Lost magazine #10 spread by Hael, who switches the letterforms he uses more than most writers

Bright Lights, Big City: L.A. Graffiti on screen & in print

The pursuit of self-publishing is almost inevitably a money-losing endeavor. Couple this with a concentration on a regional microculture, and you can almost guarantee that units won’t be moving. Not so with LOST, a small-run magazine from Los Angeles gathering the vibrant local graffiti scene of past and present at 200 pages each a time. Wire-bound and released in an edition of 500 copies per issue, LOST is available at a grand total of a dozen retail locations in the world. Here is a little run down of LA graffiti in general, some facts about LOST and a selection of the best writers around town.

Written by Ian Lynam
Images by Lost Image Capture

Los Angeles is the laboratory where the recipe for modern American life was formulated. The city’s early decentralization and the populace’s disenfranchisement were precursors to the urban/suburban American condition today. These forces pushed contemporary LA graffiti writers away from comfort zones if they wanted their work to be seen. Angeleno writers knew that if they wanted folks to see their name, they had to make it large, and they had to place it where the majority of other Angelenos were: on the highway.

Augs, Seks, and Easer meet Puffy.

In the words of LA writer Eklips AWR/MSK: “We all go and paint on the freeway, or on a bridge, 200 feet in the air on a one-foot ledge, risking our lives (laughter)”.

Los Angeles’ graffiti is highly influential due to writers’ affinity for setting new standards in terms of where they will write… which is pretty much anywhere: hanging off freeway overpasses stories high, scaling buildings, and coating massive overhead highway signage. Virtually anything is a canvas to LA writers- they’ve painted the sides of ocean liners, cars, whole buildings, and in 1997, Saber painted “the world’s largest graffiti piece” on the concrete banks of the Los Angeles River.

Atlas – a documentary about Los Angeles graffiti bomber Atlas by Joe Forney and Gavin Blackstock of The West Video Magazine. Watch the movie here!
The largest graffiti in the world: Saber’s LA River piece.

Coupled with the risk factor is the diversity of styles of graffiti practiced in Los Angeles. Crew like AWR, MSK, LTS, and CBS members’ work is comprised of very technical multi-colored productions finished with highly technical three-dimensional effects. The flipside is the solid geometric throwups and more traditional wildstyle lettering created by writers from crews like OTR and TKO.

Los Angeles graffiti is also notable for writers’ adaptation of blackletter letterform models. Driving around one will see those (commonly called Old English in the U.S.) letterforms in barrio calligraphy in public murals, signage, and gang graffiti. The wide use of these types of lettering is representative of Mexican and Mexican American communities in the U.S. and Mexico.

Old Italian blackletter by Jacopus Foresti, circa 1497.
“A recent Snoop Dogg album cover lettered by LA’s Mister Cartoon. Los Angeles hiphop consistently uses modified blackletter, and this visual vernacular reverberates culturally through CD artwork mimicking this style internationally.

No one seems to agree on how blackletter became so influential, however. The first book published in North America was set in rotunda, a member of the blackletter family, in Mexico in 1544. Other folks have suggested that gangs appropriated these letterforms because of their very official-looking use on documents like diplomas.

LA graffiti derived from blackletter sources.

Doing some Q&A with EyeOne of LOST magazine, I asked him if he had any postulation on the history of how blackletter made it’s way into the Mexican American vernacular?

My only speculation as to how it made its way into the barrio vernacular is that on the aesthetic, formal, and plastic levels, those letterforms have held their appeal for centuries and demonstrate a very refined, stylized, artistic take on writing.

Lost # 11 cover.

Lost flyer, aping 7 Seconds.

It is this mix of rich history, fate-tempting action and beautiful letters illegally painted that LOST covers. Here are some LOST magazine shots, their selection of the best crews around LA and EyeOne‘s statements to gang graffiti.

LOST magazine #10 (spread)

LOST was first published in 1998 and has been put out sporadically ever since. How many issues of LOST have been released so far?

A total of 12. The first 5 were black and white, fucked up and photocopied, 8 1/2”x11” sheets folded in half. 6 began the transition to the current format, 11”x8.5” mostly black and white with some color pages. Issue 9 featured our first offset cover and spiral binding. There was also a ‘secret’ 9 beta issue, which was distributed at some exhibits and as a promo piece. And also a set that reissued 1 through 5.

Why did you start publishing LOST in the first place?

I felt Los Angeles graffiti was not being documented. Ghetto Art/Can Control had ended. Big Time Magazine was on the drawing board. And I loved making zines.

What has been covered in back issues of LOST?

Features have included photos from a trip to NY, a story called ”Swimming the L.A. River” about a fallen homie and photos of LA River graffiti, an essay called ”Injustice System” on the penal system in the US illustrated with drawings by incarcerated writers, “Riding the Bus with My Grandmother”, a story about bus riding and my early exposures to graffiti, as well as tons of photos and articles reproducing the best LA has to offer.

A spread from Lost #8.
Lost #10 cover.

As far as writers, I have done features on Ayer, BASH, Loks On Dope crew, Tolse, PANIC spotlight, a UTI crew feature, MODEM, Rob One, MERS CBS, DCT crew, a PRYER, MAK crew, DEST spotlight, SWANK, SIZE article, GLOZE, ENVY, PRIDE, VOX, ADIKT, TEMPT, BESK, 7DEE, DER, KEYN, HAEL, PDB crew, PALE, CAB, OILER, DCLINE, CIVIL, MEAN and PURE.

Lost #11 spread.
Lost #12 cover.

Who are your favorite writers in Los Angeles and why?

Mandoe and Neo MAK (Modern Art Kids) because their tags and pieces were the first I connected with.

Mandoe one-line tag.

Krenz aka YEM AM7 definitely stands out. He had ups in most of the neighborhoods my family moved through.


Tempt STN is definitely another writer I look up to. He can burn many a writers’ multi-colored productions with one of his tags. He also has a critical and analytical approach to graffiti and it’s role in society, which I find very enlightening.

Tempt tag.
Tempt, an often-imitated LA graffiti pioneer.

Panic SH, always has the top letter styles, rooted in LA style and constantly pushing forward.

Ghoster outline by Panic.

Swank SH: he is a one-man creative force. He is unstoppable, and his creative output puts entire crews, companies, and studios to shame.


Skypager LORDS, a relative newcomer to the LA scene, has an incredible knowledge of typography that he applies flawlessly to his graffiti.


Atlas CBS because he keeps pushing and developing a style definitely native to Los Angeles on every front, from freeways to legal walls, and at the same time immediately attributable to no one else but him.


Size LOD: his style is instantly recognizable as LA style and paradoxically is the only one who can paint that way.


Modem SH is a master of traditional calligraphy and penmanship. He is one of the most meticulous painters and his letterforms consistently rock on the stylistic and technical fronts.

Piece by EyeOne and Modem.

Jel TKO for being ridiculously up throughout the city and in other states. Precise maintains one of LA’s most respected crews and is a mentor and teacher to many of us. Hael TKO is a typeface machine, a street calligrapher, and up as hell.


Cab LOD has been at it 20 years strong and still running. His style has impacted many generations of LA writers. He pioneered the painting on “Heavens” (the back of freeway signs).


Now that makes a good overview! Thanks! What gang graffiti stood out to you as you were growing up and why?

The first gangs I remember seeing up were Diamond Street and Temple Street. Diamond stood out because they almost always used a stylized geometric diamond shape with their letters, usually D followed by the pictogram then ST. The image combined with the letters automatically stood out.

Typical LA gang graffiti letterforms.
Interpretation of LA gang writer “block” style.

Overall, gang writing seemed menacing and forbidden to me. It always connoted a bunch of negative things that surrounded me wherever I went in Los Angeles. It always seemed that to be in a gang meant to be confined to a particular neighborhood. That flies against what graffiti writers do, that is, traverse the entire city to paint.

Undeniably, however, gang writing plays a big role in the development of graffiti writing in Los Angeles.

Gang-style roll call by Chaz Bojorquez.

The block styles seen in LA are another example of the influence of gang writing, as is the use of flourishes and decorations reminiscent of blackletter and calligraphy. Graffiti writers and gangsters seem to have an interest in more formal typography, utilizing variations of typefaces such as Playbill, Rosewood, or other faces referred to loosely as ‘cowboy’ letters.

There are definite crossovers in handstyles, tagging, etc. The gangster ‘E’ is one of the more common letters used, with some modifications, in tagging through LA, as are ‘T’, ‘L’, ‘R’, and so on.

The “E”s in these tags emulate flipped “3″s, common in LA gang graffiti.

As a generalization, regardless of how removed a writer is from the gang lifestyle in LA, aesthetically it is almost inevitable to not be influenced by Los Angeles’ original writing culture, i.e. the gangsters/cholos of the different neighborhoods of the city.

LA graffiti derived from blackletter sources.

Also, gangs seem to be learning something from writers. It is common to see gang names written using fat-caps now, with flares, and sometimes even in fancy European colors that I suspect just got jacked from some writer somewhere.

Thanks very much to EyeOne for his time! The full-length, unedited version of this article can be found here.

  • Arman

    Cool! Now I’d like to see graffiti in Japan, particularly those kanji ones

  • Dave

    Nice to see aesthetically pleasing graffiti now and then, the ones I have at my country are all..you don’t wanna know.

    Thanks for this article pingmag! Love this site. Keep up the good work!

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  • http://weekeat.com Wee Keat

    Nice! I’ve always loved graffiti but in Melbourne, the government is working to cover all of them up. Sigh…

  • http://www.madmamas.com stanlee

    dipset boi!!! holla at ya son! LA GRAFF’s FINEST. Illness for the 07 and beyond.

  • http://www.raggabot.com Manny-loc

    I like the blackletter references and the collection of typeographic gaff. ez

  • http://puyup biller

    neat stuff–the adoption of graffitti from formalized typography is well illustrated here and fascinating for its historical realationships.

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  • DJ Suppe

    What a dope report on L.A. graffiti and publishing! Haven´t´heard too much from over there for quite a while and would be interested in where to get those mags!

    Perhaps I could tell you another story about the L.A. writers, who seem to me to have developed quite an unique form of “spitting”(crossing*) on other crews styles and pieces:

    The outstanding graffiti crews in L.A., when finding themselves in a battle with other crews in terms of style, place and format, don´t just cross or go-over** their enemy´s pieces:
    Sometimes, they adapt their styles and colors, replace selected letters of the other crew´s or writer´s name to end up with an original looking piece, but with an embarrassing mutant name of the other crew.
    For instance, if the one crew would be called “THE LAST EMPERORS”* and would have gone over a piece by NDK*, this would happen:
    The next day they would pass by their work, in order to celebrate their (alleged) triumph over NDK, just to find out that their piece now is shouting out: “THE BLASTED EMBRYOS”, written in their own original and “unique” style!!!

    I like this idea of creative destruction. It´s an elegant answer to destructive crews, who simply go over a good graffiti artwork with a whack style. Having the own style “mutilated” in this way, the messages to be read in it are:
    1. The place (wall/ heaven/ train) you´ve sprayed on, means no problem to us! (=the danger-factor)
    2. Your style is old and there´s nothing complicated about it, we even invented some new letters in YOUR style! (=The “unique style”-factor)
    3. It makes good fun of the other crew in a refreshing and humorous way! (=The “piss-off-and-run-home-to-your-mommy”-factor)

    I was told this story by the roommate of a friend of mine, when I was in L.A. His blackbook was one of the best I´ve ever seen in my lifetime and he was exactly that radical type of alcohol and drug-abusing skateboard´n´graffiti-white-trash addict, I would hardly find anywhere else on this planet. He told me that the problem with those whack crossing-crews out there would be, that they don´t get the message and keep on stupidly crossing good pieces without regard of their status as “kings”… His graffiti-skills in mind, it is possible that he and his crew are (or were) the only ones appling this next-level graffiti-war-technique on their enemies.

    Well, I just wanted to add this story and sorry for my english…Shouts to NDK* from Germany!!!

    • crossing means destroying a piece of someone, just by putting a tag or something small on top.
      ** going over means covering an existing piece (more or less completely) by one´s own
      ***names changed to protect the innocence.
  • dsrup k4p

    Lost is the last and only real magazine in LA!! Stay up

  • gei

    nice work. i’d like to see more

  • chocomerry

    I had so much fun reading the article! do they also distribute LOST here in canada?

  • http://www.ianlynam.com Ian

    Another great documentary by Joe Forney about an East LA ice cream vendor can be found here:

  • http://www.pingmag.jp oscar

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  • Anonymous

    ya man i loved all this graff. u should keep up the good work!(looking for a new tag)

  • marc

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  • Ginger Jack

    Anyone seen the “Graffiti Graveyard” under the I-35 highway brigde in Daluth Minnesota? Its supposably the longest stretch of Graffiti in America.
    Goes on under the highway for a long way.

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  • REZN

    LA graffs tight but were im from cops and gangs hate the graffiti writers

  • Anonymous

    where im from gangsters are the ones who do it and cops dont care they help them do it!!! lol its fun i do it on my own house this old lady helps me she 80. her hair is green she is in this one gang thier called the oldies.

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