If you’re like me and got lured into the skateboarding world by the weird, smutty, and violent graphics of the ’90s, then Sean Cliver and Mark McKee are two people you should know and thank. These two artists are responsible for illustrating and designing the majority of the most famous graphics from that iconic era – the ones that made skateboarding raw and exciting.
Sean Cliver is also notable for his shit-stirring outside of skateboarding – he’s one of the silent brains behind the MTV show “Jackass.” Yup, Sean has been a Jackass since day one, working on the creative and business end of it, producing the TV series, “Wildboyz”, and all of the movies.
Having done so much fun and weird amazing stuff over the past 20 years, I wondered what his personal life was like. As an artist and TV show producer in California, did he meet a lot of chicks? How was he living during Big Brother Magazine’s infamous heyday in the ’90s? And what inspired him to dedicate his life to such delinquency? With the release of his new board company Paisley Skates, I figured there was no better time than now to stop wondering and finally ask him these important questions.
As an artist and illustrator, do you get turned on by anime porn or cartoon porn?
I grew up on comic books with a relatively non-existent social life, so yeah, I was definitely into girls on paper with proportions gone wild. But it all took a turn for the weird and ridiculous when I was 15 and discovered Robert Crumb and undergrounds like Big Ass Comix and Bizarre Sex. I was also real big on drawing girls from nudie mags then; again, because I didn’t really have anything else going on naked in my life at the time.
As for the anime porn genre, I guess some would think I was into it, what with my work for Hook-Ups, but all that was art directed by Jeremy Klein. He would supply me with a rough idea of what he wanted, so I was really only a pair of hands for hire. Incidentally, he was probably the best art director I ever worked with. Klein genuinely enjoys and appreciates the graphic aspect of skateboarding.
”There are two kinds of artists: art fags and art nerds”
Working on graphics fulltime can lead to a relatively isolated existence I imagine. Is it hard to meet chicks or have a social life when you are in this field of work? What’s the best way for an artist to meet chicks?
There are two kinds of artists: art fags and art nerds. The first attracts girls. The second does not. I knew early on that I wasn’t meant to be a “beautiful loser,” so it was easy to resign myself to a solitary fate at the drawing table. Bonus: I’m socially inept and averse to crowds and people in general, so… icing on the cake. As for a “how to,” I’m much more of a “how not to” cautionary tale, considering I didn’t make any of the sex between 1989–1998. My own personal California drought.
So you didn’t have sex from approximately ages 20 – 30? How did you cope?
I don’t do math so well, but yeah, that sounds about right. And I don’t know if I was depressed, but it probably made me a bit more of a sarcastic, cynical dick than usual. As for hookers and happy endings, no, that was never my bag. Besides, I’m the proverbial guy with a suitcase of 20-dollar bills who couldn’t get laid in a whorehouse. At some point it just became laughable, I guess, but for the most part I dealt with it by throwing myself into work doing graphics and writing for Big Brother magazine [Sean was the editor]. That was life as I knew it, though funny in the sense that many presumed the Big Brother staff to be a bunch of degenerate shitbags.
”I didn’t make any of the sex between 1989–1998.”
Have you ever had a hot chick fan?
Fuck, I wish. There was a time in 1991 when CR Stecyk was up in the Powell-Peralta art department with a few of his old photos, and he had this one shot of a hot, topless chick sitting shotgun in an old car. The photo was taken from the driver’s perspective, and it summed up everything that my art life was not. I never had any naked friends until I was working at Big Brother — and then they were only dudes. Skate graphics really don’t pull a lot of loose trim, at least in my experience.
Have you ever used your own blood or bodily fluids to create a piece or add some flavor into your art?
No, but I remember being really into the story about the band KISS putting vials of their blood into the red ink used to print a comic for Marvel in 1977. But for someone relatively fetish-free, I sure have worked with a lot of shit over the years. For all I know I may even be banned from the city of Boise, Idaho, because of it.
Just another stupid article I wrote for Big Brother, where, instead of writing about the skate scene in Boise, I went off on a graphic scatological tangent about coprophiliacs and all the wacky shit that they get off on. Well, that and I shot a photo of Mr. Potatohead holding up a hefty log in the bowl of my toilet for the opener of the article. Gershon Mosley was living and skating in Boise at the time, and he took particular offense to the article, resulting in a rather awkward trade show moment for me.
He was just upset and felt like I had essentially equated the Boise skate scene to a big pile of fecal material and that now that’s all it would be associated with. Not long after that incident, Dave Carnie did an interview with him for Big Brother and Gershon said as much there too—that it wasn’t cool for someone like me to come in and label a town like that. Carnie countered that in the broader context of Big Brother, where the stories never had anything to do with whatever was being featured, it wasn’t as bad as Gershon was making it out to be, but he wasn’t hearing any of it. Just another day in the life of Big Brother.
Didn’t Danny Way threaten you in the World Industries hallway? What did he do, how did it go down?
Yeah, that was over a graphic I was doing for Ronnie Bertino when he started riding for Blind in late ’92. Marc McKee and I would always make fun of the Plan B graphics — Steve Rocco would too for that matter — so I thought it would be okay to take a silly jab at them with an idea to do a “Fresh Freddy Krueger” that combined the “dope/gangster” element of Sal Barbier’s graphics, and the “horror” theme from Danny Way’s. Apparently this hit a nerve and it wasn’t long before Danny confronted me about my attitude toward Plan B, and somehow the graphic was now being translated as a direct dis on Mike Ternasky. I was like, no, it’s just a dumb joke about skate graphics, but things were seriously insane at World Industries then between our shit in the art room, stuff going on with Big Brother, all the riders running wild and out of control, and inter-company politics — so I capitulated and canned the graphic. I think it became the “Mr. Butts” board instead that came with a starter smoking kit.
Do you think strong mind altering substances such as weed, mushrooms, LSD, etcetera, can help one make better art?
I haven’t done most of those things, so I honestly couldn’t tell you. From what I’ve seen, though, it sure can make people think they’re creating great art. I know I wrote several news columns for Big Brother while under the influence of red wine, which yet again greatly increased my risk for having awkward confrontations at a trade show.
What type of music do you listen to when you work on graphics? Any go-to music or albums you tend to work to that seem to help you get in the zone?
When I used to work with Marc McKee in the World Industries art department we would put one CD in the player and listen to it all day on repeat. We called this “conditioning,” and it drove everyone else batty and kept them from hanging out in the art room. Win-win. At the time, we mostly listened to the first Danzig album or Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.” There was probably a Slayer or Led Zeppelin album in the mix, too. Nowadays, it’s not music that I put on, but movies or TV series, like Netflix binge-style. I never look up or pay all that much attention to what’s on the screen, but something about the white noise of Hollywood keeps my ADHD at bay.
Do you ever think skateboard art will reach the masses and be in demand like pop art? Will skateboard art ever be going for millions?
No, probably not, but I’m a tried and true negatron. I mean, sure, it would be nice, but I think we are generally looked down upon by people who run galleries… maybe because of the whole mass-produced commodity aspect of skateboards. Fuck, with the whole heat transfer application of graphics, I can’t really blame them. At least when boards were silk-screened by hand they felt unique with a sense of craftsmanship, like something akin to art or a limited edition print. Not something you’d find on a toy store rack in Wal-Mart. Another irritating aside is how the skateboard has become this hip palette for artists not affiliated with skateboarding to slum with on shows.
Most people think that the Toy Machine monster was created by Ed Templeton, but I heard it was you? Can you tell me how that came out?
Well, the first Toy Machine “monster” logo — the two-dimensional version with the arms — was appropriated by Ed from another artist’s pre-existing work. I think that artist eventually became aware of the logo, so Ed needed to change it up around 1995, and he asked me to do a simple, three-dimensional version of just the monster’s head. I’ve never been great at doing logos, so it’s cool to see this one still running 20 years later. Oh, Ed also had me do the animated monster intro to the Toy Machine videos, starting with “Welcome To Hell” in 1995. I had no idea what I was doing — this was still pre-computer graphics for the most part — and I hand-painted around 16 cels in a crude, flip book-style manner. Fortunately someone down at TumYeto was able to make sense of it all.
Who do you think is more perverted, Ed Templeton or Jeremy Klein?
Let’s just say you’ll never catch Klein taking photos of his or anyone else’s cock. Not that I think that makes you a pervert or anything — god knows I’ve shot more than my fair share of cock, professionally speaking — but Klein’s more into video games, candy bars, and Korean BBQ. Ed is… well, Ed. He’s an international art star.
You’ve been a producer of Jackass the show and movies since the beginning. What did you actually do? How did you initially get involved?
Jeff Tremaine [Jackass’s co-creator and director] and I became roommates in 1995 after he’d broken up with a long-term girlfriend and was looking to move closer to the Big Brother office from San Pedro. Me, I was living in obscurity in a one-room studio apartment, so I decided it was in my best interest to throw in with him on a bigger place if I ever wanted a chance at a social life. We were both living and breathing Big Brother then, so it made for a lot of quality time together, and I credit him with teaching me how to embrace alcohol and channel my misanthropic tendencies in a more silly and absurd direction.
Anyway, throughout it all I kind of became his right hand man on the magazine and this relationship continued with Jackass. I was like the straight man in the bunch with a memory and semi-organizational skills, so all the miscellaneous ideas were funneled to me for writing into formal treatments — in other words, making the ideas presentable to the network and studio for approval. So in the producer sense, I was always on the creative end.
Who would you say has the nicest dick out of the Jackass crew? In terms of size, girth, and overall beauty?
The award goes to Chris Pontius aka Party boy. He’s got it all and he’s certainly not shy about flaunting it. He claims to have dangled pots and pans from it as a kid, which may also explain why the shaft is narrower at the base and mushrooms out at the head. I guess his friend Scott Manning has an even more impressive wiener, but I’ve never seen it in person. He’s not as free range as Pontius.
Why do you think so many young men growing up, particularly in middle school or high school, have such an obsession with drawing penises?
Penises are just inherently silly things. I started doing it because it was the only way I knew how to make the best of a social situation. Small talk has never been a strong suit of mine, especially with strangers, but after a few drinks I’ve found the Sharpie to be my best available crutch to span time at a bar. Seriously, I can’t talk to a girl like a normal person to save my life, yet have no problem asking to draw a penis on them. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it’s made for a lot of fun nights and ridiculous photos.
December 21, 2015 5:27 pm
Thanks for the interview Jenkem, really rad to hear about the other side of skate graphics. Best of luck with Paisley Sean.
December 21, 2015 5:42 pm
This dude graphics are burned into my brain from a trip into “what happened” in Pacific Grove circa 1998 … It was the bloody drill and the hockey puck graphics.. Never forget
December 22, 2015 11:30 am
Cliver is THE MAN. Fellow Wisconsin native!
December 22, 2015 4:16 pm
He lives in Wisco? Hahaha no way
December 22, 2015 2:06 pm
An American hero