I used to think there were unspoken rules and standards to making skateboard graphics. Then Roger skateboards appeared in my local shop in 2008 and showed me that irreverent jokes and crude doodles could be just as worthy selling points as exquisitely stylized “artwork.” And although the brand ended around 2014 (changing its name and style), for me it remains the pinnacle of fun skateboarding.
Roger understood my need for boner and weed jokes, and with its hand-scribbled ads, disregard for “legit” skate photos, and monthly flow program, Roger made me feel like I might one day belong in skateboarding. Roger embraced the age old insecurity of being dorky on a board and made it a point of pride.
Michael Sieben, the main guy behind Roger, is now reviving the brand. So I called him to talk about some of my favorite Roger ads and graphics, and how humor and stupidity play into skating. Because to some extent, skateboarding will always be about making the most fun with a dumb idea.
Was Roger the first brand to put a scooter on the bottom of a skateboard?
I don’t know the history of all the scooter boards, but possibly. I don’t think I ever saw one before I drew that. But it could be, when you’re celebrating the roach-like nature of scooter culture. Once they infest your zone you’ve gotta call the professionals in there.
Did you ever think about making Roger-branded scooters?
No, not that that would have been a bad idea but it would probably have been cost prohibitive since we’ve never had any money to do these things. It’s fun to piss people off. That’s definitely something that would make people mad.
That fits with the initial inspiration to start Roger, which was to make fun of brands for taking themselves themselves too seriously, right?
Both [Stacy Lowery] and I wanted to ridicule skateboarding. It seemed like at that time [mid-2000s] every other skateboarding ad had a motorcycle in it. So we were making fun of things like that or making fun of companies using drug culture to promote stuff. I was also inspired by board graphics from when I was a teenager. So all the stuff that Marc McKee and [Sean] Cliver were doing with the World [Industries] brand, that was the zone I wanted to tap into.
When we started there were also tons of logo driven graphics and straight up type treatments. So with the Roger stuff, even the logo was hand drawn. It had a human touch to it, it didn’t look like it had just been spit out of a computer. There’s always a changing tide of what people are responding to but the stuff I’m happiest with is where you get to see a bit of the artist. This type of art is being embraced by skateboarding again. People are looking at a graphic and thinking about how someone sat down with a pen and paper and actually took the time to work on this thing.
What kind of things do you want to make fun of today? What needs to be ridiculed in skateboarding in 2018?
Honestly, when we launched Roger ten years ago I was way more opinionated and way more of a shit talker. These days I kinda rejoice in the ridiculousness of skate culture. Pro skaters promoting McRibs? Awesome. I’ve got something to laugh about while showering. Kids dressing up in costumes from the ‘90s? If they’re having fun, who cares? My main concern with Roger, currently, is just making stuff that makes me smile. I’m not really trying to bag on other brands as much.
You used to temporarily sponsor a new skateboarder each month and call them Rogers of the Month. Why did you do that?
We were getting so many “sponsor me” videos from kids and it seemed like a cool give back. It takes the entire thing off of a pedestal and is like, this is a company for you guys too. I don’t think social media was around back then, but you could have your photos on our website, we’ll post your video, we can put your thing up on the Thrasher site. It seemed like it put some power into the kids’ hands. I think it is something we’re gonna continue to do.
Since the life cycle of skate media is so short these days, does it make more sense to just do Roger of the Week?
It’s gonna be every hour, on the hour. There will be a new Roger who will then get kicked off after 60 minutes is up.
Rotating sponsorships also seem like a smart marketing plan. You get two videos and one ad from a new kid each month, and you don’t have to commit much on your end.
Yeah, we would just clip their ass off at the end of the month [laughs]. Some of the tapes were so good that I knew if we posted their footage some of the kids were gonna get picked up by bigger board brands. When Clint Walker sent in his footage I hit him back immediately like, “Why are you sending us this? You could easily go skate for a big board brand.” I think even before his month was up he was on Birdhouse.
Have kids started DM-ing you their footage already?
Not a ton. Most of it is kids who are excited that they can buy the boards themselves because their moms wouldn’t buy them Roger stuff in its first iteration. Mostly the “weed and cobras” board.
People that worked at skate shops said there were Christian kids buying the “skate switch for Jesus” board because they thought it was a pro-Jesus graphic. Instead of offending people it empowered some young Christian soldiers. Get some for our savior.
The “weed and cobras” board is the most memorable Roger graphic. Was there any reason behind choosing “20% skateboarding” and “80% weed and cobras”?
No. Stacy and I were hanging out in Austin and went into this costume shop. They had these enamel pins, one was a weed leaf with a cobra in front of it, and that became the physical embodiment of the company. Our brand is more about that than actual skateboarding. Board technology hasn’t changed much at all since the ’90s, everyone’s selling the exact same thing, so how do I convince someone that my thing is cooler than the next?
If you really wanted to make money with Roger, would you consider selling weed and cobras stuff to Zumiez?
As far as making apparel or key chains or stuff like that? I would completely not be opposed to that. There was a point where I realized all the board brands were waving this flag about support your local skate shop. I went into a mall chain and every board brand is in here now. So I didn’t understand what the conversation was. Everyone was there for the party but also waving this flag that was the complete opposite of what their actions were saying. But if Zumiez wants to place an order for some weed and cobras shirts they should hit us up.
What would you say is the secret to a good skateboard graphic?
I heard Todd Francis said there’s only two ways to make a good skateboard graphic. Either you make a kid feel tough or you make a kid laugh, and that’s how you make a successful skateboard graphic. Weed and cobras accomplishes both of those because it could be looked at as bad boy culture, but if you’re there for the joke, it’s completely ridiculous.
The Walking Dead actor Austin Amelio is also on Roger. Do you give him boards because he’s famous?
He’s definitely not on the team just because he’s on a TV show. I don’t think his audience is necessarily buying skateboards. I knew him as a young skate kid from No-Comply, just one of the locals down there. Everyone would tell me he was an actor but I was like, how are you an actor in Austin? Within a couple years he told me he auditioned for this show called The Walking Dead and booked it. I don’t even think he knew much about the show at the time. I think his agent just told him he should audition for a role.
He’s also down to work on skits with me. He plays this character called Beef Swag 420 who delivers board reviews. We’re working on developing Beef Swag 420’s character so we can have a whole YouTube channel for him.
Do you want to sponsor any other celebrity skateboarders? Justin Bieber, Jonah Hill, Lil Wayne?
I don’t think so. I can’t recall a time when we’ve ever sponsored someone without there being some sort of a connection. It’s always been based on a recommendation from someone who’s already on the team. But we’re also not some huge brand, it really is just friends making stuff together so it doesn’t make sense to inject someone into that mix.
For those who don’t know, you also work at Thrasher. What kind of stuff do you do there?
I am the managing editor of the magazine, which basically means I manage all of the text content. All of the photos go through Mike Burnett but pretty much every word in there comes through me. I’ll interview people and sometimes I’ll write a good chunk of the captions for the mag, and every once in a while I’ll write the “Hello Goodbye” text if Burnett’s out of the office.
Who writes Thrasher’s tweets?
I would assume Tony Vitello is manning that helm, but I don’t use Twitter so I don’t see it.
I asked because Thrasher recently posted this really weird tweet that said: “…Marc Johnson drops another fat sack on y’alls tonsils…”
I didn’t write it. I’m almost positive Tony Vitello writes the majority of the text for the Instagram account so that’s my only knowledge.
Is the tweet saying MJ tea bags us?
I have a hunch what that means. In your throat, in your mouth. Maybe it’s like a sack of sugar. Just like a nice sack of sugar going down your throat.
When controversial skate news happens, like Cory Kennedy going to prison or Jason Jessee losing his sponsors, do you guys at Thrasher talk about how to cover those stories?
It may be discussed in the office. I feel like since I’m physically removed, some of that just doesn’t trickle down to me. But I have to assume people are talking about it. I remember Mike Burnett mentioning to me that Thrasher has never had a political tone. I can’t remember exactly what the context was, but the ethos was that we’re not dabbling in politics. This is a skateboarding magazine. Let’s talk about skateboarding.
I don’t think we have an obligation to cover anything besides actual skateboarding. But I do hope that the takeaway for kids regarding the Cory Kennedy incident is that you should never drink and drive.
I feel like we do a good job of telling riders’ personal stories but I don’t think we need to weigh in on people’s legal cases. I’ve been reading Thrasher since I was 12 for one reason, because I was interested in skateboarding and its progression and the characters involved in it. But I wouldn’t go to Thrasher to read an op-ed regarding someone’s legal troubles. I wanna go there for awesome skating.
Do you know any good skate jokes?
What do you call a skateboarder without a girlfriend?
There you go. That’s the only one that comes to mind.
How many skateboarders does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
Three. It takes one to change it, one to shoot a photo of it, and one to film it.
Or it only takes one but it takes them 100 tries.
Ooh, that’s a good one too.
What do you call a poorly built ramp?
What do you call it?
A half-assed pipe.