I recently approached Sandro Grison to do an interview on ten years in retrospect of Color Magazine, and what better person to have answer the questions than the Owner and Publisher himself. Here’s what he had to say.
Take us through the beginnings. How did the idea come about, what was the original vision, and how were you able to release the publication?
It’s starting to get hazy now. I totally subscribe to the theory that the more ideas I work on and the more memorable things I might get involved in, the more my memory dissolves and I remember less… Louis C.K. says he keeps all his material in his head because if he writes it down, it’s gone – he can’t retain it. Which is pretty interesting because we’ve always been told the opposite. This is such a big question I’d bore your readers with the amount I could write so let me just address the last part which is probably the main thing people really want to know.
Color 1.1 (May, 2003): Cover plus inside gatefold – Ryan Smith gap to fs boardslide [ o ] Blabac
After about a year of talking about and working on “the magazine”, despite all their hesitation, my parents were finally convinced I wasn’t backing down and agreed to cosign a bank loan. My partner Dave Christian and I swiftly blew our wad and with no distribution plan at all, gave the magazines back to our trusty advertisers. We really owe it all to them, because shipping is a huge expense for Color to this day. Magazines are the only product within the skateboard industry that just shows up at shops with no charge for shipping. Anyway, after a couple issues like that I got sick of eating Kraft Dinner for weeks on end then hearing from shop kids how rad it was getting the mag so they can sell it to people and buy themselves lunch every day, we made it to newsstands. But now we’re getting farther than just “how we were able to release”.
Color 3.1 (2006) Michael Chalmers, switch backside tailslide – diecut cover w/ gatefold – Color Store
Color Magazine has always stood out in the sense that it gives you a realistic view of skateboard culture in a broadened perspective. It doesn’t border on just skateboarding, and advertisement, but also supplies good reading material, and visuals. How were you able to achieve this?
I’m really glad to hear you use the word “realistic” because that’s an important buzzword for us around the office right now. And thank you for your kindness! There’s a simple answer here and that is that Color is independent. Every half-conscious business mind would probably gravitate to NOT doing any of these things that set us apart. There’s beauty in naivety.
Do you feel like some of the other publications that were readily available at the time were lacking the visual aspect, and were to focused on the act and not what surrounds it?
It’s not just the visuals per say, but what’s going on in those photos – who’s skating and what are they doing in the photo? I’m as big of a fan as anyone so not to discredit any of the other skate mags, but if I didn’t think there was something being sorely missed, I wouldn’t have got into this in the first place. I went to school for fine art, and always had a hard time with writing and design. I think there’s a right way and a wrong way to do both those things. Art and Skateboarding has no rules and that’s what’s so appealing about it. To answer your question, yes. If I didn’t think I could offer something different then I wouldn’t be doing this.
“Age Of Aquarious” fashion editorial Color 6.1 (2009, 5 year anniversary) [ o ] Siney
What have been some of the standouts for you over the last 10 years?
Mike McCourt calling out RDS will always stand out, if not just for the reaction it received and then the ripple effect it caused. Maybe you can tell the readers what I’m referring to… It’s kind of one of those stories when keeping it real went wrong.
I don’t think it turned out all that great for McCourt in the end and I never really asked him how he felt about the outfall of what seemed like a downward spiral after that. But I can’t imagine Mike navigating within the skate industry any other way and I’m grateful there’s dudes like him.
Tell us a bit about how the art direction has changed over this time. How do you personally feel the publication has visually evolved?
This is a really relevant question right now, as we just underwent a big overhaul of the design. When we started, the best skate photography was done with medium format cameras shooting 120 film. I do enjoy the 35mm photography of that time a lot, but it was pretty well unanimous that med-format was the shit. Kind of how some people have that opinion of HD video now, vs. SD.
I shaped our entire brand around this symbol and the idea of greater quality and the magazine itself took the square form. The new design nurtures the square within its grid, but is much more relevant to the photography of today. I could talk all day about design, but these days I’m thinking more in terms of the object as a whole, than moving shapes on a page design.
What are the biggest challenges that go into running a magazine?
Other than money I’d say the greatest challenge today is Social Media. Everybody’s excited about “metrics”—likes and clicks, that they’ve lost sight of anything with depth. It’s like everybody’s a mathematician all of a sudden and they’ve got it all figured out; except they haven’t been told the equation!
Here it is:
Marketing Guy cuts print & cultural budget cause he can pay a fifth of the price online and get 10-times the number of impressions. This is true! But who’s to say that value of that number? You’re right back in the same place where you started, only it’s probably going to take a generation for those people to realize that they just cannibalized their brand and now it’s too late, they’re finished. Out of business, just like the magazines they used to advertise in that went out before them. Did I lose you?
“Why did they go out of business?”
I’m glad you asked! (imaginary conversation), Marketing Guy saw he could get impressions just advertising on Facebook and spamming inboxes—and we love seeing those metrics, don’t we. It makes us feel assured. While the world grows dumber by the click-load watching Ebaumns World on YouTube and all of our mom’s have joined in on the conversation, those cultural hubs have all dried up because people got lead a stray for a while. The mags that do exist are grasping at hairs to stay alive and stuck bent over by one advertiser while blowing the other for a payday. I probably lost 80 percent of the people who started reading this because it’s hard to follow when I’m writing for short attention spans, but I’d love to have this conversation with anyone who’s interested.
Here’s one for the comments tab – “Thrasher Magazine is the best skateboard magazine.”
Why, because they cater to middle America and have Ed Hardy-esq flaming shirts and an editor that bullies little kids into giving their video parts for their website? That makes for a successful clothing brand and a content-rich website, but where does the magazine fall in to place? What do they have to offer there?
There is focus on Film, Fashion, and Music. How important was it to you to include these, and how do you think they affect the reader?
It’s incredibly important to me because I think it helps to show the appeal of skateboarding to creatives and vice-versa. It stimulates the same side of the brain (if you let it). There’s some dudes who would just rather stick to skating for now and that’s why we make sure the skate content can hold its own. But I think it’s important to maintain consistently strong art and lifestyle content so that we can expose our version of skateboarding to people who might not necessarily skate but pick up Color for that stuff.
What is the standout issue, interview, or one piece of visual content you have seen over the last 10 years?
Wow, this is a heavy one because it’s hard to compare an entire issue with individual features or photos. Here is my picks for each:
1. Standout Issue –
Any of our Special Editions — The Kids Issue, Green Issue, The Photography Issue. Vol.7, No.5, the one with Chad Dickson’s switch heel down black double is a rock solid regular issue that stands out in my mind too. But if I had to pick just one it’s The Tour Issue. The double cover (skate & art) with Silas Baxter-Neal and John Rattray skating doubles is probably my favourite textbook cover we’ve had, plus all the content inside holds a lot of ground. You just can’t fuck with the New Zealand story in there, where 10 of the best skaters around are choosing to ride their bicycles across the country. The fact there was any skate photos at all is remarkable, and it couldn’t have been a better crew. That one will sit on the shelf as a photo album from a trip I only experienced through words and pictures.
2. Favourite Interview –
Deer Man of Dark Woods (5.1) The easiest interviews are usually my favourite ones in the end because they’re easy for the the fact that the subject has something to say. I’ve been luck to have had the opportunity to interview pretty much all of my skateboarding idols growing up. Muska, Reynolds, Koston, Mariano…Danny Way
was a real treat. I didn’t stress too much about what I was going to ask and he was well primed because it was the release of the documentary about him. The other one that really stands out to me, probably because it’s just so different, is the first-ever Deer Man interview. I grew up around the barrier kult even before they were called such, so I had a clean advantage, and we’d been ramping up to it, releasing the first articles about Ba.Ku. The interesting thing about that one is the creepy way it all went down. Still to this day, I sweat we were talking to some kind of spokesperson for the kult and not really Deer Man himself. It’s that kind of line of fact and fiction that I think skateboarding needs more of these days.
There was an article we did in the Collectors Issue (6.3), I’m really fond of too, which was a series of interviews with skaters who make art from things they find while skateboarding. It took a lot of work to pull together (finding Bobby Puleo…)
and a lot of editing to steer it in the right direction. I really didn’t want it to be another “skaters who make art” piece, and I think it was successful. I’m going to shout out Nick Brown’s interview with Brian Gaberman here too. That issue, and those visuals… you can’t lose.
3. Visual –
I’m inclined to pullout some art images, but that’s so subjective. Any photo from The Photography Issue would work here, but a random frame from a sequence Dave Christian shot back in the early days still really resonates. It’s of Travis Stenger throwing his board down in frustration and you can see the impact is twisting the board in mid-air! Stenger was such a powerful skateboarder and this photo says almost just as much as any of his skate photos do. Not comparable to real life though… wow!
Where do you see skateboarding, and its culture in the next 10 years?
Skateboarding is definitely retracting right now but it seems to be gravitating toward truer things. Skater-owned brands and corporate ones too, but just the ones who were smart enough to get people working there who really know what’s up. At the end of the day, whether we’re talking about publishing or skateboarding, the single thing that sours either is greed. And the ones who are after money aren’t going to reach it without sacrificing what could be a cool thing. There’s nothing wrong with being corporate, just don’t pretend you’re not. And that works both ways. Those smaller, skater-owned companies everyone loves so much right now are great! For a long time we were seeing projects pop up from skaters who were acting like the big brands, trying to appear as if they had it all figured out when they really didn’t. I wish everyone wore their heart on their sleeves like that. In the next ten years I think we’ll see less and less middle-class skate brands. Skateboarding as an action—not “action sport”— will always continue to grow.