A Closer Look at OZ Magazine

Was there ever a publication that better defined the spirit of a decade than Oz? Across 48 issues and six years, the iconic counter culture publication tackled just about every pressing social, political, and cultural subject of its time, ranging from gay rights to racism, the environment, feminism, sex, drugs, rock music and the Vietnam War. Originally published in Sydney in 1963, a parallel British edition of the magazine was launched in 1967. Produced in a basement flat in London's Notting Hill Gate by three editors, Richard Neville, Jim Anderson and Felix Dennis the magazine was conceived as a satirical, provocative counter-culture antidote to conservative British culture.

The magazine’s first UK issue in January 1967 featured a creepy, clownish face, with Oz for the eyes, a toothy grin below and proudly listed the content inside, including articles on atheism, press corruption, war crimes in the Congo, and Malcolm X. Issue themes were controversial and attention grabbing. The ‘Gay Issue’ published just over two years later in September 1969 featured a same-sex interracial couple embracing on its cover as well as extracts from The Homosexual Handbook by Angelo d'Arcangelo. The ‘Pussy Power’ issue released in February 1970 was edited by Germaine Greer and featured cult transgender model and Warhol Factory star Candy Darling as its centrefold.

Designed by Australian artist and cartoonist Martin Sharp Oz’s covers were visually arresting, just like its content, with an array of uncompromising psychedelic masterpieces that took the surrealist, acid-aesthetic of the late 60s ‘Summer of Love’ vibe to a new level. The ‘Magic Theatre’ issue, described as ‘one of the richest banks of images that has ever appeared in a magazine’, was a visual trip through a kaleidoscopic collage of images ranging from Robert Crumb cartoons to Rene Magritte paintings, John and Yoko to famine victims. Edward Muybridge’s studies of locomotives ran along the bottom of every page adding a playful, comic-strip element to the proceedings. Ahead of its time, both in concept and design, this visually groundbreaking issue was a critical hit, but a commercial failure with the next issue of Oz calling it the ‘worst selling most praised Oz ever’.

The magazine was notoriously embroiled in controversy following its ‘School Kids’ issue in May 1970. After being told that they were out of touch, the editorial team at Oz invited a group of twenty schoolchildren to edit the magazine, giving them carte blanche to create whatever they wanted which included a pornographic Rupert the Bear comic strip, S&M imagery and pictures of nude women performing cunnilingus on a typically brash wrap-around cover. The issue prompted the longest obscenity trial in the British court system, resulting in the editors facing accusations of conspiracy to corrupt public morals. Whilst the charges were eventually overturned and Oz and its editors emerged from the trial widely recognised as protectors of free speech, the substantial costs of defending themselves led the magazine to fold two years later £20,000 in debt.

One of, if not the leading magazine of the underground press at the time, Oz has gone on to become a record of one of the most important cultural revolutions in recent history.

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