscape on fire: within a week close to 100,000 copies of the account are printed at a time when New York City has a population of about 300,000. After seeing the intense interest in the story other papers in the city quickly reprint the accounts by Sun as was planned by Day. Word of the important discoveries spreads fast to the rest of the country, and in less than a month it spreads across Europe where the story is translated and published broadly across the continent — this time with new illustrations and commentary about the momentous discoveries of Sir John Herschel, first published in the prestigious Edinburgh Journal of Science as "The Great Moon Hoax" turns into the world's first mass-media event.
When Sun fails to reveal the hoax, the editor of its rival paper, The N.Y. Herald, issues a blistering public rebuke:
"We mean now to show up the Sun — the impudent Sun — the unprincipled Sun —the mercenary Sun — the low bred Sun — the Sun that hoaxes the public — that tells untruths for money — that makes fools of the wine — that cheats the whole city and country. The revulsion of public sentiment is fast accumulating. Its astronomical hoax will touch the Sun yet to the quick.”
It takes nearly a month after publication for Sun to finally admit that the story of a newly discovered civilization on the moon is a hoax. In the end, the public seem generally amused by the whole story, it becomes legendary, and sales of the paper do not suffer.
1928 Marks a turn towards the literary as S U N turns darker in its 2nd phase. The expatriate American poets Caresse and Harry Crosby re-name their small Paris based publishing house The Black Sun Press in keeping with Harry's growing fascination with death and the symbolism of the sun. Crosby had combined his sun-worship with an obsession with death for many years, even having a black sun tattooed on the sole of one of his feet. The Black Sun represents dissolution and putrefaction, the first stage of alchemy.
At No. 2 Rue Cardinale in Paris the Crosby’s find an eccentric but perfectionist printer of funeral notices, named Roger Lescaret, to print their books. His work is a match for the perfectionism of Harry and Caresse - together they produce beautiful books in limited editions. The Crosbys place as much emphasis on the aesthetics of their books as they do on the text.
They publish in small numbers almost always less than 500 copies sometimes as few as 10 or 20 - seeking to create the most beautiful versions of their books no matter how small the number. They begin the press as a showcase for their own poetry but soon begin producing the books of others. They republish classic texts like Edgar Allen Poe's “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Oscar Wilde’s “The Birthday of the Infanta” and De Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses in ornate fashion, with new illustrations that they commission. And then they begin producing beautiful books of some of their most legendary contemporaries in Paris - adopting what soon becomes a more refined signature Black Sun style. They publish James Joyce’s “Tales Told of Shem and Shaun”, which later becomes an essential part of “Finnegans Wake”, with an abstract portrait of Joyce by Constantin Brancusi and DH Lawrences “SUN” with illustrations that he makes specifically for the book.
1929 is a crucial yet bittersweet year for the press which hits its stride producing 14 books of near flawless production. They produce beautiful versions of their publications at various edition sizes. With works by Archibald MacLeish, Kay Boyle, Laurence Sterne, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence and Harry Crosby. But the year ends tragically with a high profile scandal and the death that comes to define the legacy of Harry Crosby and The Black Sun itself.
Harry fulfills a nihilistic fantasy by taking his own life as part of a double suicide with a lover, the 22-year old Josephine Rotch Bigelow. They are found dead at the Hotel Des Artistes in New York City, fully dressed in bed with matching bullet holes in their heads. The Crosby's have an open marriage consisting of many partners, and the recently married Rotch Bigelow is considered “The Mad Queen” of his poetic mythology. The event was the culmination of an obsession with a dramatic mutual suicide that Harry had long held with Caresse, but one he carries out with another.
Caresse passion for publication does not diminish with his passing. She continues the work of Black Sun at the highest levels after his death. She continues to celebrate Harry's life and work publishing multiple volumes of his poetry and letters, along with the works of many of the great artists of her time. The following year she publishes the landmark poem "The Bridge" by Harry's dear friend Hart Crane with 3 illustrations by Walker Evans, whose work appears in publication for the first time. She follows this with the publication of "47 Letters by Marcel Proust to Walter Berry.”
The following decade she moves The Black Sun Press from Paris to New York publishing another landmark book by Joyce, "Collected Poems of James Joyce" in 1936. She becomes deeply involved with many artists and writers connected to the rising surrealist movement through her friendship with Salvador Dali. She collaborates with Julian Levy in 1936 to produce the most definitive book on surrealism to date, the encyclopedic “Surrealism"with a cover by Joseph Cornell. 7 years later, she designs and publishes the first English-language edition of the surrealist collaboration, "Misfortunes of the Immortals" by Max Ernst and Paul Éluard (first published in French in 1923) with a new version featuring Ernst's "3 Drawings Twenty Years Later."
Caresse keeps the press officially alive until her death in 1970 with preserving Harry's legacy remaining central to her goals. Her last major publishing output takes place in the 1940's with the production of "Portfolio: An Intercontinental Quarterly.” Inspired in part by the landmark avant-garde journal of the 1920’s “Transition,” where Harry Crosby was an editor, she continues her work with cutting edge writers and artists of all ages and all times. Each of the portfolios has a focus on a different country.
Portfolio 1-6 presents an historic collection of writers and visual artists including: Henri Cartier-Bresson, René Char, Paul Éluard, Jean Genet, Natalia Ginzburg, Victor Hugo, Robert Lowell, Henri Matisse, Henry Miller, Kay Boyle, Gwendolyn Brooks, Albert Camus , Leo Tolstoy, Anaïs Nin, Charles Olson, Pablo Picasso, Arthur Rimbaud, Jean-Paul Sartre, Stephen Spender, and Charles Bukowski among others. Caresse prints 1,000 copies of each issue, giving special treatment to 100 or so deluxe copies featuring original artwork by Romare Bearden, Matisse, and others. After the 6th issue, she runs out of funding.
1967 Sun turns psychedelic moving through Detroit in its 3rd phase when The Warren-Forest Sun begins publication in Detroit Michigan in April of 1967. It begins as the Warren-Forest Sun
(named for the neighborhood between Warren Avenue & Forest Avenue) soon becoming the Ann Arbor Sun when it moves there the following year. It is founded by the poet & jazz writer John Sinclair, his wife the photographer Leni Sinclair and the graphic artist Gary Grimshaw working together as part of Trans-Love Energies.
Trans-Love Energies is a utopian collective of artists, musicians, craftsmen, and hippies born out of of The Detroit Artists Workshop. The first issues of the paper are drawn elaborately by hand, mostly by Grimshaw - often printed using mimeograph and silk screen equipment from the Workshop Press. Grimshaw, who comes from a family of graphic designers, spends time in San Francisco observing the psychedelic design scene at The Filmore West and integrates many of its stylistic elements into the designs for the paper.
The paper's stated goal is "a cultural revolution through a total assault on the culture making use of every tool every energy and every media we can get our collective hands on. We take our program with us everywhere we go and use any means necessary to expose people to it. Our culture our art the music newspapers books posters our clothing our homes the way we walk and talk the way our hair grows the way we smoke dope and fuck and eat and sleep - it is all one message and the message is FREEDOM!"
John Sinclair as its main editor declares Sun to be "the up front newspaper of rock & roll, dope and fucking in the streets." Sinclair is a forceful advocate for the transformative power of what he calls "righteous" music. Working first as a jazz writer he begins to understand the possibilities of cultural freedom made possible by the world of rock & roll. He takes on management of the proto-punk band the MC5 and he soon makes the band - and the growing rock scene around the Grande Ballroom focal points of the new paper.
Sinclair with Trans Love uses Sun to promote and produce live multi media music events like the Belle Island Love-In of 1967 in Detroit, which attracts more than 8,000 people. It is an event that helps mark the birth of "The Woodstock Nation" in Detroit. It is also one that ends in a near riot with the police - who once again clash with a growing rainbow coalition of young people in Detroit. The police extend the hostile posture to gatherings at The Grande Ballroom, where they enforce a curfew which eventually compels Trans-Love to move out of Detroit to the college town of Ann Arbor where there is a large and receptive youth community.
Marijuana is at the heart of much of the hostility with the police. Sinclair has previously served six months for possession in 1964 and by 1968 is facing more than 10 years in prison for simple possession of 2 joints. Michigan has at this time some of the harshest penalties for marijuana in the country. Legislators in the 1950’s worried publicly that “dope peddlers" and “bad associates” - understood to be black citizens - were manipulating white youth to smoke marijuana and crafted a bill making the punishment for possession up to 10 years in prison. And a conviction for selling marijuana carries a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison with no parole.
Michigan's marijuana laws intensified the aggressive policing - aiming it squarely at Detroits black neighborhoods. Standing up to an abusive police state and reforming Michigan's draconian marijuana becomes central to the mission of Sinclair, Trans Love and Sun. And out of solidarity to the cause of black social justice in the USA Trans Love Energies changes its name to the White Panther Party.
Black Panther 10-Point Program
1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our black community.
2. We want full employment for our people.
3. We want an end to the robbery by the white man of our black community.
4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent
American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our
role in the present day society.
6. We want all black men to be exempt from military service.
7. We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.
8. We want freedom for all black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
9. We want all black people when brought to trial to be tried in the court by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities, as defined by the constitution of the United States.
10.We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace, and
as our major political objective, a UN supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony in which only black subjects will be allowed to participate, for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national destiny.
White Panther 10-Point Program
1. Full endorsement and support of Black Panther Party's 10-Point Program.
2. Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll
dope, and fucking in the streets;
3. Free exchange of energy and materials -- we demand the end of money!
4. Free food, clothes, housing, dope, music, bodies, medical care - everything! free for everybody!
5. Free access to Information media - free the technology from the greed creeps! 6. Free time & space for all humans - dissolve all unnatural boundaries;
7. Free all schools and all structures from corporate rule -- turn the buildings
over to the people at once!
8. Free all prisoners everywhere -- they are our brothers;
9. Free all soldiers at once -- no more conscripted armies;
10. Free the people f rom their "leaders" - leaders suck - all power to all the
people -- freedom means free everyone!
On July 28 1969 in front of a raucous crowd of supporters in a courtroom in Detroit, John Sinclair is sentenced to 10 years in prison by Judge Robert Colombo for possession of 2 joints of marijuana. Freeing John and exposing the draconian marijuana laws of the state become the driving forces of Sun and the White Panther Party.
Leni Sinclair becomes a passionate and highly effective advocate for his release helping to enlist many high profile cultural figures in the fight. John Lennon & Yoko Ono even write a song to help set him free. They along with Stevie Wonder, Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman and others appear at a massive rally on his behalf in December of '71.
The relentless media campaign for Sinclair's release is so effective that the Michigan State Supreme Court strikes down his conviction calling Michigan's marijuana law unconstitutional 3 days after the rally. The campaign helps to define the Ann Arbor Sun and reforming Michigan's marijuana laws and celebrating the culture of marijuana remain central missions of the paper after the decision.
Like Benjamin Day does with the original Sun in New York, The Ann Arbor Sun relies on a modern form of "newsboys" to drive circulation of the paper up. It relies mostly on unemployed hippies in search of quick cash to move the newspaper and increase readership. "Sell The Sun" becomes a motto in a never-ending search for more new "newsboys" to keep the Sun moving.
In the 1970's the paper continues to feature original artwork and to celebrate counter cultural figures like San Ra, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Timothy Leary, William Burroughs, Mao Zedong, and members of the MC5. Much of the content though is increasingly made up of material from other like minded papers that are also part of The Underground Press Syndicate such as LA free Press, The Berkeley Barb & 5th Estate. The paper continues to evolve becoming more of an alternative community oriented city paper until 1976 when it returns to Detroit and ceases publication as The Detroit Sun.
2014 the 4th phase of S U N begins in New York City on the summer solstice of 2014 with the emergence of the NYC based publishing house called S U N . The house fuses many of the aesthetic and conceptual concerns of previous phases of S U N - often working with complex versions of the truth, as well as collaborating directly with artists to create unique and beautiful artists books.
Functioning less as a traditional publishing house S U N becomes more of a publishing network helping to produce publications and artworks directly with artists. Adopting the Internet domain thesun.solar S U N operates as something like a renewable network in order to help produce unique publications and other artworks with artists such as Bill Sullivan, Corey Presha, Anthony Tafuro, Dan Cook, Timothy Briner, Charles Johnstone, Aaron McElroy, Yoshi Kametani , Daisuke Yokota and Thomas Hauser among others.
S U N also focusses on bringing to publication obscure, hard to find and at times notorious works in print such as The Black Panther Coloring book, Reckless Spring : poems by poems by Hồ Xuân Hương, The Family Acid, 47 Fly Flyers from the early hip hop era in NYC and Sergey Merkurov’s Letters of People among others.