Skulls and Wheels: A Gallery of Skateboard Art
By Conor Dougherty
Sean Cliver is largely unknown to anyone who doesn’t ride a skateboard, but for two decades the Los Angeles writer and artist has played a big role shaping culture’s naughty side. He got his start drawing skateboard graphics in 1989, after winning a mail-in contest to work for Powell-Peralta, and over the next two decades produced some of the sport’s most enduring and controversial graphics (such an image of Charles Manson hanging out with the Peanuts). Later, he was editor-in-chief of Big Brother, the infamous and influential magazine that spawned the Jackass TV show. Cliver was a co-producer of the 2002 Jackass movie and still works for the Jackassworld.com web site.
Cliver recently assembled The Disposable Skateboard Bible, a book of skateboard graphics that could be described as the ultimate coffee table book for aging and nostalgic skateboarders. The book focuses on skateboard collectibles, and features boards from the 1960s through the 1990s. Cliver spoke with the Journal about the book, $10,000 skateboards and skateboard art’s influence on pop culture. This slideshow provides some illustrations. (And be warned: skateboard culture got very edgy and some of the images aren’t exactly Norman Rockwell.)
The Wall Street Journal: Tell me about the new book.
Cliver: Ultimately, what it is, is the most comprehensive visual overview of skateboards produced between the 60s and 90s. Lots and lots of pretty pictures of skateboards.
If you had to get one skateboard graphic tattooed on yourself, what would it be?
I don’t have any tattoos. But when it comes to skateboard graphics it’s safe to say that more than a few are indelibly imprinted on my brain. My first “real” board was a Powell-Peralta Mike McGill Skull & Snake model, so that graphic will probably be one of the highlights if I ever have one of those “life flash before your eyes” moments.
But if I was going to break down and get a tattoo it would probably be a full back piece of Pushead’s first John Gibson graphic on Zorlac. The idea of nerdy little me standing shirtless on a beach with that interpretively satanic cow skull covering my back would be awesome.
What graphics weren’t you able to find? Biggest omission from the Bible?
My only regret when finally going to the printer this past April—after two-and-a-half years of work compiling images—was not being able to photograph Stacy Peralta’s collection. I was briefly in touch with him, learned he still had the original Zephyr board from the one and only Zephyr ad that ran in the first new issue of Skateboarder Magazine in 1975, but unfortunately that’s as far as I was able to get with him. I guess he was neck-deep in the Crips and Bloods: Made in America documentary at the time and we were never able to hook up to shoot his stash.
What is the ultimate “rookie card” of skateboard graphics, i.e. the most expensive collectible boards?
For the longest time it was Tony Hawk’s first model on Powell-Peralta from 1982. One of those in unskated condition sold for $6,000.00 on eBay in 2002. Since that time a few other unskated “rookie” boards for Natas Kaupas (1985), Steve Caballero (1981) and Ray “Bones” Rodriquez (1979) have sold for $7,250.00, $8000.00, and $10,000.00 respectively.
How do you feel about the proliferation of fine-art skateboards and other insta-collectible boards?
I sat on the sidelines of the comic craze in the 90s when every publisher was pumping out the limited-edition madness that ultimately burned out the industry and collectors alike. And that’s kinda been happening in skateboarding. Companies putting out decks for the sake of collectibility and not necessarily skating. Obviously it was never that way with skateboarders in the 80s and there wasn’t a single limited edition thought to be had in the industry. But that’s what now makes decks produced in that era so damn attractive and collectible. They were survivors, not pre-conceived products. To play devil’s advocate, though, it’s nice to see the artists getting recognition and work.
Which of the more controversial graphics that you liked would never get printed today?
I don’t know if there are really any that wouldn’t be produced … there’s always some company out there that’s small or sucker enough to take a chance. I’m guessing a few might balk at the 101 Adam McNatt Charles Manson Brown graphic for fear to retribution from an even scarier Charles Schulz.
What graphic that you drew is your favorite?
Twenty years have gone by now and I still return to my first graphic ever for Ray Barbee’s first pro model for Powell-Peralta in 1989. Maybe that’s just nostalgia talking, I don’t know, but it certainly doesn’t say much for what took place in those 19 other years.
When you were a nerdy high school kid, what sort of stupid stuff did you draw on your binder?
Luckily I grew up in the 80s when punk was very much punk and scary skulls were the order of the rebellious day. Thank God I didn’t grow up during the hip-hop urbanification of the suburbs or I surely would’ve drawn really horrible interpretations of big-footed, fresh-looking characters throwing arthritic hand gestures.
As a man who drew several controversial skateboard graphics, edited an adolescent-targeted magazine that glorified drug use and worked on the TV show ”Jackass”, tell me all the ways you have made the world better for your children?
Look man, I had one kid. Then I got a vasectomy. So don’t tell me I’m not looking out for the world. By the way, my kid is now seven years old—six of which he spent in a Waldorf school—and he hasn’t watched a drop of TV or played a single video game in all that time. Yes, that includes no movies, too. So, if anything, my professional work history has taught me a thing or two about how to avoid people like me.
Ripped from SPEAKEASY / WSJ