AGENTS PROVOCATEURS — 100 SUBVERSIVE SKATEBOARD GRAPHICS.
To celebrate the release of his book, the Frenchman kindly picked his 15 favourite boards and accompanying stories in order for us to offer you this little sneak preview. Narrowing it down to that number was far from easy so what you have here is truly the "creme de la creme" of dark humour and politically incorrect topics in skateboarding.
To purchase a copy of the book head over to Gingko Press' website.
DON NGUYEN GOOKS OF HAZZARD
The board in question, which resulted in the t-shirt TMZ talked about, featured two Asian men in a suped-up car named the “General Li." For good measure, this parody of The Dukes of Hazzard TV series replaced “Dukes" with “Gooks" (a derogatory name for Asians), while “good orr boys" Nguyen and Shimizu were sitting on the window, Bo and Luke-style.
The touchy concept stemmed from an idea that had been marinating in the minds of Asian skaters Shimizu and Nguyen for a long time. “It was kinda both our idea," Nguyen notes. “The art guy at Baker asked me what I wanted for my next graphic. I was kinda short on ideas and just brought that up randomly. I always wanted to do it. I didn’t even think about what would happen because in my head, it’s always just been a joke between me and my friend. I think it’s hilarious."
An organization with apparently a different sense of self-deprecating humor is the Asian American Justice Center. Once TMZ broadcasted the affair, the AAJC issued a statement that said, “Baker Skateboards, and the outlets that sell this shirt, should be aware that use of the term ‘gook’ on their apparel is offensive and quite simply amounts to racism for sale. No one should seek to profit from racism."
Caught off-guard by the fuss his idea generated, Nguyen went as far as apologising to Baker skateboards’ boss, Andrew Reynolds, the next day. “He said he didn’t care," Nguyen remembers, “and thought it was funny too. He wasn’t even sweating anything. My intentions were not to offend anyone, because it was funny to me and it was an inside joke between homies."
Nevertheless, Baker issued its own statement on its website, in all caps: “ROLL OVER TO RETARD TMZ FOR HOW WE ARE DAMAGING THE ASIAN COMMUNITY WITH THIS NEW BAKER TEE! GOODLOOKS ON THE FREE ADVERTISING TMZ!" And Don Nguyen ended up coming up with somewhat of a precise statistic: “All in all, about 90% of people thought it was funny and 10% got bummed."
Maybe it should.
Besides bearing star ambassador pro skater Chris Pfanner, it also gave birth to one of most political, interesting modern-day companies: Yama skateboards, once spearheaded by said Chris Pfanner before he went do the job over at Antihero skateboards, in the US.
At its wheel, founder Alex Kramer has always tried to bring something to munch on to the table. And one thing he enjoys as much as running his little company the way he wants is talking about his thought process. “I usually get my inspiration from topical themes that really affect me. For instance, I witnessed the nuclear super-crash in Chernobyl with all its aftermath when I was a teenager and it never left me. So that theme has always been topical for me and I did a board graphic about it with an exploding nuclear complex and a happy family with gas masks on in front of the scene. Then Fukushima happened and everybody was, like, yeah, you did a graphic on Fukushima... Nope. I did it about a year before."
One he did right at the time awareness around the issue sky rocketed was this Anti- Monsanto board. “When I did the genetic engineering series, the topic had been quite present in media as there had been recent scientific finds that enabled the chemical industry to modify animal, human and herbal genes— Modifications that might have a total irreversible impact on the ecosystem of our planet. And we just let them slowly take control of life in general and also our lives in particular.’
As with Spencer Hamilton’s Monsanto Kills board, the documentary The World According to Monsanto had a big impact on Kramer. “I was so mad about it that I thought, ‘I need to do a graphic.’ Hence this board, ‘We feed you death.’ There had been over 200 different cultivated rice types in India before Monsanto took over and now it’s just ten or so. And the farmers are forced to buy Monsanto seeds. The worst part is, because of the genetically modified hybrid character of the seeds, the farmers won’t get any new seeds off what they plant, so for another ten years, nothing else will grow on their land. And it’s not only in India... On a side note, our board came with a flyer with all the facts about Monsanto and genetically engineered seeds."
ANTI-HERO: JULIEN STRANGER
A perfect example of telling a story in one image, a probable reminiscence of Francis’ early days as a political cartoonist, would be the one of the K9 dog, sick of being told what to do by his master, who decides to rebel.
“This one started with just one drawing in my sketchbook, a little doodle of a police dog turning on its policeman owner and biting his face. I kept doodling other animals lashing out at people, which was a subject you saw a lot of back then with those When Nature Strikes Back type of videos in heavy circulation at the time. The reaction to them was mostly lots of laughs, though I think a few accounts shied away from the police dog graphic. I like to think that the stuff we did with Antihero wasn’t easy. Maybe it was one step too far, but it’s never the easy step too far. It gotta push the envelope but in a way that’s intelligent, I guess?"
CHICO BRENES DAY AT THE BEACH
“I’m sure he must have been a bit bummed, with good reason, of course", he supposes. “I mean, what 17-year-old kid would be stoked about having naked old dudes and ladies with saggy boobs and dusty old 70s bushes on the bottom of his pro model skateboard? But that one had to be done, making this one of my absolute favorite graphics to ever be produced and sold in skate shops worldwide. It’s the marketing equivalent to shooting yourself in the foot."
The suicidal gesture ended up being in fact totally anodyne: first off, Chico Brenes never confronted him about it. Secondly, “By that time, boards were being run in small amounts of like 300 with only one printing before a new graphic was up," Cliver adds. “So after a point, all the riders really cared about was getting a check to cash, to pay for their Honda Civic."
COLORED ONLY ONE-OFF
For this one-off skateboard he made for an auction, he played on the classic dichotomy between the 1950s that America enjoys remembering (symbolised by the Happy Days-era skateboard itself) and the way the segregationist ‘50s actually felt.
Since this unique board actually sold, one might wonder if it got Owerka-Moore to entertain the idea of reviving, perhaps, an actual skateboard company that would be politically as heavy as American Dream Inc.
“It’s a tough call," he ponders. “I honestly think it is important to always say something if you have the platform. I just feel that every day, ignorance becomes more and more in trend. It’s almost as if it is cool to these people to be ignorant and disrespectful. If you do say something, regardless of how direct, you are labeled a ‘Hater.’ Not that I give a fuck about being called a ‘Hater,’ I just wonder how effective such a company would be in this day and age. Plus so many of my personal points of reference seem to be obscure to kids. You just have to be far more subversive and clever about the approach, I think. Purely because media moves so fast and the points of reference are obscured and blurred to the youth. They just become random images, with no social/economical or political reference to most of this generation."
Regardless, Owerka-Moore can’t help it: rebellion is in his blood. To sum up best his feelings, he points to a Youtube interview with Devo singer Gerry Casale: “You’re always gonna have a few cattle that are gonna get out of the barnyard for a while until they’re rounded up. And that’s when the excitement starts. And besides, what would these guys with lassos have to do unless somebody gave them a chase?"
CONSOLIDATED XTREME CEOS
Almost equally awesome is the identity of the buyer: Sandy Bodecker, one of the very heads of Nike Skateboarding caricatured on one of the decks. “I don’t think you can get more direct than calling out the CEO and the President, but they certainly weren’t the first and I’m sure won’t be the last," he smiles. “ I believe everyone has a right to their opinion and their right to express it. On the other hand, I never believed that what we were doing was bad for skateboarding," he professes. "We reached out to Consolidated a couple of times with offers to do something together but they weren’t interested. I think they are a small part of skateboard lore on one side. Whatever the reason(s) they chose not to release them—I’ve heard different stories—it was probably my only opportunity to have my own signature deck."
ALIEN BO TURNER STABBING
Back in the early ‘90s, his inspiration du jour tended to gravitate toward ultraviolent scenes created from papier mâché—an era he calls “the mâché puppet diorama period," where he depicted puppets as victims of various stabbings, hangings, and other brutal deaths.
Nothing creepy in his approach, he reassures. This particular one, for instance, had its roots in the music of a dear friend of the Workshop, Jay Mascis. “I wanted to try and make a graphic that looked the way the Dinosaur Jr. album You’re Living All Over Me sounded to me. In trying to make a puppet diorama that looked the way that album felt as a whole when played really loud. Especially the first 25 seconds opener of ‘Little Fury Things,’" he explains. What pro skater do you bless with this style of artwork to decorate his board, you may ask? Bo Turner, of course, a notorious brawler who could definitely take (and give, let’s be honest) the punch. “Bo was an aggro guy so it seemed to fit," Hill recalls.
Today, Hill’s art seems to have toned down a little, or at least taken a less in-your-face approach. “The mid to late nineties is when most of this kind of graphics were done for AWS," he justifies, “and with the internet becoming such a vast resource of all kinds of information, it seemed for myself pointless to keep doing them. And you’re always moving forward in the shit that goes through your brain and doing graphics with those thoughts. That being said, with all of the recent revelations and public awareness with devious activity by government and media, there seems to be a resurgence of interest. That, or people are looking back on the ‘90s nostalgically the same way we just went through the ‘80s again in pop culture. People love the past."
THE DISNEYLAND MEMORIAL ORGY
Krassner’s counterattack manifested in the form of a poster. Commissioned to cartoonist Wally Wood (1927-1981) by Krassner for his own legendary free thought magazine The Realist, the satirical piece depicted Disney characters breaking a vast array of rules. It became an overnight sensation, and ended up being widely bootlegged over the years.
A founding member of Mad magazine in 1932, Wood himself, also famous for debuting Daredevil’s modern red costume for Marvel, never really admitted the paternity of Disneyland Memorial Orgy.
The story had always fascinated Dominique Baconnier, the head honcho over at Boom-Art/Holenite skateboards in France, always willing to print off-the-beaten path graphics on his decks (i.e. Bosch’s master triptych from 1503 The Garden of Earthly Delights, just to name one). In 2012, he struck a deal with Krassner. By doing so, the Disneyland Memo- rial Orgy started a new life, only in skateboard circles this time around.
RON ALLEN DEXTER WOODS
“A lot of people didn’t understand what we were trying to do with American Dream Inc. Ourselves, we didn’t understand that you can’t be that angry and sell a product. It was a different kind of controversy than, say, the Napping Negro graphic." [see previous page—editor’s note.]
“Instead of doing that, we thought that we’d try to teach a little history, why the revolutionary tactics, why that way. I learned a lot about my culture from doing ADI—because you had to do your research, you didn’t want to not understand what you were trying to say or do. I’ll add that we also wanted not to just talk to the Black race, or the White race. We made an ad that came up in Spanish, we wanted to talk to everybody. We wanted to do ads in Mandarin, or in French. Anyway, in 1996 the market was weird, and the misunderstandings led to the demise of the company."
CAIRO FOSTER DOG MEATS
Following the same pattern that allowed African-American pro skater to come up with The Napping Negro deck, enjoi skateboards’ art director Winston Tseng (of Asian descent) thought it would be tasty to draw this graphic for (half Chinese) pro skater Cairo Foster.
Of course, flying under the media radar, this board never caused the uproar that the Gooks of Hazzard deck did, and it’s a shame: it could have sparked an interesting debate around the notion of carnism, coined in 2001 by American social psychologist in her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and wear Cows: an Introduction to Carnism.
It would have also reminded us that dog meat, known to be consumed in VietNam, Korea, China and among the Christian community in Indonesia, is also still part of the menu in the Rheintal area, a rural part of “role model" country and sophisticated pride of the Western world: Switzerland...
JOHN LUCERO BONDAGE CHICK
John Lucero’s first board on Variflex did, by making it just disturbing enough to qualify.
Funnily enough, this twist of fate happened after the artist Pushead, whose portfolio of work for Zorlac Skateboards could be compared to a mid-sized town’s ossuary, turned down Lucero’s offer to draw his first graphic. “Pushead, though, ended up giving me his friend’s contact in Tennessee, an artist named XNO, promising he could draw some of the cra- ziest stuff," Lucero remembers. “XNO sent me a bunch of comic books and fanzines that he was doing. When I got them, I was blown away."
“I sent him a template of the board, he drew all this kind of punk bondage, really weird, dark stuff, he always had guys chained down. I said, ‘Hey man, I like what you do, how about a bondage chick on top of this guy?’ Variflex went for it."
Lucero recalls that they printed about 200 boards, sent them out... only for many of the stores to send them right back. “They said it was the most disgusting graphic they’d ever seen," Lucero still marvels today.
RANDY COLVIN CENSORSHIP
The inspiration behind this one came from a centerfold published in Penthouse magazine (September 1990), in which a meticulous comparative examination allows the rigorous researcher to confirm it: for years before he dug this magazine out of his archives, McKee thought he was the one who added a pearl necklace on the girl for the sake of the bawdy joke. He didn’t: the beads were already adorning the creature’s upper body on the original photograph.
In a perfectly-fitting coincidental move, keeping in mind that McKee is also the soul behind the Devil Worship deck (see p.162), the very same issue of Penthouse bared an article called: “Satanism: The International Conspiracy."
HEROIN SKATEBOARDS: GOOD SHIT
Epiphany-style, the revelation led Fos to start his own skateboard company, and to call it “Heroin" as a homage to what had grown over the years as an unquenchable addiction—the only one this jolly lad suffers from, it should be added.
Regarding this specific Good Shit deck, the same hospital stay once again proved fruitful, as its graphic was penned during Fos’ down time as well. “It was in hospital that I scratched out the first Good Shit logo for Heroin with my left hand, because my right was in a cast, elevated, awaiting pins", he reveals.
“I was so excited about the idea of doing a board company, that from the very start, this sketchy left-handed drawing accidentally set the art direction for the entire company that has been consistently sketchy ever since. This logo has been a big part of the company for almost fifteen years, since we made the first Good Shit logo boards, in 1999, and they were the boards that really started selling for us. They’ve had various incarnations over the past decade and will probably continue to be a part of our line for a long time to come."
JIM THIEBAUD HANGING KKK
A possibly more concerning issue was the emergence of Ku Klux Klan cross-country marches, aiming at giving back to the so-called “glory suit" of its members a little bit of its past luster. It almost worked out: on October 28th, 1990, 28 Klansmen were granted the right to march in Washington, for three hours, and escorted by no less than 3,500 police officers.
The entire episode could only inspire politically-aware pro skater Jim Thiebaud when time came to find an idea for his first board, put out by his own company, Real skateboards. “It was an idea I wanted to do for a while," he explains. “An incredibly strong statement with a simple image. At the time it was a message that was plain and in your face to anyone seeing it — it was a tough sell for sure. But we didn’t care."
Other people did. Thiebaud confesses he received a death threat, “crap loads of hate mail." And off to a tour in the deep South the Real team went, “right in the face where the threats came from. The skaters that came out and supported us were the best," he recalls. And that wasn’t it: “Even a group of [non-racist] SHARP Skins [SHARP as : SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice—editor’s note.] showed up at one demo one time, because there had been some info about a White Power group possibly showing up- it was great."
The heaviness of the situation didn’t deter Thiebaud from addressing the KKK issue again: shortly after this board came out, as a “tribute" to Washington oh-so-nicely protecting the “Hooded Order" during its marches, a new board was designed, showing a cop shaking hands with a KKK member in front of the White House.
For those wondering, yes, Thiebaud would still put out this kind of skateboard today. “Putting racial injustice under the spotlight is always possible... and needed. Skateboarding is always a great medium — our voices are loud as fuck!"
“The book was the main inspiration for this deck," Morgan Gesner nods.“Also,[his partner in Illuminati skateboards] Adam Schatz’s professor Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves To Death was a key influence on this."
Foraging into the more subtle details of this board, he continues: “I made by hand this collage of magazine clippings, focused around this modern, blond Adonis version of Jesus. The TV in the center, with the Illuminati Eye forever watching... It’s humorous, obvious, and much deeper than what it seems. ‘When religion just can’t ease the pain’: clearly, I’m addressing the saturation of media and its manipulation of the masses, and how media has replaced religion as the opiate of the masses. This is a key theme, ironically, in all the work I did for Illuminati."
Deep down, Eli Morgan Gesner also meant this graphic to lead to a more philosophical cogitation on how the media works—and sedates.
“I became aware of a theory that the true power of television is not in the escapism, but in the abstracted attention it gives the viewer— That TV in effect nurtures the viewers narcissistic tendencies. The show is not the issue, it’s that the show is there for you, the viewer. By simply watching TV, the viewer is being addressed as an entity. It validates their existence. And comforts them. So, in that sense, I am show- ing the Illuminati Eye as the loving care taker, not the suspicious and invasive Big Brother. The world’s most popular anaesthetic"