There has been plenty of controversial art put on skateboards over there years, but only a handful that may still be considered offensive in 2014. These days everyone is pretty numb to violence and sex, but there are still a few boards that went over the line, mostly dealing with race, religion and gender. With our friend Seb Carayol’s new book out, “100 Subversive Skateboard Graphics” we decided there was no better time to highlight a couple of these boards born out of questionable taste. While some of these graphics might not be personally offensive to you, remind yourself that these were printed on the bottom of a skateboard, ultimately, a children’s play toy.
Consolidated – “Berieve” (1997) Artist: Moish Brenman
In the early ‘90s, one of the most iconic boards ever put out by Ohio-based company Alien Workshop bared an alien creature and a simple subtitle that said, “Believe.”
So iconic in fact that it became joke material, years later, for artist Moish Brenman over at Consolidated skateboards. “I’ve never wanted to be a ‘famous’ artist,” he humbly swears,“ and I guess I succeeded. I’m not famous or even that well-known. But the boards are.”
This one could have been, yet, Alien Workshop caught wind of it before production and demanded it not come out. “I wish I could say we did this to deliberately piss off Alien Workshop, or to make some comment on the substandard Chinese wood that seems to be infiltrating the market recently,” Brenman notes.
But it’s just something I thought was funny at the time. We showed it to Alien Workshop and they didn’t think so at all. They called us racist and asked us not to produce it. I’m Chinese, and I thought it was funny. I still do.”
World Industries – Jovontae Turner “Lench Mob” (1993)
Artist: Marc McKee
It was so outrageous, something had to happen. When artist Marc McKee drew The Napping Negro graphic for, and with the benediction of, African-American pro skater Jovontae Turner, a few feathers were ruffled. Among which, allegedly, Ice Cube’s hardcore gangsta rap group Da Lench Mob.
The only thing is: as thrilling as it may sound, the story didn’t have one drop of truth to it.
“I think that was just a rumor that some of the World Industries riders came up with for fun,” Marc McKee rebuts. “Even though it was satirical, ‘The Napping Negro’ was still a pretty offensive image with the fat lips and watermelon and everything, so I guess some of the team riders started saying that Ice Cube had seen the graphic, and was going to have da Lench Mob retaliate.” To make it even more believable, an article ran in [World Industries skateboards owned] Big Brother magazine, relaying the news and illustrated by a portrait of Marc McKee in the middle of a target.
Even though it was all made up, the artist thought it was interesting enough of a story to grant it its own follow-up graphic. And an even gnarlier one at it, showing da Lench Mob in front of a group of hanged bodies. “That graphic is kind of really over the top, and I’m not sure I would ever do anything like that again,” he reassures today.
Consolidated – “Xtreme CEOs” (2006) Artist: Anonymous
Taking the Don’t Do It campaign a step further, Consolidated skateboards ended up getting personal: on this three-deck series, the company showcased caricatures of actual executives at Nike Skateboarding.
“This was around the time we did the [parodic] Drunk shoe,” owner Birdo recalls. “We didn’t actually do these decks. Our lawyer at the time advised us against it, so we pulled the plug. Only a set of three was made, and was sold at auction. When [pro skater] Ray Underhill was hospitalized with a cancerous brain tumor, we donated them to raise money. They sold for over $2,500 I think, which was awesome!”
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.”
Baker – Don Nguyen “Gooks Of Hazzard” (2012)
Artist: Jason Moore
This one caused such a media stir in 2012 that it got the whole community of Big Brother magazine nostalgics all teary-eyed, thinking it was 1992 all over again.
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 old 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 apologizing 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.”
Slave – “Matt Mumford Positive” (2012) Artist: Ben Horton
“This board was part of a pro series depicting random people suffering from an unfortunate injury, but having a positive attitude about it,” artist Ben Horton explains. Very innocuous. Yet, for some reason, “some people were offended at this board because they assumed the woman had been beaten by a man,” he utters.
The issue is a very sensitive one. A couple months after his board came out, an Enjoi deck addressing a similar topic created one of the biggest recent uproars when concerned citizen Ginae Klasek started a petition on change.org.
In it, she demanded the t-shirt made after the enjoi board in question, representing a woman with a broken arm barred by a caption that said, “he really does love his skateboard more than me,” to be immediately pulled off the shelves.
“Domestic violence isn’t a joke and this t-shirt isn’t funny. Help us get enjoi to take down the shirt and continue spreading love of skateboarding without adding to the desensitization of violence that already exists,” Klasek asked the company. “Portray women in a positive light, be the skateboard company that steps up and changes the image. You can be cutting edge in your culture without misogyny, promote equality in 2013! Acknowledge and apologize for merchandise and advertisements promoting domestic violence and rape.”
On the other hand, if this Matt Mumford deck flew under the radar, it’s for a good reason, Ben Horton explains: “She clearly implies that she had fallen down some stairs. But apparently, the people who didn’t like the board didn’t believe her.”
World Industries – Chico Brenes “Orange Vendor” (1992)
Artist: Marc Mckee
As an illegal immigrant to the US and part of a family that went through hell in Nicaragua, pro skater Chico Brenes was constantly reminded of where he came from. Well, where he roughly came from. “I’m from Nica but the homies at Embarcadero San Francisco’s premier skate spot in the early ‘90s started to call me ‘Mental Mex’ since I was very quiet, mostly because I barely spoke English at first.”
The tough love he received, though, didn’t prevent him from having a sense of humor about the whole situation. “When I first started coming to LA,” he reminisces, “that was one of the first things I noticed: people on the side of an exit ramp, immigrants, selling oranges and flowers. That gave me the idea to use that for my first pro model graphic. I mean, World Industries owner Steve Rocco was always into doing controversial stuff, so when I told them what I had in mind, of course they were super down.”
To put things in perspective, this came from somebody whose mom was shot in the mouth during the war back home, who took the bus all the way to Mexico City, from Honduras to be smuggled across the US border by a coyote when he was 10 years old, and ended up getting his US papers 14 years after having reached the country. “When this board came out, I wasn’t bummed, I thought it was funny,” he adds as a last comment. “Even until this day, it is one of my favorite graphics. Even my family liked it. The saw it, they didn’t even trip!”
Birdhouse – Jeremy Klein “Abusive Mother Mary” (2005)
Artist: Sean Cliver
It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe from a distance. Disenchanted by the way their careers were going, a handful of high-profile pro skaters sought some sort of spiritual guidance. More often than not, they found it by bumping into Jesus and becoming Born-Again Christians.
Such revelation happened to British skateboarder, a then-notorious night time rager, Brian Sumner. Once he saw the light, it proved impossible for his board sponsor, Birdhouse, to draw non-religious graphics for his pro decks. “[Pro skater] Jeremy Klein, who was the art director at Birdhouse then,” artist Sean Cliver giggles, “hated having to do all these ‘pro religion graphics that Brian Sumner wanted for his pro models. So this Abusive Mother Mary graphic was Klein’s way of ‘balancing the scales,’ so to speak.”
The tug of war game didn’t last long: shortly after, Sumner moved on to the greener, and less conflicting, pastures of Christian board company Reliance skateboards.
World Industries – Jovontae Turner, “Napping Negro” (1992)
Artist: Marc McKee
Where to start with what was perhaps the most controversial of all the “reverse racism” decks ever made? To get in the mood, an excerpt from the ad that promoted it in Thrasher Magazine when it came out should do:
“Negroes have always shared a bright and colorful history with white people. Beginning in the 1600’s they were taken from their homes, shackled, piled into ships, and then transported to America. Over the next three centuries they were bought, sold, enslaved, tortured, raped and killed. Then, in 1954, they were allowed to drink from the same water fountains and that pretty much took the fun out of everything.”
As horribly racist as a deck summing up in one drawing all the clichés around black people may sound, critics always forget the keystone of the joke: it all stemmed from an idea submitted for his own pro models by African-American pro skater Jovontae Turner. “When World started asking me what I’d want for my graphics, I said I wanted some old school black slavery stuff, you know what I mean, something of that era,” Turner swears. “Basically to give back, and make fun of it, kinda. My first board was called ‘Jovontae at night,’ I came up to them saying, ‘you know how they say you can’t see black people at night unless they smile?’ Then we did one with a runaway slave hiding in a tree, and the Napping Negro. Me and my mom brought Marc McKee all these postcards of what they called black folklore, with cartoons representing black people that were really bad.”
Turner smiles, perfectly aware that the trick worked yesterday, and still does today. “I liked it when it came out. I liked the controversy. It just makes people trip off it. I like to fuck with people, and it actually worked.”