2016 was a tumultuous year. Outside of skateboarding (and even within, depending on your preferences), let’s be frank, it wasn’t the greatest – but why harp on the bad when skateboarding has always served as the best medicine.
During the year, we’ve seen brands get as creative as ever and had to nod our heads towards this tremendous effort. Gone are the days where you could simply slap your brand’s logo on the bottom of the board and have sales remain steady. In fact, the outbreak of individual graphics has skyrocketed in a former series-dependant industry.
While there’s simply no way of telling who had the best graphic(s) of the year, we’re listing what we witnessed as the best company output of 2016. Whether it was the least expected, the cleverness, the longevity, the relevance, the humor or, in some cases, how uncomfortable they had us feeling, the brands featured on this list pushed skateboarding graphics to a whole ‘nother level.
Of all the potential collaborators and all the board companies, somehow somebody at Darkstar of all places came up with the idea to work with Japanese “superrealist” Hajime Sorayama. Known for his painting and airbrush skills with robots of the female persuasion, this was one of the last people we expected to see associated with skateboarding. Despite being probably the least likely collab of the year, it is undebatably one of the most visually memorable and a heyday for fans of obscure references. It’s admittedly been a minute since we found any product coming out of Darkstar to be enticing past a first glance, but this is why you never write off a company – you never know what might happen.
The Philly-centric Traffic continued their already long run in 2016 as purveyors of boards you’d definitely buy to skate. It’s tough for such a strictly one-city/region-associated brand to appeal outside of their demographic proximity, but our west coast contingent have been chasing these down as much as our east coast faction. There’s something so universally translatable within Traffic’s take on graphics and skateboarding; so much so that we really could’ve picked any graphic at random to showcase and been happy with our choice.
Keeping in mind the quite trendy motif of appearing as though you know your way around a chainsaw or have a grasp of Americana past mainstream basics, we had no intention of putting any board having to do with either the “woodsman” look or old modes of transportation on this list. Then we remembered the Northern Co. and our noble intention went out the window. As far from generic as reasonably possible, these particular offerings bring genuine real life feels and, if things were right in the world, would signal other brands to just stop and come up with something all their own to put on the bottom of a board.
Considering how much skateboard companies like to pull from popular branding, there’s something about Scumco that feels like they actually think it out from the consumer standpoint. You know when you’re perusing a board wall and see that 1/2 to 2/3 of a graphic and immediately have to check the whole thing out to see what you were missing? That seems to be the S&S specialty and we’re hyped on it.
There’s been a lot happening across the pond of late. We started noticing early on that Isle’s graphics are as solid and interesting as their video work, prompting us to dig a bit deeper. What we found was some serious business, combining multiple mediums to bring out a good mixture of dark and light thematic elements and strong use of embossing tactics. Unpredictable and well thought-out, Isle has an eye that’s ever-so-slightly off from the norm, providing us with something of a metaphorical challenge and window into their psyche with each release.
Straying away from their metallic boards this year, Primitive finally showed their true colors as a future graphics powerhouse. With unique collaborations and sly cartoon-like visuals reminiscent of the ’90s, Primitive took a completely different approach from their initial offerings and even took some jabs – at themselves. Shane’s unofficial Zigram board, as well as their incredible Biggie collaboration, had us anticipating Primitive’s every move in 2016 and very curious to see what 2017 will bring from the previously shine-oriented company.
Eye-catching, classy one-offs that speak surprising volumes. Photo graphics hold a special place, and these have kept that place since we first saw them. Considering their pulls from different eras within the last century of American pop art, Becky Factory is on the slow and steady track to becoming a board wall stalwart.
Magenta’s one of those brands that doesn’t necessarily make that one board you’d claim as “the best”, but their appeal is utterly, specifically, especially theirs alone. They pushed it this year with guest series’, deviations from their norm and a nice statement board that we can get behind, but maybe the strongest feature is their use of the underlying wood grain colors to accentuate certain graphics. Not an original tactic, Magenta nonetheless made it their own in a truly authentic manner.
Graphics, to some extent, are about expression and showcasing thoughts that many are thinking but might be too afraid to verbalize, right? If so, Fairweather will be recognized as a brand that shouted their thoughts from the highest peak. While their output wasn’t high in quantity of graphics, each board stood out and was instantly memorable. These guys also utilized the board shape and parody better than most this year, and the amount of steady improvements these guys have made is tangibly notable and much appreciated, which only leaves us anticipating their next drop.
In an era of demographic pigeonholing, WKND just ran with what was good. We’re not sure what it says about the industry when it comes as a surprise that a new company doesn’t immediately have some image they’re pushing hard in an effort to be the next trend, but this year we got WKND and it was about time.
Politic’s output has been increasingly strong since their debut, and this year saw more or less every release on their part as a standout. In maintaining an original aesthetic in a vast sea of hardgoods brands, Politic merges parody and an authentic east coast flavor that continues to gain infamy with every drop. Not only did they step their hardgoods game up in every way, but Politic’s professional ranks of no-joke east coast underground heroes was perfected with the addition of someone we’ve had our eyes on for double digits of years through several cities worth of long-term wreckage – Taylor Nawrocki – upon the unveiling of his “Video Part Of The Year” contender in Spirit Quest. If you haven’t seen it or the Politic vid yet, you’re blowing it.
Girl continues their enormous legacy as skateboarding’s “it’s cool to not be cool” brand. This year, we saw them take more chances with their branding and imagery, as well as continuing to collaborate with both notable and underground figures. For an establishment that continues to push the same message in new and exciting ways without being left behind in a sea of temporary trends, we’re forever interested in seeing what Girl has to offer. Their timeless wit and indifference to what kids want this very second are forever appreciated.
There’s very little to suggest that Real would ever not be a contender for a list such as this one. Despite always having some of the raddest graphics around, this year Real took cues from their less heroic DLX brethren and really started fucking shit up. The brand has never been scared to make a statement with their graphics, and did so while doing cool shit like pseudo-guest boards that gave props to non-Real-affiliated skaters and putting out nonstop high-quality video content. Seriously, thank you Real.
The fact that Gonz art doesn’t get old says a lot. The truth is a lot of us thought Krooked would get stale within their first or second year, but a decade-plus later they’re only getting weirder and awesome-er and somehow even more their own entity. Get it strait yet? ; )
Chocolate’s simplistic approach has always resonated with fans of the brand but, as with their sister company, we saw them take more risks and appease trendy aesthetics, all while keeping that authentic Chocolate feel this year. Considering how obvious every other company was in this aspect, we found ourselves in awe that Chocolate has been able to not only maintain but considerably improve their particular version of whatever it is they’re tackling at the time. Longevity and respect – there’s a reason these aspects are attained by some and not others.
Oh, the year of nostalgia… if you’re going to do it, you best do it right. As far as boards that stand out on a shop wall, Hopps has been on top of it all year. These particular boards in person bring a rush of ideas of how best to arrange them for maximum inspirational efficiency, and subtly remind us of analog pursuits and their benefits. Perhaps the heaviest overall trend this year was largely analog visuals (old cars/trucks/planes, candy, nude photos, etc.), which elicits certain questions – is it a reaction to the nature of digital vs. analog? Is it a cry for help, like “we need more of this?” or “Lest we forget our history”-type thinking? Regardless of the answer, we’re thankful that Hopps continues with their original approach that constantly keeps us on our toes.
Coda’s graphics are all seriously well thought-out, artistically relevant and not-in-the-least pigeonholed. Each board is its own treat, but the “Dead Spots” graphic (above right) had us most smitten, especially because of its comic book aesthetic. We couldn’t very well just let Rob Helmstetter‘s work and Pat Smith’s direction slip by those who may not have seen it, especially given the masterful storytelling that was managed in one fucking board graphic. You may not find a better wall-hanger than this one for a long time, and even if you skate boat-sized boards (this one logs in at 8.6″), you’d have to think twice before scratching up this masterpiece. Coda has yet to release a dud, and we can only say that about a handful of brands.
Not only was it refreshing to see pretty much everything out of the TOPX camp this year, but to see Kerry Getz and Mike Maldonado portrayed in the way they were brought nostalgia full circle. The collaboration with Ryan Gee (above left) is perfect, they’re manufactured in Philly, and damn if we weren’t hyped to see Pops’ name on a board again. Outside of nostalgia, their graphics are insanely challenging and complex (above right, if you needed a clue), but if that weren’t enough to resonate with you, they got the one and only Don Pendleton to return back to his most appreciated practice – board graphics.
Most “edgy” brands can’t keep up with themselves and stale out quick. Then there’s Anti-Hero, who are maybe the only brand to truly never give a shit. For better or worse, they care less than you do and that’s why they’ve always been the sickest. In the only form they’ve come to show, they’re the epitome of skateboarder’s doing things in the interest of skateboarders- which in itself is unclear and completely obvious at the same time. The anomaly that is Anti-Hero and their formula to create the most memorable graphics is a secret we wish to never know.
Of all the brands to enter the game within the last few years, Polar had a lot working against them when it came to making a splash in the US. Their graphics have always been solid, but their location and unknown-to-the-US crew of rippers had them working to earn stateside recognition… but don’t underestimate Pontus Alv. With the highest quality of graphics, edits, collabs and some uber-sick American riders (not to mention their amazing full-length vid from earlier this year), Polar became a board wall go-to for a lot of us and solidified them as a force to be reckoned with. Their introspective and emotionally-drive graphics give you a view into a world otherwise unknown- and even then, no one comes close to seeing the world through the eyes of Polar.
Seemingly immediately known and popularized for their particular aesthetic over the last couple years, the long-running inside joke that became what we know as Fucking Awesome managed to not only upkeep their standardized image during 2016, but continue to expand it utilizing the subtlest of nuances most straight-up missed or glossed over. FA employed specified foreshadowing as a visual device, often unfortunately and immediately lost to the hypebeast that is the substance-deprived modern skateboarder. While some utilized the art of the collage for a cool look, FA told stories you had to actually work to figure out with theirs. FA went from neat-looking decks to creating the board graphic equivalent to a David Bowie-penned concept album.
A Jake Rupp guest board is pretty much all you needed to get our attention, but having us all questioning how their graphics got so good so fast landed The Killing Floor in our crosshairs. There’s no one way of describing TKF’s imagery; they’re all unique in their own way, yet all of the boards fit into a cohesive narrative when lined up in order of drops. Some brands just nail it every time and there’s not much more to say about it.
You couldn’t pull out better nostalgia references if you tried and you definitely wouldn’t have thought to put them together in the “7th Grade Intro To Photoshop” manner Alltimers did. Whether or not they’re poking fun at trends or legitimately hyped on shit that came and went before a lot of present-day skaters were born, there isn’t much not to love looking at. Bonus points if you can name every reference and quadruple bonus points if you saw the Mark Morrison board and didn’t cringe a little at the thought of hearing that one song 100 times a week for 6 months straight. Alltimers have created a flavor all their own, leaving everyone simultaneously anticipating their next drop and wondering if Alltimers is just playing a massive practical joke on all of us.
Sean Cliver remains possibly the most relevant and unique board graphic artist/master currently operating. Each very limited graphic has a story and a lot of commentary that comes with it, resulting in a quickly growing following for this new brand. In the midst of skateboarding’s collage spike, Paisley remains both creative and controversial in their approach- which makes sense, considering Cliver wrote the book on it. Paisley Skates feels like the kick in the balls that skate graphics needed and we urge them to take as many swings as they want in the upcoming year (please).
Quasi is the brand that became the unlilkely foundational basis for board graphics this year. Sometimes everything just works out.
Beginning as lil’ nomenclaturally-challenged startup out of Alien Workshop Land, Quasi pulled out the absolute least expected graphics of the year with each collection drop. You never had a clue what the hell was going to come out of their camp as far as anything went, especially board graphics. Quasi quickly established themselves as a board wall standard, and deservedly so – continuous A+ output only goes unnoticed for so long. Whatever your thoughts, it’s undeniable that no brand is more indicative of 2016 than Quasi.