1960: The Loujon Press adds a new chapter to New Orleans’ literary legacy
The 1960s were dawning when Jon Edgar Webb, a 58-year-old writer, and Gypsy Lou Webb, an artist, decided to become publishers, founding Loujon Press in the French Quarter. Unlike the fad at the time — inexpensive magazines made on mimeograph machines — the duo set out to produce the most unique publications possible. In the process, they became pioneers of high-quality independent publishing. According to “Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of The Outsider and Loujon Press,” the first issue of their magazine, The Outsider, appeared in 1960 and saw an initial run of 3,000 after a year of production work, having been typeset, collated and bound in the couple’s tiny Royal Street apartment. As art writer Nathan Martin wrote in Pelican Bomb, “Loujon operated during a particular moment in the history of artistic publishing in America … and remains a distinctive and compelling entity at the intersection of fine-press publishing, counterculture literature, and the French Quarter from which it emerged.”
Jon Edgar Webb died in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1971; Gypsy Lou Webb is 101 years old and living in a Slidell community care center. Copies of books published by Loujon Press and issues of The Outsider are somewhat hard to find, though a search on eBay shows a number of issues and books are for sale — but for considerably more than the original cover price which, in the case of issue No. 2, was $1.
- The second issue of The Outsider arrived in 1961. By that point, the Webbs had moved to Ursuline Street, where issue No. 3 was also published. The last and final issue, a double issue, was published in 1968/1969 after the Webbs had moved to Tucson, Arizona.
- Loujon Press published Charles Bukowski’s first book, “It Catches My Heart in Its Hands,” as well as his “Crucifix in a Deathhand.”
- Henry Miller, who may be best known for “Tropic of Cancer,” had “Order and Chaos Chez Hans Reichel” and “Insomnia, or the Devil at Large” published by Loujon Press.
- Authors published in The Outsider also included William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Langston Hughes, Diane de Prima, LeRoi Jones (known as Amiri Baraka) and Kenneth Patchen, among others.
- Who else was in the Webbs’ orbit? Artist Noel Rockmore, Preservation Hall founder Larry Borenstein, and photographer Joseph Woodson “Pops” Whitesell.
- Before Angelina Jolie famously wore a vial of Billy Bob Thornton’s blood around her neck, Gypsy Lou Webb kept bits of bones and ashes from Jon Edgar Webb and their son, Tommy Webb, in a locket around her neck. According to sources, when the mood struck, she would take some out and eat it.
- Gypsy Lou Webb was a French Quarter fixture who helped make ends meet by selling hand-tinted French Quarter cityscapes and small paintings to tourists on Royal Street, according to a 2013 story in The Times-Picayune.
- In 1994, Ed Blair commissioned the production of two fine-art prints designed from original printing blocks from The Outsider. With help from Gypsy Lou Webb, they were printed by artist Frances Swigart from blocks Blair “retrieved from a damp French Quarter attic,” according to “Bohemian New Orleans.” William S. Burroughs, who lived in Algiers in 1948 and 1949, was one of the first to order a set of prints.
- In 2013, the Historic New Orleans Collection organized an exhibition, “Alternative Imprints: Jon Webb, Gypsy Lou and the Hand-Sewn World of the Loujon Press.” The exhibited materials — books, magazines, and memorabilia — were donated by Edwin J. Blair, who met the Webbs in 1963 as an oil company executive and was drawn into their orbit.
All these years later, the Webbs’ literary legacy lives on, particularly in the case of Bukowski, who first came to New Orleans in 1942, when he worked for the New Orleans Item newspaper as an errand boy in the composing room. Bukowski would continue to return to the city in subsequent years. Even though his poems had been published for several years, the Webbs’ Loujon Press is cited with raising his national profile. About the Outsider, Bukowski wrote, “It was simply the flame bent toward The Outsider. It was the gathering place, the tavern, the cave of the gods and the cave of the devils … it was the place, it was in … it was literature jumping and screaming, it was a record of voices and it was a record of time, it was The Outsider, it was Jon and Louise Webb.”