I know, lately it would appear I've been more focused on the present than the past, but as any therapist will tell you that's exactly what you're supposed to be doing in life. And, frankly, I just haven't had a lot of spare time to fart around and wax on and off about the nostalgic. But in the interest of celebrating diversity in time and getting back to the roots of this site, here's a look back at one of those graphics that caught my eye in the skate shop while I was desperately selling off my old comic collection and recycling aluminum cans to afford my first "real" skateboard: the first Jeff Grosso pro model on Santa Cruz, released somewhere on the cusp of 1987 (I opted for a Powell-Peralta Mike McGill instead, but the Grosso was definitely a contender).
Similar to the origins of the panther used on Natas Kaupas' first several Santa Monica Airlines models, the bare bones of the Jeff Grosso Demon also came from the science fiction/fantasy world of art—in this case the illustrative works of Virgil Finlay, an acclaimed pulp artist of the mid-twentieth century.
According to Jim Phillips, or as he'd mentioned in his interview for Disposable: A History of Skateboard Art, Grosso had selected this specific image out of a Finlay book that was laying about in the Phillips Studios reference library. The boobs and demon spawn-bearing hips were dropped, an angel was added to the top, the tattered remnants of Grosso's Schmitt Stix rag doll to the bottom, and the end result was a very well-balanced graphic with a strong central image ... although if you look closely at the original prototype version [used natural wood board shown at top left below], you'll see a few distinct differences where Phillips went back and reworked the art for the final production model, e.g. the formerly off-kilter wings, a bigger and more spatially correct banner, and a better and bolder type treatment, among other simplified, less stippled strokes. (Oddly, the latter graphic also went back in time from 1987 to 1986, according to the Roman numeral copyright dates on the two versions.) At Grosso's behest, Santa Cruz later released the original prototype Demon design for the reissue board in 2005 [purple board shown at very bottom right].
A couple random variances worthy of note: Santa Cruz released two versions of the Jeff Grosso Demon, the Tri-Tail and Flip Tail. Earlier runs of the graphic appear to have featured a one-color tail logo, while subsequent later printings were up to two- to three-colors.
Normally I wouldn't steal any potential thunder from Neil's eBay Watch column over on skateandannoy.com, but this was such a "plate of shrimp" coincidence that I felt compelled to include the recent auction of a barely used Grosso Demon in one of the most remarkable colorways that I have seen to date [shown at right]. Sure, some might find it ugly and garish as a prostitute way past her prime, but I've always had a soft spot for blacklight posters (what, you thought I was going to say haggard old hookers?) and this deck screams to be displayed in some stoner lair. The final sale price: $355.00—not bad at all for the condition, especially since a Grosso Demon in NOS will set you back more than a grand (not to mention you can also accidentally knock this one over and not want to intentionally knock yourself out for doing so).
Anyway, the Finlay book later contributed a stylistic hand to a few other Santa Cruz graphics, including Jeff Kendall's Atom Man, Corey O'Brien's Reaper and the Tom Knox Ghoul. (Apparently Dag Nasty was a fan as well?) Some people are initially bothered when they find out where certain elements of graphics were begged, borrowed or stolen from, but sometimes it's not always a matter of what you steal but how you steal it. And if you scour the recesses of skateboard graphic imagery you're bound to find some of the original source material strewn about the shelves of libraries and art museums. For instance, VCJ gleaned several elements of style from the art of M.C. Escher; Marc McKee was surgically precise in a few of his references taken from the Robert Williams' books Zombie Mystery Paintings and Visual Addiction (as well as a certain dog-eared copy of The Art of Warner Bros). Many others were strictly case by case with varying levels of use and/or abuse—especially once the industry bottomed out in the early '90s and the graphic scene became something akin to the wild, wild west with everyone so far under the radar and board turnover churning into high gear.