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