By Rob Brink
By Rob Brink
Put simply, in 1996, the appearance of Journal magazine got East Coast skateboarders hyped. Real hyped. Then, one more issue later, it was gone.
My fondness for Journal has always been coupled with a lack of closure because of it’s premature demise. Many share a similar sentiment for 101, Mad Circle or a favorite skater who fell off the map too soon.
I’ve cherished and held on to issue 1 and 2 all these years with the intention of scanning them to post online because, to the best of my knowledge, they haven’t surfaced anywhere. Upon seeking permission from Ryan Gee (ex-photo editor of Journal) and Rick Valenzuela (ex-editor of Journal) to do so, Ryan sent a PDF of issue “zero,” which I never knew existed. It features Lennie Kirk, Mike and Quim Cardona, Tim O’Connor, Ricky Oyola, Vern Laird, Kevin Taylor, Reese Forbes, Greg Harris, Hamilton Harris, Sean Mullendore, Maurice Key, Fred Gall, A.J Mazzu, Chico Brenes, Joey Alvarez, Bobby Puleo, Jimmy Chung and Tony Hawk.
Download issue zero here and read the story of Journal, straight from the editor himself, below. Issue 1 and 2 are already scanned and will be available here very soon.
What prompted starting Journal?
Simply wanting to make a magazine. Back then we all came from ‘zine culture. We loved Five Points in Atlanta and Smag in Baltimore. At the time the East Coast was getting some good attention in mags and videos, maybe the first time since the early Shut days. I think everyone got psyched to see a spot or someone they knew in a California mag, but it was pretty special to get your hands on Smag because it was filled with familiarity.
At that time there was also Strength, but we wanted to be strictly skateboarding. I think one of our biggest influences was the old Poweredge, and we wanted something like that to exist again. There were more East Coast companies popping up too, so it seemed like the timing was right.
Who was involved and where did it run out of?
I was living in Philadelphia and talked about it a bunch since moving there in 1991. Around ‘94 I met a Philly kid named Chris McKenna and got my friend Jeff Moynihan from D.C. to come up after his graduation. When things started to pick up, we were introduced to Ryan Gee, who had recently moved to Philly. We also had John Senesy, a Love Park regular and photog who was in San Diego.
We met others through word of mouth and the Internet, which was a small-ass place back then. But that’s how I originally met Jeff, off of the Usenet discussion groups alt.music.hardcore and alt.skate-board, when he was in Tokyo. We asked friends from there and the IRC channel #skate to contribute or reprint things we thought were awesome. We all got together around the summer of 1995 in a crappy apartment on South Street and we called it the “Journal House.”
Brian Nugent, who went to art school in Philly, moved back from Boston to be our art director between issue 1 and 2. We moved to a better “Journal House” and literally dozens of people lived there over time. I was there with Vern Laird a couple years ago on New Year’s Day and the neighborhood is all newly built houses.
What was it like starting a regional mag on the East Coast back then?
There was a lot of pride, not so much a rivalry or hating on the West, but we were just proud of where we were from. People got psyched that we were getting our own mag—the “we” being East Coast people or non-Californians. The funny thing is that one of the common complaints you hear in the East is people having to deal winter, but Philly got dumped on during the big blizzard of ‘96, so none of us had to go to our day jobs and we cranked out issue zero and made a website instead.
A lot of company people were really behind us, like Mike Agnew at ECU (Nicotine wheels and Capital skateboards), Kent at FTC, Bob Losito at Screw and Thomas from Torque. South Shore promoted us really well. Some people were skeptical, but a lot of word of mouth and personal references helped us.
Day-to-day, it was like your typical skate shop or skate house. People were always coming and going and hanging out. There was no such thing as “work hours.” We were all holding down wage jobs and doing what we could on the mag when we could. None of us got paid; the “company” only paid for expenses and production costs and spent a lot of money on Gee’s parking tickets.
Did you start with any specific content criteria? You had West Coast dudes like Smolik and Creager in the mag.
Just whatever we thought was good. Some things in there were unexpected, like the West Coast skate photos, or the vert cover shot. We wanted to feature and appreciate decent stuff that wasn’t getting recognized. I really dug Subliminal, the board company built around an incredible set of artists who skate. That was a main thing—cover whatever wasn’t getting due recognition.
But it would’ve been weird for the readers if we were strictly East Coast. The bulk of the companies were out west and those were the ones that probably had bigger budgets for advertising. Senesy was already out in San Diego and somehow we got in contact with Seu Trinh and Dimitry Elyashkevich. I remember being psyched to have West Coast shots, not only because they were great, but also because it gave us wider coverage.
We were heavy on NYC and Philly because that was our backyard. And a lot of people from there were rooting for us or wanted to be a part of it. So much so that people volunteered their photos or writing. No one got paid; it was all heart.
Why did it end? Did you have any idea that it would only go two issues and disappear so abruptly?
No idea at all. At one point, our financial backer said we needed to re-assess how we were doing things because we were spending tons and never had a business plan, which sounds so insane now.
We had an idea of the market, but no data or projections of how we could grow or what we could afford to do. We started with a situation where we could spend whatever we needed to and when that was gone we got lost and never found our way back. We had issue 3 halfway done and then got mired in trying to figure out how to write a business plan.
Eventually we lost steam and were just working our regular jobs. At some point we figured Journal was dead, but none of us even talked about it. By the time we did, it was already in the past tense.
In hindsight, when we got bogged down with the business plan, we probably could’ve been smarter, scaled back and done something to take us through that financial blow. A few years ago I was emailing with Rob Collinson and he said that if Lowcard ever took a hit like that, they would bring it back down to Kinko’s roots to keep it alive. Unfortunately, it never even occurred to us to scale back like that. It sucks to not see a new way out, or even try.
I think if Journal existed in some form for a little longer, it would’ve gotten back up. The response to what little we did was pretty amazing.
What was a piece or photo in Journal that you were most proud of?
The Drehobl cover. That bank looks so shitty. I like how it was laid out, too, and thinking about it now, it kinda reminds me of the title slides in FTC’s Finally. But I don’t think that was going through our heads then. That photo is a mix of everything: raw skating, a skater and photographer from the East Coast (Dimitry and Drehobl) but shot out West, and it had that East Coast feel that I like. It was shot at night and the spot was rugged. It looks like a gritty NYC shot. And the logo on that cover had smudgy newsprint, which was probably Jeff making fun of me.
I also really like the Rob Erickson article. He’s good on his board and amazing with his artwork. And Wheelie Co. was a great company. That article represented something that we didn’t explicitly decide to convey—that there are so many things you can do in skating aside from the skating itself. That’s what we were trying to do too.
Do you have any funny or disastrous stories about putting any of the issues together?
Ryan Gee busting his spleen. He did it while shooting the Brian Howard interview. Brian was actually hurt too, but they powered through and did one last shoot before they each went to the hospital. It’s part of his Howard interview in issue 2, along with a cartoon Ryan did about it when he was laid up.
Aside from that, the production itself was a comical disaster. There was no digital photography at the time, so we were developing so many slides and negatives, then scanning them on ancient computers and filing them in binders that Gee drew insanely funny cartoons on.
We had a PowerMac 7100 with an 80Mhz processor, 16MB RAM and a 250MB hard drive, which at the time was state-of-the-art. Low budget phones are more powerful than that now.
We took breaks to skate or get food while waiting for the progress bar to do its thing. Storage sucked. We were using Syquest drives to start with and those disks were insanely fragile. This was way before cell phones were common, so we actually had a beeper sponsor.
During that blizzard of ’96 when we made the website to go with issue zero for the ASR show, I crammed and learned HTML2 and quickly put up a fairly decent site, which was hosted by a friend from Usenet and IRC. It might not seem revolutionary now, but back then there were no company websites. Maybe they had a single page with a logo and contact info, but that was it. It was only ECU, Tum Yeto and other kids we’d known online like Dan from Dansworld or Appleman from Huphtur. Jeff, Chris and I were pretty nerdy and we registered the domain skatenerd.com for Journal’s site.
So we finally get to the trade show and see computers at a few booths showing their websites off and tried to pull up ours, nothing happened. Of course, because they were all opening their pages locally—no Internet connection.
Name a dude from the pages of Journal who is long gone from skateboarding but you still have a fondness for.
Jimmy Chung. He turned pro for ADI before he went on to other things. He had a “Prospects” article in issue zero—it was our am “Check Out.”
He was so smooth and chill to watch—and had big-ass nollies. His backside 180s looked so good too. He and this other Upper Darby kid, Dave Delaney had insane pop. Jimmy was also really humble but could talk shit real hard and make you laugh. Speaking of pop, I do also wonder about Sean Mullendore sometimes.
Rick’s random Journal factoids:
• Our Journal had nothing to do with the digest-sized Journal that came out a few years later. I don’t know if that’s common knowledge or not but I was super surprised to see that on a magazine rack. I don’t know if it was a tribute or they just knocked off the name.
• The third issue that never came out was going to have a city guide to Boston, an article about Albuquerque, New Mexico and a pro interview with Ryan Wilburn. All died except for Albuquerque, which Gee sent to TransWorld and got me to do the write up for.
• Our business card and letterhead had a silhouette of Reese Forbes ollieing at FDR on them. Soon after, it ended up becoming the article ender icon for TransWorld.
• At one of the trade shows we went to (never in a booth, always ghetto guerrilla style), Journal art director Brian Nugent and Flip pro Geoff Rowley stopped dead in their tracks, frozen in a silent moment because they just saw their doppelganger for the first time (i.e. each other).
• Right when Jeff moved down, he showed me a copy of an English-language newspaper in Cambodia. He had a job interview with that publisher, but decided to come up to Philly and do Journal instead. Ironically, six years after Journal ended, I was working at that paper.
• That last Journal house was in Slap in a photo of Brian Dale and Anthony Pappalardo sitting in the living room shot by Jonathon Mehring. Those crappy island-print curtains of ours are in the shot.
Photo: Jonathan Mehring
• The sequence of Ronnie Creager’s switch tail revert in issue #2 has the caption written four times because Dimitry said he did it perfect four times in a row. [Editor’s note] this footage is in the end credits of Trilogy.
• Sometime after issue #2 came out, we got a few letters correcting us about using the term “frontside indy.” So in case anyone catches that in the PDFs now … yes, we know.