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Potus Operandi :: A Brief Oral History of Skateboard Graphics Gone Presidential

Potus Operandi :: A Brief Oral History of Skateboard Graphics Gone Presidential

By Seb Carayol

Over the years, skateboard graphics have had the extremely good taste to bless us with images of serial killers (Charles Manson), terrorists (The Unabomber and Osama Bin Laden, to just name two) and various other pop culture villains. Sadly, only a few American presidents had made the cut until the current presidency (Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, that’s about it, really).

But thank you sweet baby Jesus! On November 7th, 2016, Donald Trump became the President of the United States—if only for the sole purpose of catalyzing a wave of political inspiration for skateboarding’s fine artists.

In the barrage of boards that ensued, the POTUS has been often mocked (enjoi, Paisley, Real, Consolidated, Morphium, Hate—not to forget one-offs such as Cheryl Dunn’s “Marla Maples and Donald Trump at Foreman vs Holyfield”), rarely praised (there is a Trump “Thumbs Up” deck on Zazzle…), and occasionally a source of conflict (see the Real skateboards/Henry Sanchez controversy). In other words, let’s just say that the orange-haired incarnation of Mayor Biff from Back to the Future II hasn’t left skateboarding indifferent. Here’s a quick journey into skateboard graphics’ own political slant with a few of its key players.

SEAN CLIVER, Paisley Skates

Since he was one of the provocation kings of the 1990s, leaving no touchy topic untouched during his illustration tenure at World Industries skateboards (from Charles Manson to monkeys attacking kids at the zoo), humanity held its breath for a figurative minute, waiting to know what legendary artist Sean Cliver would come up with on the Trump topic. And boy, did he deliver! 

SEAN CLIVER: I’ve done two Trump boards thus far, both for my own silly little company Paisley Skates. The “Fuck You, Folks!” came out in the fall of 2016 and the “Krampus” holiday special was released this past December 2017.

The “Fuck You, Folks!” was drawn in June of 2016, still pre-election, when his entire campaign seemed like a ridiculous joke being played out on the American public. Hence the Looney Tunes-inspired design. The “Krampus” was done a year deep into what would technically be considered the first year of his ‘presidency,’ but it really sounds silly to actually call it that.

I didn’t want to say anything too deep. I’m about as shallow as a film of scum on the tiled floor of a public bath house. But again, the first was just a joke about what I thought was a joke—and I’m almost certain it was a joke to Trump, too, at least at first—and it wasn’t so much poking fun at Trump but rather jabbing a middle finger at his supporters in a ‘you get what you deserve’ manner.

“[Trump’s] hair is a little tricky to render and whoever does that sculpting feat should surely be commended with a presidential medal of honor.”

The second was simply a play off the Eastern European mythology of a devilish character who plays the counterpart to Santa Claus during the holiday season. While Santa may not bestow gifts upon those who’ve been naughty throughout the year, Krampus handles the actual punishment of such ne’er-do-well individuals—usually with a switch of sticks. So if anyone was a candidate for an ass shellacking in 2017, surely it was ole 45 Himself.

…They’re both dumb easy caricatures. A simple Google image search for Trump reveals his true life cartoon nature. I’ll be honest, though... his hair is a little tricky to render and whoever does that sculpting feat should surely be commended with a presidential medal of honor.

There’s already been a few grumblings from the underground that enough is enough already with regard to His Orangeness, but fuck it. If we’re stuck with this clown for a full term, then we might as well make the most of our giant shit sandwich. Regarding the importance to make such boards, on a scale of 1 to 10—1 being a skull and 10 being a pizza—I’d rate these around a 5.

I hear a lot of people saying, “Keep politics out of skateboarding.” Me, I’m much more concerned about keeping professional sports out of skateboarding, but we all have our windmills to tilt.

Read our previous interview with Sean Cliver HERE.

Sean Cliver with the deck he illustrated for the Jenkem + Cliché collaboration that features Barack, Putin, and Kim Jong-un. Photo via jenkemmag.com

TODD FRANCIS, Antihero Skateboards

Almost surprisingly—considering that Todd Francis was originally planning to become a political cartoonist, and also that he’s the one who drew Richard Nixon many a time—the man behind Antihero’s most legendary graphics has never drawn a Trump board, and he probably won’t. Here’s why.

TODD FRANCIS: With Antihero, we don’t really get into the Trump thing. It’s been something that Real does a lot of, and they do a really good job of it… and Paisley, and a bunch of other companies too. I guess I’d rather try and do something nobody else is doing.

We’ve done a couple decks with Richard Nixon, though, one back when Antihero started—a Julien pro board—and one about five years ago, the Two Chicks One Dick team board. Julien and I both like Nixon; he represents such a weird, dark time in our country, and his face is just so horrible. It’s a really funny subject to use on a deck today, because for most people it’s ancient history. Then again, the whole paranoid insane president theme is a good one right now…

“If you can make someone in a skate shop, or on Instagram or whatever, laugh and think a little about the world around them, then great.”

I can’t say for sure, but we’ve got no plan for me to work on any Trump board for Antihero. But I do anti-Trump pieces for Penthouse on occasion. I think the last one was him fleeing the press, who are all asking him questions about the Russia collusion claims, and he’s climbing over his Mexico wall and fleeing into Mexico. I might do another piece for Penthouse soon where Trump is building the Mexico wall from all of his lies… who knows.

I don’t know that it’s important across the board, but with Antihero, we try and make it be about something. A lot of it is political in some way, whether its about pollution or overpopulation or whatever.  If you can make someone in a skate shop, or on Instagram or whatever, laugh and think a little about the world around them, then great. Maybe the world becomes a slightly better place, you never know. But not everyone agrees, or cares. And that’s fine too. But its also why things are so shitty right now, why our air is ruined and our ice caps are melting, and all the coral in the ocean is dying off in these beautiful places that should never have changed… Because too many people don’t care. Yay for people!

Read our interviews with Todd Francis HERE and HERE.

CHRIS BYWATER, enjoi skateboards

Released as a quick-strike board in May 2016, the Corporate Greed board, featuring a piggy version of the POTUS, came from completely left field (no pun intended, kind of) for enjoi, a company not specifically famous for its political positions. enjoi’s art director explains.

CHRIS BYWATER: This was the first, and so far only, Trump graphic I’ve done. It’s an update of the classic enjoi “corporate pig” graphic by Winston Tseng. At the time, most of the world still thought there was no way that Trump could be a serious presidential contender. But there was definitely some momentum building for him.  I am clearly not a Trump supporter and wanted, in my own small way, to try to help him not get elected.

So I pitched it to Bod Boyle and Louie Barletta and we went with it. It seemed like a good fit for enjoi as it appeared that the Trump campaign was a joke and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Boy, were we wrong. I just added Trump’s signature hair, the glitter to the dollar signs, the American flag, and updated the buttons. I remember we had posters of this graphic printed for promotion right when there was that huge Trump rally/riot/protest in Costa Mesa (April 19, 2016) and I really regretted not going there and posting them allover the Orange County amphitheater where the rally was being held.

I wanted to say that Trump is clearly in the race for his own personal gain and blatantly doesn’t give a shit about you. He is a snake-charming conman. I do not understand how a “billionaire,” reality TV star, pussy-grabbing egomaniac has become the savior of blue-collar Americans. It makes no sense. The Emperor has no clothes. But again, this is in 2016. So it was just a joke take on the corporate pig as Trump. Generally, enjoi is supposed to be about poking fun and having fun. Not getting too serious, so some people on Instagram were not happy about it. We got a fair bit of, “Stick to skateboarding! Stay out of politics!” But it was just a good fit. It was funny. It seems unlikely to do any other Trump boards at this time, but who knows what will be tweeted tomorrow? We only made 300 units and they have sold out.

JOHNNY MOJO, Santa Cruz skateboards

Unless mistaken, Santa Cruz skateboards collaborator Johnny Mojo was the first one to put a POTUS on a skateboard, when he juxtaposed the faces of Adolf Hitler and George Bush senior on a deck for Tom Knox, back in 1990. Here’s how he remembers the genesis of his infamous “Bushitler” board.

JOHNNY MOJO: Tom Knox and Santa Cruz Team Manager Gavin O’Brien came to me with the idea. I thought they were joking at first, but they were dead serious. They wanted a graphic depicting President George H. W. Bush as Adolf Hitler. You have to remember that this was right in the middle of the first Gulf War and lots of people were railing against Bush Sr. He had been the head of the C.I.A. before becoming President, his family was in the Oil Industry, and he had gotten us into a war with Iraq—which most people believed was really about oil. People simply did not like Bush and thought he was evil.

That said, I thought the idea for the graphic was a bit over the top and made me somewhat uncomfortable, but Tom and Gavin were adamant about doing it. I remember Gavin was especially pleased with the way Bush and Hitler sounded when pronounced as one word… Bushitler.

“I think political messages are important anywhere and everywhere.”

The photo-collage concept was the first thing that came to mind. I thought photographic images would have more impact than say, cartoon caricatures. I Xeroxed the portraits and experimented tearing them in half and combining them together. It’s a very simple graphic, the torn edge creates a Frankenstein-like half Bush, half Hitler monster portrait, while the bold patriotic colors accentuate the irony.

I’m sure some skate shops in the “red states” had a problem displaying it! But I think political messages are important anywhere and everywhere, whether in political cartoons, posters, graffiti, or even on skateboards. They represent the First Amendment and freedom of speech.

While I had nothing to do with the W. Bush/Bin Laden revamp of this graphic in 2006, I thought it was brilliant. Who would have guessed that 15 years after that first graphic, there would be another Bush in the White House, screwing things up way worse than his dad ever did? I remember driving down the street in Santa Cruz and seeing some graffiti on a traffic sign near my house. It said BUSH = HITLER. This was in 2006, not 1991! Now that’s scary.

Lastly, a differing point of view because a few of us were very curious:

HENRY SANCHEZ, Former pro skater

While all the opinions expressed above would lead to believe that skateboarding has a unanimous opinion of the Trump administration, remember, this is still skateboarding: provocative opinions will always disrupt the status quo. It was the case, for instance, when Steve Rocco single-handedly flipped the lukewarm script of skateboarding in 1989 by launching World Industries and its take-no-prisoners marketing approach, dissing the established corporations of the era. His former protégé, now retired pro Henry Sanchez, doesn’t aspire to lead a revolution—he’s just been known to be opinionated in general, and opinionated about Trump, the character, in particular. When Real reissued his first graphic a few months ago, changing the regular baby for a baby Trump, some (including himself) saw it as direct jab at Henry’s beliefs (which are actually not as blindly pro-Trump as many think…)

HENRY SANCHEZ: I feel the majority of people have grown comfortable being told what they want to hear. It has gotten so bad that facts no longer matter. I like tax cuts along with spending cuts and feel to compete with the global economy you gotta give companies a reason to want to do business here.

I guess speaking on that means I support Trump or something, but I’m more of a Ron Paul supporter. Trump’s an idiot but I think he’s karma for the left and I think it’s funny. At least, I think his blunt talk is funny. That’s the part that’s funny to me. It’s like society has been so protective of people’s feelings then Trump comes along as a straight talker and it’s funny.

What I’d like to know is why I have to defend my views when you have a bunch of former pros from the ’80s with pictures—then and now—of swastikas on themselves.

***

…We’ll just leave you with these:

Consolidated Skateboards

Real Skateboards

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