Sidewalk Skateboarding Sacktap - Andy Smoke - Sidewalk Skateboarding

Sacktap – Andy Smoke Sacktap – Andy Smoke

Just who exactly is this affable enigma we call Andy Smoke? Art-troll? Maybe. Mix-tape nerd? Undoubtedly. Cartooning cultural commentator? Certainly. Photoshop giggle merchant? It has been said. Mischievous idiot combining an obsession with skateboarding with a joy of making pictures? Definitely. However we see him, he's clearly more than just a postman with a penchant for penmanship.

His CV includes a wealth of illustrations for this very magazine, suitcases worth of '90s hip-hop mix-tapes, the Class 2B zine with his pal Jon Horner, a Jereme Rogers graphic and quickfire comic interpretations of just about every notable occurrence in skateboarding. You'd almost think that if he gave up the day job and took being funny a bit more seriously he'd have a career in this.

With the help of the esteemed members of the Sidewalk forum, we sat him down for some words.

What came first, skating or drawing? – Apparently I was drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil. My mum discovered I was totally enthralled, so a pen and a surface to draw on = one quiet child, not causing mischief.

What sort of thing would you draw? Can you remember? – Yep, I copied the Fraggles and the Mr. Men and Little Miss books.

And what came next? – School. Drawing became a way for a socially awkward kid to actually blossom a little bit. I wasn’t then, and still not really now, a gregarious guy. Friends would laugh or bug out on my pictures, which is all the encouragement I needed to make more. Nothing has changed in that respect. I wasn’t a smart kid, nor was I athletic. Drawing was a great way to have a little self-esteem in a place that I didn’t quite ‘get’.

When did skating come along? – When I was about 10 years old. My friends introduced me to so many rad things: the Beano, Garbage Pail Kids, basketball, cricket, skateboarding. I discovered that skateboard magazines existed – a window into this nutty world! Simon Evans, Gavin Hills and TLB were running shit in RaD, and I was fucking hooked. There was a skateshop 30 minutes away, and an indoor skatepark in Guildford. Deathbox graphics blew my mind. I had no idea. They were like the Beano, but way weirder. As a young kid, skateboarding seemed to be this magical world. The graphics – Deathbox, Powell and Blind definitely helped suck me in.

The indoor park shut down about a year later, but by that point, I had experienced the local rippers destroying the place. Greg Nowik turned up, and blew my brain to pieces. Impossible tail grab to fakie on a steep mini! I barely knew what was going on, but I was so hyped on it.

You used to go to a lot of comps and events, right? – Yes! By the time I hit 13, I had skate friends, and we would travel to Southsea, London, Radlands… Serious World fiends, total groms. Skateboarding was definitely a sanctuary for a grumpy awkward teenager – a world I could cope with. Weirdly, the more I got into skating, the desire to draw basically stopped. The whole process felt rubbish. I had big ideas – inspired by board graphics, cartoons, graffiti – but I had no idea how to reign them in, to actually achieve them. Finding the balance, the middle ground between your influences and what you can actually achieve took me a long time.

But you stuck with skating? – All the way. It’s quite addictive. I was crap, but having a group of demented friends to spend time with was the best, way more fun than school was. We were a bunch of twats, but in a good way. School did help a bit though: I started finding out more about art there. Picasso really hit the spot, due to his big fat lines, his cartoon style.

Was that something you wanted to do yourself? – Sort of: art is fascinating, and the wealth of ideas is vast. I guess I saw it as another area of images to explore. But its also really wanky and stuck up its own arse. That pretentiousness, the worthiness factor – definitely appealed to my teenage self, (laughing).

Ha! So how did that go? – Not so well. I ended up going to art school and the experience was interesting, but the love of drawing only goes so far. The great thing was messing about with lots of different formats – sculpture, oil painting, photography, animation. I ended my course with a show reel/ video of cartoon skateboarders getting squashed by 100 ton weights, and other daft stuff which prompted the move into the TV/ film industry for a bit. That world sucks so hard.

But you’d found your way back to cartoons? Did “the art world” still appeal at all? – It was back to trying to make people laugh. Serious chin-stroking wasn’t for me. It was always the drawing dudes that grabbed my attention the most – Degas, Giacometti, Kentridge, Goya…

Were you enjoying drawing at that point? – Yes! Life drawing was lovely: to finally let go of “make a proper picture”, and to discover drawing for the utter fun of it. Not being so concerned with the outcome – the finished thing. That was starting to happen when I was 18 or so. I had started to see stuff like Twist, Futura2000, David Shrigley. Those guys were sort of art, sort of graffiti, sort of weird, and certainly ruling. I have a big pile of mini-notebooks somewhere, full of awkward pen doodles. Doodling became so important to me – it was another escape.

You have a full time job and do art on the side. Do you like that balance or would you be interested in pursuing drawing as a “career”? – Having been the “I could do that” guy, I now seriously admire people making a career from their passions and abilities. It takes serious brains! People want everything for free: putting a price on something I love doing is brain-ache central. Plus it requires networking – I’m hopeless at it. Making stuff has been something I have done since I can remember. Making stuff for its own sake – not in a worthy “I’m so creative” way, but just because it was fun, exciting, and I wanted to. Had to. So no, not really thinking about doing this as a career. I fuck about and make things as decently as I can, and then go back to work.

When did you discover the Sidewalk forum? – 2004ish. I worked nights for months, and would bum about on the Internet when it was quiet. Primarily to try to pimp my mix CDs, heh.

When did you start putting up pictures on there? – 2005 maybe? I started messing about with skate photos in Photoshop. It was another way to give people the lolz, to take the piss. That sort of blossomed way more than expected – I had an audience to be a dickhead for. I think sometimes about how nutty Van Gogh was – to work in almost total solitude. I love having people respond to my stuff – it becomes a sort of energy you use to make more. As time moved on, I started to think more about making original stuff – not using other people’s photographs, but using my own cartoons. ‘His board had no pop’ was the first step I think.

His Board Had No Pop is one of my favourite things ever. Where did it come from? – Ryan got me a book of poems and stuff by Tim Burton. That triggered some macabre ideas! Getting into to my inner Robert Smith.

What came first? The idea to make a zine, the idea for the story, some of the images… – The words. I wrote a poem about this soggy old board, and then thought, “aha! I could illustrate it”. So began mining my brain for visual ideas. I made rough sketches of each picture, and slowly refined the pictures until ‘they looked right’ – until it started to look like what I wanted, what I expected of myself. Expectation is a road to madness. I shudder to think quite how many hours I spent on it, just trying to make it ‘good’. It went through about 4 fully realised versions. The vision of it in my head was so vast – tight yet loose, clean yet scrappy, fun yet sad. What a muddle. I think I was trying to draw like everything I liked at once.

At what point were you happy enough with it to get it printed up? – I think I’d finally had enough. I’d pushed myself as hard as I could with it, partly because I felt I didn’t have a style yet. I wanted to explore how to make comic art from myself, rather than biting someone else.

Do you think that’s possible? To make comics or cartoons that aren’t ripping someone else off a bit? – No, not now. But I was younger, full of naivety and arrogance, desperate to prove something to myself, that I could do something different.

How does that feel? Depressing or liberating? – Now? Utterly liberating! It is depressing sometimes, but that uncertainty is part of the game. To quote OC, “the more emotion I put into it, the harder I rock”.

When you look at the comic now how do you feel about it? – Strangely proud, it feels like someone else did it, yet the process of its creation is utterly embedded in my head.

You’ve already achieved what most people would call the pinnacle of a skate art career – the Jereme Rogers pro board. What’s the story there? – I started lurking the Slap forum, and a thread pops up, asking for people to submit graphics for his next board. He had recently delivered his rap track ‘Word around Town’, and the Magnum lyric made me chuckle. So, he got drawn wearing a condom over his whole body. Very much inspired by Naked Gun. Next thing I know, J.Cas has chosen my graphic, and some boards got delivered to my dad’s house in the US. Ridiculous.

So you’ve done a board for Selfish, but since then we have seen no more Smoke graphics. How come? Is it something you’re interested in doing or do you prefer the immediacy/not having to deal with other people of forum/Instagram silliness? – I just haven’t pushed in that direction I guess. Good skate graphics need to have elements of sick design, humour, a distinctive style, maybe even a novel idea. My stuff is scratchy and daft, probably based around some silly pun, and I can’t really imagine it selling very well. Companies need to sell boards, I want to make something that me and my friends can snigger at.

Do you really believe that? How many of your favourite graphics are “commercially viable”? – Yes – Blender, Gonz, Fos and so on have all done weird and wonderful graphics – but primarily, they’re important figures in skateboarding. I don’t think any of them would have done graphics had they not contributed massively to skateboarding beforehand.

Do you reckon? So ‘who you know’ or maybe ‘who knows you’ is the most important thing? Do you think Coffee Break would have existed if Blender wasn’t already Blender? – I think it’s skateboarding applauding the person – “you’re a sick skater, we’re turning you pro, what’s your graphic?” Someone like Ed Templeton, or Andy Howell took that opportunity and put something of themselves on their boards. And people love it. I probably wouldn’t have listened to Pulp had PJ Ladd not skated to them – I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to New Deal graphics if their team was shit. Their talent at skateboarding gave them a platform in which to direct it in a way they felt suitable. That’s pretty rad.

Do you think that phenomenon still exists any more? With people actually putting something of themselves into their board graphics? – I’m pretty sure it does: brands like Flip, Baker and Sk8 Mafia still tap into their pro’s personalities/ quirks/ selling points, plus you still have people like Childress and Pontus using their own art for board graphics too.

Neil Macdonald: Did you get to see shit like SM5D and Wrench Pilot? Were you too late for those? – I saw Bloody Kids quite a bit. I didn’t really like them at the time, but they did fascinate me. Wrench Pilot is beautiful, the best thing Andy Jenkins has done, but it was rarely funny. Proper stream of consciousness stuff. Whereas the Bloody Kids has the Viz humour influence. The best Wrench Pilot was the Calvin and Hobbes homage. Bill Watterson is the guy, so, so good.

Who else would you put in his league? – Heath Robinson, Andy Howell, Leo Baxendale, Quentin Blake, and Ronald Searle.

Outside of skateboarding, what current pop culture do you enjoy and what influences you? – The Amazing World of Gumball is a great cartoon show, completely bananas. It’s sharp, beautifully observed, and ridiculous – in the best way.

Joe Sacco’s cartoons about going on tour with a band are excellent: visually rich, plus you can’t go wrong with stories about moody musical mashmen. Irvine Welsh’s books are similarly entertaining.

You seem to be more drawn to cartoon strips than longer comics. Is that true? Any ideas why? – No attention spa… LETS GO SKATE!

Haha! Is it that? Or are you more drawn to jokes than stories? – I haven’t explored graphic novels that much – the Scott Pilgrim books have tickled me though. Walking Dead too. The impact, the conciseness of a good comic strip is the best.

Impact is interesting. It seems like that’s something you go for a lot. Partly in what you draw but also how you get it out there. – I kind of assume people don’t have a lot of time, so aim for short and sweet. Getting punched in the face is sick – the visual impact of a good cartoon is just that.

A lot of your work goes straight to the Internet, but you make the effort to make a real thing (stickers, zines) fairly often. How come? What do you like about each approach? – Straight to Internet stuff is great fun: an opportunity to play with ideas, styles, themes without too much pressure. Doing the zines and stickers is a little more thoughtful, but ultimately still terrific. You need to give some thought to the medium you’re choosing, and to try something that will be suitable. I love having a physical thing to hold/ read/ stick on stuff, and it also means I can sort copies to my friends.

So there’s a bit more quality control on something physical? – Sort of. It seems things on the Internet have a very fast shelf-life, whereas zines can be pored over for time. Both are important – Internet stuff needs that comic impact; zines can be a little more ponderous.

There’s a strong impulse in your work to be a bit… mischievous… but you also seem to be extremely careful not to cross the line into being mean. How do you deal with that? Isn’t it a total headache? – It basically comes down to “is this funny, or am I being a cunt?”

What happens if it’s both? – Then I’ll probably send it to you to laugh at, and then leave it alone.

Haha! So being funny comes second? – Yes. I grew up in a house that was both very sensitive, and very sarcastic. Fun times.

That actually explains a lot! – You got me.

I sort of agree with you, but not completely. I think sometimes, if you’ve really thought about why you’re doing it and what you want to say, then properly going in is totally justified. You don’t see much in skateboarding any more that makes you go ‘oof’ and I think that’s a shame. – Properly going in need brains, awareness of being accountable for what you’ve done. I’m dumb as a box of rocks, but with a mischievous streak, so I generally steer clear of poking wasp’s nests. Is there much to go ‘oof’ about anymore?

Skateboarding is still as silly and odd as it ever was. But maybe the aesthetic has changed – funny nineties style cartoons are out and boring monochrome photos and graphic design are in. – Late 90s, bar Flip, cartoons were done. I’d say they’ve had a resurgence. The Internet has helped, people open Instagram, and want a quick jolly. Baker, Palace, Heroin have all done cartoon stuff recently. Death has been flying the cartoon flag forever.

Yeah, that’s true. Anti Hero seem to have had a proper resurgence lately. – Good call. And with Instagram/ Tumblr, you’re getting people like Greg Conroy and Henry Jones doing nice stuff – not necessarily board graphics – but the act of skating is inspiring people to make pictures.

Talk me through your process from idea to finished drawing. – I nearly always start a picture with a pencil and a sketchbook. Soft pencils – 4Bs – are weapon of choice. They’re like loose trucks, you can carve about like a madman. I then ink the pencil drawing with fibre-tipped fine line pens. Clean black lines look great, but the wonkiness of a coned pen works out well too. After that, it gets scanned and coloured in using Photoshop. Boom!

Which bit takes the longest? – I take the most time on my pencil drawings. Pencils fucking rule! Photoshop is a sponge of dither. Being the strong-minded, decisive individual that I am, I have no need for dithering.

I really liked that desert island decks feature that Sidewalk used to do so we’re bringing it back for one night only. Five decks. Go…

1) New Deal Ibaseta tug boat

2) Superdead testicowl

3) Deathbox Dossett sweet tooth

4) Palace hanging on the telephone

5) Cliche Je Suis Charlie

Krillmonger: What comics did you buy as a kid? – The Beano was the one, basically. Old Beanos were way more interesting though. I began to hunt down ancient Beano books in second hand shops. I liked the artwork more, plus it seemed way more anarchic. The behaviour of Minnie and the Bash Street Kids was far more brutal – teachers getting mashed up, plus the threat of getting caned or slippered made them that much more amusing.

Doowrag: Smoke. Actual surname or pure coincidence? – It’s a pisstake, a nickname that stuck. It’s catchier than Paterson, aha

Schrödinger’s tits: Longest slappy noseslide? Answer in the official UK measurement of kerb stones please. – This is some glory days shit right here. My trick bag is more of a trick purse so slappy noseslides got rinsed. Got wax? Got fun. We had a flat kerb in a carpark Farnham, it was waxed for days, well, I waxed it for days, my best was somewhere between 8 and 9 kerbstones. That took a lot of pushing.

Dog Bowl: Rate your top 3 car parks and why.

1) Farnham station carpark – it was our Southbank, complete with phonebox.

2) Farnham Road in Guildford – downhill curbs son!

3) the UG

Voodoo: How does your and Jon Horner’s (working) relationship work? – We make pictures, then meet up and drink beers. It’s the best, having someone to bounce off is killer. It helps get the inspiration going – ‘he’s hyped, lets do this!’ sort of thing.

Buildafire: Long before I knew what naked ladies looked like, I used to try to draw what I thought they might look like, and then try to wank over my creations. Did you ever do that? – I was about 9 years old, and we got given massive A3 folders at school. They were paper, so drawing on them was an option. I drew my teacher having sex with another teacher. My classmates was delighted, but then I got caught. My teacher called my mum into school. Funny thing is, she totally bottled it. She complained to my mum that I had drawn ‘Jesus, the light of the world’ as an actual light bulb, instead of drawing him properly. And she didn’t even mention the sex pic, which I never saw again. Damn! Maybe she kept it?! Filth.

Faceache: Carroll or Howard – Whaaat! that’s impossible. Sheffey

Oyola or Reason – Fred Gall, ahhaa

Julio de la Cruz or Gino Perez – De La Underflip. Chariots of fire tech.

Huf or Wainwright – Wainwright. Such a sick style.

(F/s flips) Reynolds or (90’s) Penny – Peeennnnnnny

20 Shot Sequence or Mouse – Fuuucckkk. 20 Shot Sequence.

Curtis or Si Evans – Gotta be Manzoori, surely. Curtis and Evans both rule in totally different ways, but Manzoori was the don.

OG P. Duffy or OG D.Way – The Terminator! He can fall on his face and it won’t hurt.

Tical or Liquid Swords – Return to the 36 Chambers is better. Even Cok thinks so.

Empty carpark or Empty Skatepark. – As far as time notched up, it would be carpark. Empty skateparks are sick to zoom around though, do stupid lines without getting in the way of nutters.

Mrs B: curbs before herbs, or herbs before curbs? Curbs in the burbs with nerds!

A massive massive massive ‘yeah boyeee’ to Jon, Neil, and the Sidewalk family, Faceache777 and Mrs B, the Skeets, JK and the station dudes, Morph, Buddle + the Yes Fam fam, N26 posse and my moms. PEAS