In 2002 I was contacted by Aaron Meza to whip out a space-filler article for Skateboarder about the Top 12 board graphics that I wish I'd created. Included on that list were the following: G&S Neil Blender Coffee Break, Zorlac John Gibson Cow Skull (the Pushead version), 101 Natas Kaupas Devil Worship, Santa Cruz Jeff Grosso Toy Box, Blind Guy Mariano Accidental Gun Death, Powell-Peralta Steve Caballero OG Dragon, Blind Jason Lee American Icons, Powell-Peralta Mike McGill Skull & Snake, 101 Gabriel Rodriguez Jesus H. Christ, Santa Cruz Rob Roskopp I, Blind Danny Way Nuke Baby, and the very first Santa Monica Airlines Natas Kaupas model.
My explanations for all were, in general, tongue-in-cheek with a liberal dose of sincerity and/or humility [see full article below], but my reasoning on the SMA Natas was this: "Who wouldn't want to stake their professional claim on having drawn the panther on Natas's first deck?"
Crude though it may be with its oddly misshapen triangle—and quite possibly "inspired" by a certain Frank Frazetta painting circa 1972 (hey, at least it was borrowed from the master and not any of the would-be fantasy hacks to oil paint in his unparalleled brushstrokes)—the graphic aptly summed up the raw nature of Natas's street-skating circa 1985 and kicked off one of the now most highly sought after series of boards (not to mention a theme which Natas continues to either reissue or variate upon with his Designarium brand). Many collectors have since tried to wrangle all of the assorted panther decks, admirably, but to date no one that I know of has acquired all in unskated condition ... and I honestly have my doubts that anyone ever will.
But if I had to take my pick of "the one" Natas board to own it would have to be his second model on Santa Monica Airlines before the brand merged with N.H.S. in 1987. What Kevin Ancell had started, artist Chris Buchinsky came in and put the finishing touches on in 1986 with a tropical landscape that fleshed out the graphic to its full board shape potential.
Beyond that, though, and what differentiated this version of the board from its 1987 counterpart manufactured at N.H.S., was the screen-printing. Unlike the first Natas, which was produced exclusively in yellow, this model was not only screened in an assortment of limited colorways but certain boards were done up in automotive-like metallics, while still others received a special gloss black spray-coating with hot pink rail edges. (Click here for a snippet of further production history from Skip Engblom.) Just one of the perks of being a nimble garage operation, I suppose, because once S.M.A. went north to Santa Cruz this model was only printed in a conventional color scheme on light blue, white, and black dips without the distinguishing blend in the leaves.
I have many regrets as a self-acknowledged collector of skateboards, but perhaps my biggest to date involves the first S.M.A. Natas. The time was 2002. I was a novice then, not yet savvy to the wiles needed to compete amongst my collecting peers, and it was in this green state that I entered Rip City Skates in Santa Monica, California. The walls and ceiling of this shop were then tiled with vintage NOS boards: everything from '80s Sims, Powell-Peralta, Dogtown, S.M.A., Vision, Schmitt Stix, and Rip City to early–'90s World Industries, Blind, Plan B, H-Street, and 101, but the keystone, I thought, was an original, unskated, canary yellow Natas that he had autographed in 1985.
I never bothered to ask Jim, the owner of the shop, if he'd consider selling the Natas. What with the obvious history and location of the shop, I just figured I would be laughed right back out the door. So with this "safe" assumption in mind, I returned home and boasted about the existence and whereabouts of this board to "Killer," a collector in Canada who clearly had a thing for Natas decks.
What a mistake.
No more than a few weeks later, he thanked me for the tip and claimed to be the new proud owner of the Natas. Worse yet, for the paltry sum of $2,600.00—a bargain, as far as I was concerned (even for the time), and I've never stopped kicking myself since. Why? Well, aside from the fact that another NOS Natas has yet to publicly appear up for grabs, two years ago Killer had to liquidate a good portion of his collection, including the Natas he'd picked up from Rip City. I briefly entertained the notion of making a "sob story" play for it—after all, I was the nice nitwit who turned him onto it in the first place—but by the time I went to make my plea he'd already received an offer way, way above and beyond my stupid means (both mentally and financially), an offer which has since gone down on public record as being its final sale price of $7,250.00.
Sean Cliver’s Top 12 Graphics That He Wish He Created
(originally published in Skateboarder Magazine, circa 2002)
1. Powell Peralta Mike McGill Skull & Snake (1984): The first time I walked into a skate shop and saw this deck, I stopped drawing super heroes the Marvel Comics way and started drawing skulls the VCJ way.
2. Zorlac John Gibson Cow Skull (1983): Aside from the Rodney Mullen Rock is King deck, this is one of the most evil looking graphics ever and it fit the attitude of the era like a set of rubber cloven hooves.
3. 101 Natas Kaupas Devil Worship (1991): One of the most controversial and talked about decks ever; meanwhile I was over at Powell-Peralta working on inane shit like the Steve Saiz Buffalo graphic.
4. Santa Cruz Jeff Grosso Toy Box (1988): When I worked at a skate shop, I used to spend hours trying to figure out how Jim Phillips did this graphic. I’m still baffled by it.
5. Powell Peralta Caballero Dragon (1981): It would be nice to be known as the guy who actually created this graphic, not the guy who has done about 15 knock offs and variations of it.
6. Blind Jason Lee American Icons (1990): Not only a poignant statement on Americans in general, but if I’d done this graphic and held onto 10 of the decks I could have put my kid through college one day.
7. 101 Gabriel Rodriguez Jesus H. Christ (1991): Alas, this one simple graphic may have validated all my damning career choices in the eyes of my parents.
8. Blind Danny Way Nuke Baby (1991): One of the greatest intentionally bad graphics ever ... as opposed to the number of unintentionally bad ones I’m responsible for.
9. Santa Cruz Rob Roskopp I (1984): Not only is it a classic and strong image, but how awesome is it to have defied all odds and created a top selling graphic for a guy nicknamed “The Barn”?
10. Santa Monica Airlines Natas Kaupas Panther I (1985): Who wouldn’t want to stake their professional claim on having drawn the panther on Natas’s first pro deck?
11. G&S Neil Blender Coffee Break (1986): There are two paths artists take in life: commercial or fine art. I chose the former, which may be the more financially secure of the two but almost entirely devoid of the soul and glory owned by the other.
12. Blind Guy Mariano Accidental Gun Death (1992): For some reason everyone always tells me this is their favorite graphic I’ve ever done, but I didn’t even f’ing draw it. Marc McKee did. Uh, but I did do the 101 Adam McNatt Charlie Manson Brown deck, so that counts for something ... doesn’t it?