Shig’s Review (1983)




Shig Murao and his nephew John are in a shop in North Beach photocopying collages for Shig’s Review. After they leave, an employee runs after them to return a collage left in the copier. “That’s okay,” says Shig. “Just throw it away.” 

Shig was a pioneer of the zine movement, utilizing photocopies to self-publish material collected in the course of his life at the center of San Francisco’s bohemian culture. Indeed, his zine has become something of a collector’s item. At this writing F. A. Bernett, a rare-book dealer in Boston, is offering fifteen issues of Shig’s Review for $2,750. 

For more on Shig’s Review, including sample issues and a catalog of issues I’ve located, click here.

Shig’s Review first appeared in 1960 as two volumes of poetry edited by Shig and published by Adler Press. These printed publications featured poets such as Vincent McHugh, C. H. Kwock, and brothers Vincent and Sean McBride—poets not found in City Lights publications.

Marvin Friedman, one of the poets featured in Shig’s Review #1, had moved from New York to San Francisco in 1957.  His literary idols were Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud rather than Ginsberg and the Beats.

Friedman and Phil Leider, who had come from New York together, had a few drinks one night and headed for City Lights, only to find it closed. They penned a few parodies of Ginsberg on the spot, and taped them to the door of City Lights.

They returned to City Lights a few days later, and found, to their horror, that their parodies had been mimeographed and were being given away at the bookstore. Shig subsequently invited them to submit poems for Shig’s Review #1.

(Friedman later became a lawyer, and when a friend of Ginsberg’s got in trouble with the cops, Shig put Ginsberg in touch with Friedman, who resolved the situation. As payment, Friedman requested  inscribed copies of some of Ginsberg’s books.)

The third issue of Shig’s Review, published by City Lights in 1969, purported to include poems by Shigeyoshi Murao, Yoshi Murao, Yoshi Murao Shigi, and other variations on Shig’s name. But instead of poems, the volume features a single photo cropped in different ways. In the image, Shig sits on the edge of a bed. He holds a stick with a bird figure at the end, probably a child’s toy from his Japanese folk art collection.

After his first stroke in 1975, Shig found creative outlets in practicing calligraphy and playing the flute. In August 1983 he suffered a second stroke, which left him too impaired to do either. He seemed especially shaken about giving up his shakuhachi, the Japanese flute.

Undaunted, Shig found a way to express his artistic bent. After fourteen years he resurrected Shig’s Review and did it in his own unorthodox fashion. This involved selecting a small collection of poems, photos, woodcuts, letters, or previously published articles, typing the poems on the Royal typewriter that Ginsberg used during visits, and taking them to a local copy shop to make twenty or thirty  copies—copies of such poor quality that parts of them were nearly illegible.

The final touch was Shig’s hanko—a character used as a signature in Japan— stamped in red on the front page. (Some issues also included a “Shigspeer Press” rubber-stamp logo.)

When he finished each issue of Shig’s Review, he would put a supply in a shoulder bag, walk down to the Trieste and give them to people he liked. There was no pretense in these offerings; as his nephew John explains it, Shig saw them as gohobi, Japanese for a small gift or prize.

In all, Shig produced about eighty issues of the quirky review. Issue #4 featured poems about Shig by Tony Dingman; #13 was devoted to a Ginsberg photo of Shig, three photos of Ginsberg, and a Time magazine article on Ginsberg dated February 4, 1985.

Issue #7 was devoted to Masayuki Koga, Shig’s shakuhachi teacher, and included photocopies of the letter that Ginsberg had sent from Boulder after hearing Koga’s performance. The letter is signed by Ginsberg, Peter Orlofsky, and Koga, and dated June 18, 1978.

Another of Shig’s interests that was reflected in Shig’s Review was photo collage, a passion that grew out of his love for David Hockney’s work (and his doctor’s suggestion that Shig find ways to use his hands). He purchased single lens reflex and Polaroid cameras and began to create collages from photos, publishing several of them in Shig’s Review.

Shig’s Review #11 includes an extraordinary self-portrait for which he cut a photo of himself into thin horizontal strips, reassembled them, and fanned them out. This collage would later appear in one of the postcard editions of Shig’s Review, for which he would replace the usual 8½” x 14” sheets stapled in the corner with four or five postcards bundled together with a band of paper.

In preparing #45, Shig visited the Trieste with an American flag hat made of cardboard and took snapshots of himself and several regulars wearing the hat.

Shig marked poet Bob Kaufman’s death with issue #70, dated April 13, 1987, and including three hand-colored Xerox postcards of Kaufman.

Shig’s Review #80, titled “Five North Beach Cappiccino Artists,” was another postcard edition. Included were images by Trieste regular Don Moses (a charcoal pencil drawing of Shig); a woodcut by his friend Mary Boyd Ellis; and Norman Quebedeau’s obsessively detailed psychedelic drawing of the Trieste, “Life Among the Cappuccino People.”

Shig’s Review exhibits a randomness that would have pleased John Cage. Some have cover sheets, some don’t. Some are dated, many aren’t. Some have a clear theme, others feel like random elements thrown together by consulting the I Ching. There are two #13s and three #35s, and #22 is identical to #23 and #24.

Two issues appear to be one-of-a-kind collaborations with mail art enthusiast Alton Hunt, aka Lord Byron. Hunt would create elaborate two-sided collages on cardboard and mail them to friends. Shig collected more than twenty of Hunt’s collages, two of which appear to be collaborative efforts including Shig’s hanko and identified as Shig’s Review #35 and #64. It doesn’t appear that Shig made photocopies of these for distribution to his usual network.

Some of the collages reproduced in Shig’s Review show a real talent for the medium, but it was the creative process that interested Shig. Once he had photocopied one of his collages he lost all interest in it. For the most part, the originals ended up in the copy shop wastebasket.

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Shig’s Review #70, a collection of three hand colored postcards remembering Bob Kaufman. View the full issue here.

Shig’s Review was one of the ways of beginning to share all the things Shig had acquired over twenty years of really intimate discussions with some of the primary cultural figures of the Beat scene.

—City Lights book buyer Paul Yamazaki

Shig’s Review #80 offered a collection of five postcards featuring North Beach artists. View full issue here.

Page from Shig’s Review #22. View the whole issue here.

Collage of Caffe Trieste customers wearing American flag hat.








10:00 A.M.






Shig’s Review #35 (like #64) was a collaborative effort with Alton Hunt, aka Lord Byron. It is two-sided and mounted on cardboard. These are one-of-a-kind issues, which Shig does not appear to have photocopied and distributed through his usual channels.