What are we gonna do about the men in blue...
What are we gonna do about the men in blue...
Cart 0

artem mea culpa

Okay, so it was me. I did it. I fully admit my participation and subsequent culpability for the "Shit Man" and "Dickman" graphic transgressions that took place during the last century for Zero Skateboards.

This is what it sounds like when doves cry.

Wait, what? Why am I even copping to having done such an egregious thing when this detail could have just as easily been swept under the substantially soiled rug of skateboard history, let alone talking about a fellow competitor in the market place on the day of a product release on our very own website? Well, the reasons are many, sad to say, so let's just go point by point and alleviate this weight from my conscience once and for fucking all.

Let's skip back through time to 1996. This was the year all the artists in the World Industries stable were placed on a per graphic rate. Mine happened to be 500 hundred dollars. I think Marc McKee's was, too, or maybe he got 750? I don't know for certain, I wouldn't have blamed the powers-at-be at all for honoring his seniority and aptitude, but I know a couple of the other in-house freelancers were reduced to 300 bucks a pop. Up until this fateful accounting decree, Marc and I had always billed for our illustration services by the hour. My rate was 20 dollars, as agreed upon with Steve Rocco when I first took up the pen at World in December 1991. He said then that he'd pay the most for the best graphics, and I took it to heart. Some graphics took up to three or four weeks to complete, e.g. Henry Sanchez's "Terminator" slick for Blind and Daewon Song's "Land Before Time" slick for World, while others like Tim Gavin's "Playboy" and "Pussy Board" Blind graphics took only a day. So in my mind it all evened out in the wash.

The kicker was, of course, that I had absolutely no social life outside of work—all my newfound LA friends worked at the company as well, so there was really no extra-curricular point—and I typically spent all my waking hours at the office. This meant that on average my workday would span 12–14 hours with a corresponding weekly invoice of 60–70 hours. I'll let you do the math there—numbers aren't necessarily in my wheelhouse—but for the very first time in my life I began to amass a respectable savings account.

Oh god! They even made shirts back then... damn the internets.

Anyway, back to 1996, as I believe that's when Rocco brought in Frank Messman to be CEO as well as the hiring of a new accountant to scour the books and streamline the company into a more profitable state of operation. Whereas World once had the luxury of spending willy-nilly with nary a care in the earliest of '90s, those salad days had long gone to seed following the mass defection of pros who went on to form Girl and Chocolate in the respective years of 1993 and 1994. So, admittedly, something in the professional sense had to be done lest the company bleed out internally [1]. Hence the artists coming under the gun of scrutiny [2].

Personally speaking, sure, I was a bit miffed. I liked my gravy train. Why would I want to be forcibly disembarked? So where I once may have eschewed the "basic" graphics, I now fully embraced them. I mean it no longer made sense to pour my heart into a full board scenic graphic like the 101 Eric Koston "Day at the Zoo" or WI Chico Brenes "Nude Beach," because each of those took a couple weeks to finish from sketch to separations. And while, yes, I've already stated that I'm dumb with the maths, even I knew that 500 bucks (pre-taxes!) for two weeks of work was the next best thing to flipping burgers in a fast food joint on a part-time basis. So when Mark Oblow came along asking for a twisted take on the Sanrio characters for Prime Skateboards, you can bet your bottom dollar that I was all about it because I could jam out like five or six of those in a week! And that math suited me just fine.

Apparently everyone at the company forgot when Sanrio issued a stern C&D for the Blind Guy Mariano "Bye Bye Kitty," circa 1992.

Oh yeah, so the whole Zero boards thing. Okay, in late 1996 Jamie Thomas was up at the Big Brother offices working on an interview with Rick Kosick and he asked me if I'd do a couple boards for this new company he was starting under Tumyeto called American Zero. I asked what he had in mind and the ideas were pretty straightforward: cartoon character renditions of a "Shit Man" and "Dickman." I guess it would bear mentioning that this was also around the time World Industries and Blind were now heavily reaping the rewards of their own characters created by McKee—Devil Man, Flame Boy, Wet Willy, and the Reaper—and there wasn't a company alive then that wouldn't have sold its soul to be in a similarly successful position with a bevy of best-selling generic "team" boards not reliant on a pro's name or image. Did that play into Jamie's decision then? I have no idea. But draw them I did and so it goes.

Unfortunately not everything buried in history stays in history.

Years passed, like decades, and I totally forgot I did those graphics. I never received any boards, so they were never boxed up in my archive for posterity. Out of sight, out of mind! But then along came Instagram and Jamie Thomas posted an image of the corresponding stickers on his @garagedayscollection account, circa 2016, which brought that brief dalliance of mine outside the World camp back to mind. A passing revisitation, I thought, but then much to my mortified surprise Zero re-released the "Shit Man" and "Dickman" as Tommy Sandoval and Dane Burman pro models. And, without fail, they wound up being mentioned on the infamous Slap forum under the "Worst Board Graphics Ever?" topic.

Up until then, I'd been a silent lurker of the message boards, but this finally provoked me to at least try and become an actual member because I was all for good-naturedly accepting the blame in this particular graphic matter. I had to emphasize the word "try" there, because I was never able to actually do so… no matter how many times I requested verification, I never received the email to initiate my account and to this day "seancliver" remains in Slap purgatory for who knows what reason (probably for the best, though, as blahg posts like this would attest).

So there you have it. I'm to blame—or at least partially so, I guess, because I was only the hired gun in executing the idea. But, in my defense, I have to say these really aren't the worst graphics I've ever committed to the board. There have been many, many, many more throughout the years on an embarrassing Trail of Shame from Powell to World to Birdhouse and wherever else my wayward freelance career has veered. "Toe Knee Hawk," anyone? Fuck me. —Sean Cliver

*************************

1. Rocco best illustrated this point with the story of how Messman came to him with Blind jeans in hand and basically said the company was losing money every time they sold a pair. Not to mention how each and every time a new issue of Big Brother magazine was produced it resulted in a 50 thousand dollar loss. Who knew!

2. World Industries was already employing the best trick in the book by keeping all the artists on a freelance basis. Not being a formal employee of the company meant no health insurance, no unemployment, no social security, no retirement benefits, etc., so once they brought the hammer down on the rates it truly was a win-win... for them.


Older Post Newer Post


  • Christopher Mitchell on

    ❤🙂👍

  • James on

    That prime deck was my first “real” skateboard back in ’97 when I was 15. Wow I wish they would reissue that. Amazing memories

  • Adrian Berry on

    I need dickman on my chest again XXL in any colour please .

  • MrPrahan on

    Always an entertaining read filled with lost history and inside info. Thanks as always for sharing!


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published