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In Us We Trust

The IGTimes is a provocation—a pronouncement from the pulpit that hits your ears like a dope beat emerging from the radio—a rallying cry, a unifying vision, a call to arms. It is as much a valentine as it is a massive “fuck you!” Now, get it right: IGT was the original inner-city, international, aerosol zine. While it owes its pedigree to the political pamphlets and underground newspapers forged generations earlier, it was a pioneer in the documenting and disseminating of emerging aerosol culture—on its own terms.

Plain and simple: IGT was the first media outlet for the movement. Launched in 1983, it was a platform of amplification for the origins and consciousness of writing, its apostles, and an oracle of its global future. Published in its 15 issues was a matchless and unintentional legitimizing view of the evolution of aerosol art on the trains of New York City and well beyond. IGT was international in focus from the start. It proffered political provocation and revolution. It demanded freedom from the captivity of capitalism. It allowed writing culture to dictate its own narrative—not to settle for the labels and assumptions of outside media. As described by style master, VULCAN, an integral member of The IGTimes collaborative, it “was more than just the first writer zine. It was an exercise in taking control over how our story was told. It was a voice for the voiceless poor, politically oppressed, incarcerated and generally overlooked.”

Photographer, projection artist and mid-western transplant, David Schmidlapp had been living downtown since the winter of ’72. As the 1980s loomed, he began to include images of aerosol art into his experimental slide-based performance works. It was a natural incorporation—he was innately drawn to it. He was amused though by the sudden “graffiti craze” erupting around him by the dawn of the new decade. He thought the scene a ripe target to satirize the “art pimps” and other segments of society. Under the nom du guerre, “Yanqui Junkie” and with the assistance of some fellow downtown artists, he published Volume One of The International Graffiti Times. It was the winter of 1983.

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Schmidlapp was fostered from the counter-culture consciousness of the 1960’s—bred on the D.I.Y. culture of underground “rags” and political activism. While attending The University of Wisconsin, he had hawked a myriad of the era’s underground publications including The Black Panther Party newspaper. Schmidlapp was a radical by nature. By extension, IGT would share that overt political outlook. The first issue’s “front page” featured a bloated image of a bruised Mayor Koch riddled with tags and hits—COCO 144’s signature crown crudely imposed in the center of his forehead. The scathing commentary called out Koch as “an emperor of an exuberant metropolis who cared little about nothing but his own belly…” Schmidlapp had fired the first shot. The seed for aerosol media had been sowed.

That first issue sold for a dollar. It folded out like a subway map and was printed offset in black and white. Flicks were included amongst the frenzied jostle of typewriter text cutouts. It felt in earnest – part street manifesto, part political parody. It included interviews with REVOLT, QUIK, SAK and RIZE waxing on writing—what it is, why do it—its history, its code—and who was real at the time. It echoed the community’s suspicions on the death of artist Michael Stewart while in Transit Authority Police custody. It warned of the pitfalls of heeding to the siren song of the galleries. Beware, it declared, “The art world is full of pimps, babbittens, and grave diggers.”

The writers from the decade earlier also had their history to tell. The zine’s second issue would connect the current generation of writers with the movement’s true innovators from the 1970’s. PHASE 2, COCO 144, and other members of the seminal collective, UGA, agreed to do an interview only after Schmidlapp was summoned to an introduction uptown. Always carrying the true interest of writers at heart, he was able to connect sincerely with the culture despite his status as a nonwriter.

“Schmidlapp,” says PHASE 2, “is the only non-writing being who I even respect when it comes to dropping aerosol science.”

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The volumes that followed through 1986 become more assured and certain though never predictable, any less chaotic and or remotely safe. This was some outlaw shit. The art world was still in its crosshairs but IGT would use spray can art as an international people’s voice, “manifesting graffiti as a basic human right, an act in global citizenship”. Police Brutality, HIV/AIDS, Anti-Apartheid, corporate greed, and the Iran-Contra affair all shared page time with flicks of train hits and Q&A’s with writers from the past and those getting up at the time.

The IGTimes was available by mail order and at a handful of underground and anarchist bookstores, comic bookshops and headshops, like Soho Zat in NYC. It also traded and communicated with an expanding network of other zines and publications. But as Schmidlapp describes, “it was [truly] a “word of mouth, travel by foot” operation.” The zine was his calling card wherever he and his network of friends traipsed in the world. They left them at galleries in Amsterdam, at art spaces in Zurich, in the hands of kids in neighborhoods from East LA to London to Japan and Nicaragua. IGT got-in-where-it-fit-in, be it at fashion shows at Danceteria, curbside in the barrio or at shops that peddled leftist literature.

Volume Eight heralded a watershed moment for The IGTimes and aerosol culture at large. Ultimate style master and prophet to the people, PHASE 2 joined on as an official collaborator and art director in 1986. PHASE’s contributions to the publication, particularly to its aesthetic with his layout and signature photo collages, defy any label or associated position. He brought with him not only an unparalleled prowess an as innovator of style on the trains, but also years of expertise in the designing of flyers for and the visual promotion of early hip hop shows. “PHASE 2 is the Miles Davis of this culture”, says writer DOME. “He creates something new and moves on to something else and never look[s] back. He just keeps on evolving.”

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As IGT evolved, there was the disuse of the “G-word”—graffiti. They find the term not only highly limited but derogatory. The word is viewed as a misappropriated label forced upon the movement from the outside media. This was a writing culture. These were writers. The “G-word” lacked the depth of spirit and proper respect for skill and technique involved. “We cannot control what other people may call us,” says VULCAN, “but we can control what we call ourselves.” It would be omitted from all future issues. As they saw it, IGT’s aim was always to question and in doing so drive their (and the culture’s) own narrative.

The IGTimes put its last issue, Vol. Fifteen, to bed in 1994. Reporting from the trenches of the culture for more than a decade, it had spawned a plethora of copycat zines around the world. Many were mirrored in its likeness, but never quite had its guts. IGT would culminate with the incorporation of full color in its later issues and ultimately with the publication of the book, Style: Writing from the Underground. Yet again, IGT found itself at the forefront. Style: Writing from the Underground was the very first book published by aerosol artists themselves. By the final issue, circulation had reached nearly 5,000 worldwide.

“I don’t know. I feel we had a power,” says PHASE 2, “a positive power that within our tiny circle made noise. [It] opened up minds and gave people something else to think about. But, it’s like as soon as we stepped off…then what?”

Today, the entirety of the The IGTimes archive is housed at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. As a recent acquisition to the school’s extensive Hip Hop Collection, thousands of photos, correspondences, reader mail, editorial manuscripts, lay-out boards and press clippings will be forever preserved for future generations to pour over and ponder. It is a rich resource and window, not only to writing culture, its creators and practitioners, but also to the zeitgeist of the era.

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