This week we take a look at photographer/skateboarder Phil Jackson’s skate culture zine Borderline Retarded. Now on its eighth issue, the Brooklyn-made, saddle-stitched zine is printed yearly and sold for the bargain price $5 at the annual FDR 4th of July party in Philly as well as on Etsy.
Jackson describes the zine as a mix of “photos of skateboard and youth culture with handwritten musings on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Often crude, occasionally poetic, always entertaining.” Jack Kerouac meets The Gonz in 20 pages.
Mass Appeal: How long have you been involved with skating?
Phil Jackson: I started skating when I was a wee lad, just a 10 year old boy, so that makes 15 years and counting . . .oh jeez.
What does the title Borderline Retarded mean?
I actually can’t remember how I came up with the title. Originally there was a sticker that was a half-toned graphic of a childhood photo of me lookin’ kinda screwy. I just wanna put it out there I mean no offense to anybody with a retarded child, it’s just a joke.
When did you start publishing and what was the original inspiration?
I broke my ankle at Skatopia in June of 2005. Laid up, I had been thinking about trying to make a zine when I got a package from Michael Sieben of his old project, Programmed From India. I was so psyched on it. It was just the perfect brand of humor (with jokes like “Top 5 Reasons to Start Smoking: Reason #1, it will give you something to do during that 5 minute period of depression immediately after you masturbate.”)
I got stoked and realized that I had a month until the 4th of July party at FDR [skate park]. Since I couldn’t skate, I figured it would be a good way to keep myself busy, and I could give them out to all the people in town for the party. My basic idea was to make a zine about skateboarding that never really mentions it. But if you get it, you get it.
Can you tell us more about the 4th of July party at FDR skate park and the relationship to the yearly release of your zine?
Every year there is a huge party at FDR for the 4th of July. So I knew a ton of people from all up and down the east coast would be there and I could kind of spread it around that way. After the first issue, I just kept putting the zine out once a year on that date. Until recently I would always do a center spread that was a photo from the park, and it would say “Greetings from your friends at FDR skatepark. See you next 4th of July!” Sort of like a postcard.
I still put the zine out once a year on 4th of July. It gives me a hard deadline to work from and people know to expect it on that date, so that keeps me motivated. And I like that every issue is a single year’s worth of photos from that previous year. So a little stack of zines can represent eight years worth of my work. Kinda crazy.
How would you describe the design and style of the zine and how did it come about?
Basically, when I started, I was literally ripping off Anti-Hero ads as best I could. I would cut them out of magazines and study they layout. I couldn’t understand what made them so good. So it was me just desperately trying to cop that style. The “I don’t care how this comes out so it ends up being awesome” look.
Now I just try to do interesting things combining text and image, try not to repeat myself, explore / learn / mess up. I try to put photos next to each other that can react or play off of each other in a new way. I think this last issue I really tried to step outside of the routine and find new ways to do things. If you feel a pattern emerging, you have to break free from that.
Why are there no photos of tricks?
Like I said, I don’t really want to mention skating directly. And I shoot skateboarding all the time, fish eye lens and flashes, that whole kit. I think that has its place in glossy skate mags, but my zine isn’t really about that. I’m just not interested in showing the act of skateboarding — even though the zine is about skating. It’s kinda like if you know, you know…you don’t have to be told.
Can you elaborate on capturing the aesthetic of traveling within the zine? How you represent the lifestyle of traveling and skating.
Traveling and skating are the things that I live to do, and documenting that has always come naturally. I try to be a fly on the wall so to speak…I’m in the trenches with the rest of the soldiers so I blend in pretty good. More recently I’ve been trying to write more, tell the story surrounding something, or use extended captions, not just titles. Trying to impart some kind of insight (not that I have any) or lead the reader in a certain direction, let them know what I was thinking at the time.
Did the zine inspire the book FDR Skatepark: A Visual History?
I wouldn’t really say that. I worked on the FDR Book out of admiration for the park. It’s such a special place…it really is one of a kind. But my zine is more about my love for skating and the culture in general, if that makes sense.
Besides your zine, do you have a favorite zine you’d like to share?
I’m going to name some of my recent acquisitions from this summer:
Corey Rubin’s Untitled #2 — a world of abstraction from up and coming Brooklynite skate celebrity Corey Rubin
Over & Out #2 — trains, skateboards, and the print exchange program via one of my favorite people in the world, Brad Westcott
Smoking Is Cool #3 — my friend works at a pizza shop in SF and gave me this. I like!
Tim Johnson’s With Boys #1 and #2 – Chicago / skateboarding / cool use of notes and handwriting, I like!
Chris Bernsten’s Daily Practice — awesome black and white natural light Leica action, Chris and I do a similar thing but he does it better… and he has a new book out called the Ritual of Nothingness
Cheese Bike #5 – There’s this kid that lives in Bushwick Brooklyn and he has a grill mounted to his moped…he sells grilled cheese sandwiches for $1 at art openings, super nice guy, and this is his awesome zine of philosophical musings. And it even comes with financial breakdowns of his exploits as a grilled cheese vendor.