Two World Industries Men: the full-length Marc McKee / Sean Cliver interview

Portraits drawn for the occasion by the ever-awesome Rocco empire teenage runaway Brian Lotti. Go buy a Telegraph board!

What were your first attempts at drawing?
Sean Cliver : Mostly crude copies of John James Audubon bird paintings and Star Wars robots. I couldn’t get the hang of human anatomy yet, so birds and boxy robots were much more easy to draw crappy and somewhat get away with.

Marc McKee: I guess the earliest stuff I was into drawing was probably dinosaurs. I used to be really into dinosaurs, even to the point of memorizing all their names and what they meant, and what geological era they lived in. Also, my dad used to work at a bank and he would bring home all the different bills for me to copy. I would try to copy them in pencil actual size and then trace over the pencil in pen, tying to emulate the engraved look of the note. That was probably around when I was like 6. I think a big part of it was like as a kid I was really impressed about seeing the different denominations, especially the larger notes and the 2-dollar bill, which was rare and had Thomas Jefferson on it who I really liked. Then Star Wars came out I think when I was 8, so from then on it was all about trying to draw X-wing fighters and the Star Wars logo.

When was your first ‘provocative’ drawing that you can remember? Or was it Rocco who forced you for all of them?
SC: Probably a bunch of wide-open beaver shots that I copied directly from looking at my friend’s brother’s porn mag stash. When I was 16 or 17, I was into making small press/mini-comix and tried to contribute some of these naked girl drawings to a zine made by this guy Brad Foster in Texas. For a second there he was confused, because legally he couldn’t sell me the zine, as I wasn’t an adult, but there wasn’t anything that said I couldn’t contribute to it. I think he wound up using one of them that didn’t look exactly like a photo copied out of Hustler.

MMK: In first grade I remember I found a small book on Picasso that my parents had. There were some paintings of naked women in it that I copied and showed to my friends at school. My teacher said something about it to my mom after they had a parent teacher conference or something ‘cause I remember her asking me why I was drawing pictures of naked ladies. I always liked drawing stuff just to try to get a reaction. In junior high we had an art class and for part of the class we had to do calligraphy. So me and my friends wrote all these stupid sayings in calligraphy that were like, “A friend with weed is a friend indeed” and “I don’t go to high school, I go to school high”—stuff like that, all in fancy calligraphy. We put them all up on the wall and thought it was fucking hilarious. Also in that class I remember the teacher asking me take down another one of the drawings I had done that was up on the wall since school was having an open house and all the parents were coming in. The drawing was like a scene from hell with like a bunch of demons tormenting all these people that were naked and covered in blood. By that time listening to Heavy Metal had really started to have an effect on me.

What year did you decide to make a living off drawing/design?
SC: I don’t know if I ever really made the conscious decision to, it just happened. I started doing designs for local punk bands at five or ten bucks a pop in high school. Then a local t-shirt printer/bootlegger, started hiring me to draw up designs and screen-print in the basement. All of this helped fund my commercial art program tuition after I graduated in 1987.

MMK: I guess that would be 1988.

Did you start with skateboard graphics right away?
SC: No, the idea of that seemed somewhat far-fetched—I was living in Wisconsin, which is pretty much the Ukraine when it comes to the California skate scene—so I was went to a tech school in Madison to be a “commercial artist.” I’m not sure where that would’ve led me, but I had a flare for technical design then and probably would’ve ended up doing renderings of nuts and bolts for a machine shop. Maybe marker-comps at an advertising agency, if I was lucky. Luckily, I was luckier than that, and won the great Powell-Peralta art contest in 1988.

MMK: No, the first real steady work I had was in that year when I started doing graphics for this BMX bike company called Bully Bikes. It was started by R.L. Osborn, who was one of the legendary founders of freestyle bike riding, so to me it was like a dream job since up until that time I was really into BMX and freestyle riding. It was through R.L. that I met Steve and Rodney. They were all roommates at the time.

Marc McKee’s entry that earned him the second place in the annual BMX Action Magazine’s drawing contest (1985)

What was your first skateboard graphic and when? For what company?
SC: My first complete graphic of my own design was Ray Barbee’s first board for Powell-Peralta. Prior to that I did some last minute ghost work on one of VCJ’s leftovers for the minimalist Tony Hawk Street model in 1989.

MMK: The first skateboard graphic I ever drew—not for any company, but just for myself—was on this old Variflex Vectra board that my friend gave me back around 1984. The original graphic on the board was this lame 80s pattern that looked like it was out of the movie Tron. I spray-painted the whole board yellow and painted a copy of the first Iron Maiden album cover on the top in black and white and covered it with clear griptape. It was pretty cool except for the fact that I didn’t know that the graphic was supposed to go on the bottom of the board. The first graphic I did for an actual skate company was the Mike Vallely Animal Farm board for World Industries, back in April or May of 1989.

Did it take a few drafts before getting it right? Were you trying to fit in the mold of your predecessor(s) at said company?
SC: I probably would’ve instantly tried to conform to VCJ’s line work (I did just that on my second board design for Steve Saiz), but the ragdoll concept didn’t’ necessarily lend itself to a 15th century woodcut style. So I kind of had to freeball it with my own crude cartoon style. It eventually panned out, although the first sketch was pretty laughable. It probably took three more drafts before it approached the final design.

MMK: Not really, the graphic pretty much ended up looking exactly the way I first drew it— except for one thing…. Originally there were two horses fucking behind the barn in the middle of the graphic. You could just barely see their heads popping out from behind the barn, but you could tell they were doing it doggy-style, and I think the male horse was like sweating with big smile on his face. When we showed the graphic to Mike he told us to take that part out. I completely forgot about that until I read his interview in Sean’s book where he talks about it. The girl horse is still on the graphic, but the male horse is gone. That would be funny to draw the horse back in to show how it used to look….

When did you guys meet each other for the first time?
SC: I think it was in 1990? I used to go down to visit Rocco with Per Welinder, when he worked in the marketing department at Powell. Rocco would take us out on his boat The Guppy and we’d spend the weekend on Catalina Island. I’m pretty sure I first met Marc on one of these trips. Later, in 1991, Marc and I went out to Catalina with JT and Jef Hartsel, when Walter Sims commandeered the boat while Rocco was off in Europe on a skate tour. Rocco later found out about Hartsel and JT being on the boat and flipped out … something about how The Guppy could be impounded if any pot was found onboard.

MMK: Probably around 1989 or 90. I’m pretty sure that I met Cliver before he got fired from Powell and came to work at World, but I can’t really remember.

Were you friends right away?
SC: We got along fine, I think. Similar personality types: quiet, sarcastic, cynical, socially inept, and we could both listen to one Danzig, Metallica, Nirvana, or Led Zeppelin CD for a solid week straight. Certainly made for an easy-going art room that no one else wanted to be in aside from us.

Did you inspire/fuel each other at all in terms of ideas?
SC: It was just a kick in the ass in general to work alongside Marc. He’d already set an incredible bar in terms of graphics for World, Blind, and 101, so I did the best I could to keep up. He by far was the better and more prolific artist, though. Nine times out of ten someone will say they loved the [fill in the blank] board I did, when it was actually done by Marc.

MMK: I think we mostly worked on our own and developed our own ideas. One thing though is when Sean first came to work at World I have to say I definitely felt the heat—I know that sounds dumb, but I guess what I mean is that I knew he was a really good artist and it really hit me that I was no longer the only artist at the company so I better not get too complacent. Like the first graphic he did for us—the Claudia Schiffer graphic for Blind— I was pretty amazed at how he created the finished line art entirely with an X-acto knife on a piece of black photographic paper. No pens or ink or anything. He did the whole thing by cutting into the top black layer of the paper and peeling away the parts to create the white highlights. Another thing I was really kind of blown away by was how he did all of his conceptual sketches in ink. It was like totally different from how I would do everything in pencil at first, with like a million erasures and corrections before I actually got something that looked decent.

What were your first non-PC graphics?
SC: There wasn’t much I’d done at Powell that could be construed as such, aside from the “Liberty and Justice for Some” generic board in 1991. The top graphic was the best on that one; it featured the reproduction of an actual pre-Civil War era slavery handbill. Once I got to World, though, it was probably the 101 Adam McNatt Charles Manson Brown board.

MMK: Probably the Randy Colvin Censorship board was the first. There were some non-PC elements in a lot of the other boards we came out with before that, but I think that was the first board where it was like the main theme. The graphic was of a naked women masturbating that I based off of a Penthouse centerfold. She was also wearing a pearl necklace—I thought that was a nice touch. The boards came in sealed black bags, each with a “warning” sticker that said Warning: Censorship is Weak As Fuck.

Did you have a total freedom on World? Did you ever get a no-no for any graphics there?
SC: Yeah, pretty much. There was really only a “no no” if it sucked balls as an idea, like a lot of the simple logo rip-offs that the riders wanted. Well, aside from the graphic I’d started for Ron Bertino when he got on Blind. It was supposed to feature a “Fresh” Freddy Krueger that was meant to spoof the “horror” and “dope” Plan B graphics of Danny Way and Sal Barbier, respectively, but it soon got blown out of proportion, people thought I was making fun of Mike Ternasky, and the next thing I knew I was getting threatened in the workplace. That was the end of the Fresh Freddy graphic.

MMK: In the early years of the company there was definitely total freedom to do whatever we wanted. During that time there weren’t any graphics that ever got rejected because they were too gnarly. That changed though after a few years, probably around 1993. By that time though Big Brother was fully up and running, so we kind of shifted a lot of the controversial material over into the magazine.

Was there a kind of pride in getting cease and desists at all? Were you, like, counting them?
Marc nabbed most of those back then, but I think Sanrio filed a claim for the Blind Guy Mariano “Bye Bye Kitty” board I did. It was never anything I aspired to, but it was fun to see all the legal mumbo-jumbo they used in those letters.

MMK: Yeah, I guess so. I mean we would put the letters up on the wall after we got them so I guess there definitely was. I don’t think the number of cease and desists were like as much you might you think though since we actually got away with copyright infringement most of the time. Overall I think we probably got around maybe 10 letters at most combined, and that would include the one we got from Nintendo for the Super Mario graphic that Andy Jenkins did. Of the ones for graphics I did, there were letters from Disney, Burger King, Dr. Seuss, and The Church of Scientology. I know Sean got one from Hello Kitty over the graphic he did for Prime, but I don’t really know of any others.

Did Rocco have a say/influence on the topics at all? How about Natas?
SC: Yeah, Rocco would chime in with an idea every now and then, or way to up a graphic in its humor/impact, but I can’t think of any offhand. Natas always had good ideas, like most of the ultra-violent ones I did in 1992 all came from his basic direction: the Gabriel Rodriguez Driller Killer, Eric Koston’s Day at the Zoo, Gabriel’s Penalizer, et al. The only graphic of mine that I can remember Rocco killing was this drawing of a skinless nude woman I started to work on in late 1994. World was beginning to lose its stranglehold on the industry and no longer ruled the shops with an iron fist. So I turned around and sold it to Toy Machine for an Ed Templeton pro model instead.

MMK: Working with Rocco was great since he really wasn’t too hands on with the specific details of the graphics. It was more like he would have ideas and it would be up to us to fill in the details. I’ve worked with a lot of other people over the years and a lot of times working on graphics things can really get bogged down in little details like “what angle the logo is on the board,” or things like that. Steve didn’t really work that way. Most of the graphics we made didn’t even have the company name in the artwork. I think that’s one thing that makes the graphics of that time more like fine art. He was more about developing the main idea and letting it go from there—like for example, “Let’s do a board with a naked chick on it—people will fuckin’ hate it! And from that point it was like “Okay, go!” and the graphic was done start to finish with no meetings or reviews at all during the process. Not even any concept sketches. It was more about the basic idea, and if Steve was stoked on the idea then there really wasn’t any need to see any preliminary sketches or whatever. I think a big part of it was that he was just really fucking stoked about getting the product out there as fast as possible. One of the ways Rocco really got World off the ground was that there was always a big push to have new shit coming out all the time. All of our product runs were relatively small, and stuff that had just come out a few months before he always rushed to replace with new product. That was definitely a new thing in the skateboard industry at that time.

With Natas things were different, but definitely in a good way. Natas is like an artist himself, so in addition to providing us with concepts, he would also have a lot of ideas on how the of graphics would look aesthetically. Another thing, I don’t know if you’ve seen the profile on Natas from On Video, but in one section they show the interior of his parents’ house, and there are just like all these cool pieces of sculpture and artwork everywhere that you can tell just really must have had a huge influence on him when he was growing up. Like working with him, even though we were like only 20 years old at the time, he already had a really broad knowledge of like the whole art world. So he would bring in ideas from that realm, and also from comic books too. I guess one example would be this one graphic that I did for his board for 101 that was of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. It was his idea—the way he described it was like, “I think it’d be funny to draw the photo of the Space Shuttle explosion like a Ray Lichtenstein….” Lichtenstein was one of the leading artists of the Pop Art movement in the 50s and 60s, and he was famous for painting these huge canvases that looked like they were panels from a comic book. One canvas he did showed a fighter jet blowing up another plane, with these huge comic book letters by the explosion spelling out “WHAAM!”  In a way the artwork kind of makes a reference to the brutality of war by showing the scene like a page out of a comic book. That was the idea for the Challenger board, which is basically making fun of how 7 people died tragically with the word “BOOM!” written real big next to the explosion. Fucked up, but also really fucking funny.

Were there pros that were bummed at any of your designs at all?
SC: I think Chico Brenes might have been a bit bummed on his Nude Beach board—with good reason, of course. I mean, what 17-year-old kid would be stoked about having naked old dudes and ladies with saggy boobs and dusty old 70s bushes on the bottom of his pro model skateboard? But that one had to be done. By that time, boards were being run in small amounts of like 300 with only one printing before a new graphic was up, so after a point all the riders really cared about was getting a check to cash to pay for their Honda Civic.

MMK: I originally made the Jason Lee Burger King board for Mike V, and that did not go over well. I guess it goes without saying that Mike would not be down with having that kind of graphic, even though the intention was for it to be ironic since it was well known that he was a vegan. In hindsight I think he was right to turn down the graphic since it’s clearly a salute to cow-eating…. Then, when the ad came out with Jason eating a Whopper in front of Burger King—with a shaved head like Mike had at the time—that definitely came across as a vibe. Not cool.

Another board I did for Mike I know for a fact he has gone on record as saying it was his most hated graphic ever. It was the elephant mini board I did for him directly following the Animal Farm board, and I have to say it’s not one of my favorites either. Maybe it’s not good to dwell on it, but I think it’s obvious looking at the graphic that the baby elephant on the board is intended to symbolize him, and the fact that he’s shown wearing a clown hat and clown make-up makes it pretty fucking outrageous. Also, and I didn’t really notice this until much later, I fucking drew the back truck of the skateboard in the graphic backwards, with the pivot cup towards the inside of the board and the bushings facing the tail. I have to say that is pretty fucking retarded. At least I was able to work together with Mike though on his last graphic for World which came out pretty good. It showed a snake leaving a burning city. I actually went through one major revision of the graphic after I first showed it to Mike. I ended up completely redrawing the lower half with the big snake. On the first version I had a whole bunch of snakes leaving the city instead of just one. Mike explained that there should only be one snake, and that he was the snake. It was his last board before leaving to ride for TV (or was it Blue?) so I think it’s obvious that the burning city was World Industries. It was a pretty good description of World at the time too since shit was really about to hit the fan.

What’s the board that you did that cause the biggest uproar, you think?
SC: For me it was the Blind Claudia Schiffer board, but that’s because it was mainly an insider-industry thing. I’d taken the half-finished idea/artwork for Adam McNatt’s first pro model immediately after I was laid off from Powell-Peralta in 1991 and Rocco convinced me to finish it up for Blind and produce it before Powell had a chance to due to their formal production/marketing schedules. Of course this made for a really awkward time when I ran into George Powell a few months later, and that was the last exchange I had with him up until Disposable: A History of Skateboard Art was released in 2004.

MMK: That would probably be the never completed “Fresh Freddy Krueger” graphic Sean did for Ronnie Bertino for when he was on Blind…. Rocco stopped him from finishing the graphic halfway through since the Plan B riders had seen it and thought it was a diss on Mike Ternasky—which it was pretty much was. I mean it wasn’t specifically a caricature of Mike, but it definitely was making fun of all the “dope” hip-hop style and horror-based graphics that Plan B had been coming out with and that me and Sean thought were ridiculous. There was a lot friction in the company after Mike T. started Plan B with Rocco and Steve’s focus began to shift somewhat from World and Blind to Plan B. I think it was actually the main cause of the Gonz leaving Blind. I specifically remember riding in the backseat of Rocco’s Honda wagon—Sean was sitting shotgun—and Steve yelling at both of us to stop fucking with Mike and Plan B. Ever since it started Plan B was a huge success and at that time, around 1993 or 94 it was what was without a doubt keeping our company in business. So with that one graphic—I’m not sure, but I may have initially suggested the idea to Sean—we could have really fucked ourselves over….

Marc, what was the whole Lynch Mob controversy about? can you talk about today?
MMK: I think that was just a rumor that some of the riders came up with for fun. In the early 90s Ice Cube had a group that he produced called “Da Lench Mob.” I had recently made a graphic for Jovontae Turner for  World that was jokingly called “The Napping Negro.” It was one of a series of graphics on the subject of racial stereotypes. The concept behind the graphic was that it was a piece of racist memorabilia intended as a “collector’s piece” for all the white people that are nostalgic for the past. There was a full-page ad written by Rocco explaining it all that ran in Thrasher magazine. Anyway, even though it was satirical, it was still a pretty offensive image with the fat lips and watermelon and everything, so I guess some of the team riders started a rumor that Ice Cube had seen the graphic, and was going to have the Lench Mob retaliate. Even though it was all made-up, I thought it was an interesting story, so I made a follow-up graphic showing the 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.

Was there ever any idea you had that you never dared to actually do? why?
There’s this one idea for a serial killer-oriented board that I keep thinking about doing, but ever since I had a kid of my own I’ve never been able to get it past the sketch stage. Funny the things that can get to you once you have a kid of your own.

MMK: Not really. Well, I guess I kind of stood in the way of having the cover of Lovechild come out the way Steve really wanted. The first draft of the cover had a black man and a white woman holding the baby zebra like it was their kid. The concept was from the song Lovechild by Diana Ross about a mixed race couple, except the song didn’t really talk about them having a zebra as a kid. For some reason I decided I didn’t really want the cover to come out that way, so I took the couple out of the drawing. I think by the time the video came out was after we had released all the board graphics covering all the racial stereotypes, so I guess I was kind of over the whole subject by then.

Recently I’ve been going back and forth about this new graphic that I can’t decide if I’m going to do or not that shows a security guard with a NO SKATEBOARDING sign shoved up his ass. I made a rough sketch of it and I wanted to do it for the last graphic and final graphic I did for World Industries last year (in 2007 another company bought World Industries from Dwindle), but it wasn’t really something that the new owners of World, or any of the riders wanted to come out with.

If it was all to do-over again, what topics would you pick today to provoke? Do you think they are the same than say in 1992?
SC: I don’t know if I ever set out to intentionally do provocative stuff… I just like concepts that make me laugh or would just be funny to actually see printed and produced. Kind of like that Nude Beach board. No kid in his right mind would walk into a skate shop and go, “Yes, THAT’S the board I want to ride!” So the fact that it came out still makes me giggle to this day. But I guess it is fun to press the buttons on social consciousness every once in a while.

MMK: I’m not really sure. I think the difference now is that I really don’t think I’d be able to come out with graphics that are anywhere near as offensive, and also have the best pro skaters of the time want to put their names on any them. I think that was one of the really legendary things about World and all of its sub-brands back in the day. Not only were we putting out extremely controversial graphics, but we had the top skaters putting their names on the boards and riding them. I think it would be hard to have that same combination today. It’s kind of a sign that skateboarding has changed. When World was doing all the crazy shit skateboarding was at a really low point in popularity.

Even Rocco moved away from that approach while he was still actively managing World. After only 2 or 3 short years it was like we couldn’t just keep putting out raw shit with the expectation that shops would buy into it regardless. By then there were just too many other options with all the other new companies that had come into being. Also, I think the riders were getting tired of all the raw shit and wanted to move on to different things.

Who do you think carries the same deliberately provocative artwork in the skateboarding today? Do you think doing a brand the way World used to be would be possible these days?
SC: World broke down so many “taboo” barriers in the early 90s that to do anything in that vein now you tend to get jaded reactions. For instance, soon after Supreme released the two boards that I’d done for them in an intentionally “early 90s” style, another artist in skateboarding—Matt French—posted this up on a skateboard forum: “The 90’s called to say those envelopes have already been pushed.” So it goes. At least I had a finger or two involved with those original pokings. There’s always room for expansion in the provocation department—artists like Banksy are doing just fine—but as for a company like World Industries at it was then? No. Not to romanticize or get poetically nostalgic, but World was just about the most fucked up and fun place imaginable. Very few company owners have the right combination of juvenility, wherewithal, and lack of common business sense to allow something like that to continue, and it’s amazing that Rocco was able to let it go on for as long as it did.

MMK: Definitely Todd Bratrud with the stuff he’s done for Consolidated and Enjoi and Anti-Hero. That stuff has the same vibe as the old World stuff. I guess it would be possible, but the only reason I say that is because I basically think anything is possible. I think it’s extremely unlikely to happen.

If you made it that far, I guess you deserve a little treat : here are two sketches from a Sean Cliver sketchbook that ended up never being used for a French magazine article I did about him in 1999.


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Le boardnographe du phonographe

This is an archive for my eponymous monthly page in Skateboarder mag. Plus a few extras few and far between, whenever I get a chance...
Absolutely shameless, unrated boardnography, exposed! -minus the Ebay guilt. Enjoy the visite...

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