By Sean Cliver
The following is an 11-year-old post of mine from the brief window of time when I'd set up a blahg to go hand-in-glove with my two Disposable books, circa December 2009–June 2011. To my less than enthused surprise the remnants of the site can still be found on the interweb, even though it was abandoned long ago and sure as hell stopped paying the monthly rent. But there it remains, a faded Modelo can littering the back roads of the information super highway. I'm only dredging it up now because: 1) It pertains to the graphic legacy of Natas Kaupas, whom we are celebrating this month with an extra fucking special guest model, so it is of a rather relevant nature; and 2) Some of the information is long since outdated, which irks my OCD to no end, so it gives me a chance to make a few timely edits and updates.
In 2002 I was contacted by Aaron Meza to whip out a space-filler article for Skateboarder about the Top 12 board graphics that I wish I'd created. Included on that list were the following: G&S Neil Blender Coffee Break, Zorlac John Gibson Cow Skull (the Pushead version), 101 Natas Kaupas Devil Worship, Santa Cruz Jeff Grosso Toy Box, Blind Guy Mariano Accidental Gun Death, Powell-Peralta Steve Caballero OG Dragon, Blind Jason Lee American Icons, Powell-Peralta Mike McGill Skull & Snake, 101 Gabriel Rodriguez Jesus H. Christ, Santa Cruz Rob Roskopp I, Blind Danny Way Nuke Baby, and the very first Santa Monica Airlines Natas Kaupas model.
My explanations for all were, in general, tongue-in-cheek with a liberal dose of sincerity and/or humility [see the article in full below], but my reasoning on the SMA Natas was this: "Who wouldn't want to stake their professional claim on having drawn the panther on Natas's first deck?"
But if I had to take my pick of "the one" Natas board to own it would have to be his second model on Santa Monica Airlines before the brand merged with NHS in 1987. What Kevin Ancell had started, artist Chris Buchinsky came in and spruced up in 1986 with a tropical landscape that fleshed out the graphic to its full board shape potential.
Beyond that, though, and what differentiated this version of the board from its 1987 counterpart manufactured at NHS, was the screen-printing and overall paint jobs. Unlike the first Natas, which was produced exclusively in yellow, this model was not only screened in an assortment of limited and unexpected color ways but certain boards were done up in automotive-like metallics, while others received a special gloss black spray-coating with hot pink rail edges. Just one of the perks of being a nimble garage operation, I suppose, because once SMA flew north to Santa Cruz this model was only printed in a conventional color scheme on light blue, white, and, if I'm not mistaken, black dips without the distinguishing split-fountain blend in the foliage.
I have many regrets as a self-acknowledged and semi-retired collector of skateboards, but perhaps one of my biggest to date involves the first SMA Natas. The time was 2002. I was a novice then, not yet savvy to the wiles needed to compete amongst my collecting peers, and it was in this green state that I entered Rip City Skates in Santa Monica, California. The walls and ceiling of this shop were then tiled with vintage boards: everything from '80s Sims, Powell-Peralta, Dogtown, S.M.A., Vision, Schmitt Stix, and Rip City to early–'90s World Industries, Blind, Plan B, H-Street, and 101, but the keystone, I thought, was an original, unskated, canary yellow Natas that he had autographed in 1985.
I never bothered to ask Jim, the owner of the shop, if he'd consider selling the Natas. What with the obvious history and location of the shop, I just figured I would be laughed right back out the door. So with this "safe" assumption in mind, I returned home and boasted about the existence and whereabouts of this board to a collector in Canada who had a notorious thing for Natas decks.
What a mistake.
No more than a few weeks later, he thanked me for the tip and claimed to be the new proud owner of the Natas. Worse yet, for the paltry sum of $2,600.00—a bargain, as far as I was concerned (even for the time), and I've never stopped kicking myself since. Why? Well, aside from the fact that another NOS Natas has yet to publicly appear up for grabs (or has it? again, i'm not sure...), this collector later liquidated a good portion of his collection, including this very same yellow Natas that he'd picked up from Rip City. I briefly entertained the notion of making a "sob story" play for it—after all, I was the nice nitwit who turned him onto it in the first place—but by the time I went to make my plea he'd already received an offer way, way above and beyond my stupid means (both mentally and financially), an offer which later entered the public record with a final sale price of $7,250.00. The deck has since gone on to change hands again and I believe it did so at a substantially higher undisclosed price. On that lucrative note, let's just say that if you were lucky enough to be buying and holding vintage decks in the first decade of the new millennium, all that old wood was a far better investment than putting it into the stock market—give or take the odd AAPL—and much more fun to look at, too.
Come to think of it, I believe it was right around this time last year that Natas first hit me up with the idea of a BDSM-themed approach to his triangle-and-cat lineage for StrangeLove. I was thrilled, of course, because I'd only been able to take one drawing crack at it toward the tail end of 101, circa 1995, but I wasn't all that happy with the final printed outcome and I probably could've done much more illustrative justice to the balloonish aspect of the graphic if I'd actually had the AI skills to do so then (or now for that sad matter). But in yet another glaring example of my starry-eyed tendencies toward irrational exuberance, I was absolutely sure we would have the boards produced, screened, and ready to hawk by the December 2020 holiday blitzkrieg; however, the new COVID world disorder at PS Stix declared otherwise and the project was T-boned with delays. That said, I'm glad I didn't sneak in some silly holiday aspect to the graphic, because here we finally are now on the midsummer's eve release of the final printed board and tees in 2021.
Sean Cliver's Top 12 Graphics That He Wish He Created
(Originally published in Skateboarder Magazine, circa 2002)
1. Powell Peralta Mike McGill Skull & Snake (1984): The first time I walked into a skate shop and saw this deck, I stopped drawing super heroes the Marvel Comics way and started drawing skulls the VCJ way.
2. Zorlac John Gibson Cow Skull (1983): Aside from the Rodney Mullen Rock is King deck, this is one of the most evil looking graphics ever and it fit the attitude of the era like a set of rubber cloven hooves.
3. 101 Natas Kaupas Devil Worship (1991): One of the most controversial and talked about decks ever; meanwhile I was over at Powell-Peralta working on inane shit like the Steve Saiz Buffalo graphic.
4. Santa Cruz Jeff Grosso Toy Box (1988): When I worked at a skate shop, I used to spend hours trying to figure out how Jim Phillips did this graphic. I’m still baffled by it.
5. Powell Peralta Caballero Dragon (1981): It would be nice to be known as the guy who actually created this graphic, not the guy who has done about 15 knock-offs and variations of it.
6. Blind Jason Lee American Icons (1990): Not only a poignant statement on Americans in general, but if I’d done this graphic and held onto 10 of the decks I could have put my kid through college one day.
7. 101 Gabriel Rodriguez Jesus H. Christ (1991): Alas, this one simple graphic may have validated all my damning career choices in the eyes of my parents.
8. Blind Danny Way Nuke Baby (1991): One of the greatest intentionally bad graphics ever ... as opposed to the number of unintentionally bad ones I’m responsible for.
9. Santa Cruz Rob Roskopp I (1984): Not only is it a classic and strong image, but how awesome is it to have defied all odds and created a top selling graphic for a guy nicknamed “The Barn”?
10. Santa Monica Airlines Natas Kaupas Panther I (1985): Who wouldn’t want to stake their professional claim on having drawn the panther on Natas’s first pro deck?
11. G&S Neil Blender Coffee Break (1986): There are two paths artists take in life: commercial or fine art. I chose the former, which may be the more financially secure of the two but almost entirely devoid of the soul and glory owned by the other.
12. Blind Guy Mariano Accidental Gun Death (1992): For some reason everyone always tells me this is their favorite graphic I’ve ever done, but I didn’t even f’ing draw it. Marc McKee did. Uh, but I did do the 101 Adam McNatt Charlie Manson Brown deck, so that counts for something ... doesn’t it?