The first real skateboard I got when I was a kid was an Andrew Reynold’s pro model, back when he was on Birdhouse. You know, the one on whith an executioner holding the head of some four-eyed dude with his hands. Back in the days, I was just an eleven years old skate rat who was only striving for the raddest graphics. As a consequence, the board I was riding at the time was way too wide for my little midget’s feet, and to be honest, it didn’t really help the skating part of it. Whatever, all this shit to actually say, even though most skateboarders would privilege a certain shape or a brand they like, a crusty visual is capital. Todd Francis is one of those guys triggering anybody’s need of getting a new board. As a fact, his illustration work perfectly defines the craze and spirit of Skateboarding. To the eyes of some, the dude would be called borderline. This is thus not a surprise to see him working at Anti-Hero (amongst others), one of the most anti-commercial and Rock’N’Roll brand in the current industry, where he signed the majority of his most recognized illustrations. Well, I had the chance of talking to this incredible guy to find out how the fuck he gets all these sick ideas.
J / You live in Los Angeles, how’s the atmosphere there ?
T / It’s usually good, it’s funny because it’s about to rain and it’s perfect because there’s a pretty serious drought that has been going on for a while. But you know, generally speaking it’s great here ! Just not today ! I’m on the west side closer to the beach so it’s not too hot.
J / Do you skate a lot yourself ?
T / Not really, I push around, but in terms of expressing myself on a skateboard, it doesn’t happen often hehe. I ride an old-school shape, no long-boards.
J / As an artist, it kinda looks pretty rough to evolve in the skate industry, but it seems like it went pretty well for you. What happened ?
T / I went to college and got a degree in art, and when I got outofit, I knew it was pretty much all I was able to do in life so I moved to San Francisco after college, after about a year working for random jobs, I found out about a job at DELUXE. At that time doing skateboard art wasn’t something people were talking about and so I worked there, had a good time, did a lot of work people were able to see. I was at the right place, at the right time. It was a hard job, there’s a lot of work, you had to work really hard and get a lot of stuff done. In college, I was working for the college newspaper, it was a daily, so I had to deal with deadlines, doing artwork for that thing every day and so you get very good at thinking fast. It’s like, you get two hours to draw a XXX and then photo reproduce it for print so it’s very similar to a magazine and things that are printed, you gotta get fast and confident. That doesn’t always work for people.
J / Does pressure influence your artwork ?
T / I don’t think so, you know some artists will sit back and relax, smoke cigarettes, drink coffee. I’m not like that. Either you have an idea or you don’t and I don’t think you need to sit back and let it marinate. A good idea goes very fast, so I kinda think this stuff is bullshit. I believe in deadlines. It’s always the way that I worked.
J / How do you get inspired ? Do you have any process before you start creating ?
T / I’m always reading, I read the newspapers every day, I read a lot about the news, they are what inspire me the most I guess. But I mostly get inspired by being angry so staying up with what’s going on with the world never fails to get me angry and so that’s where a lot comes from.
J / Does your art gets the anger away ?
T / Maybe temporarily.
J / Is there any time you knew your work was beyond the limits ?
T / There has been times, and especially lately, where you wanna do jokes or art about the depicture of Mohamed or the recent shooting in Texas over a Mohamed drawing contest and you know, that seems too far but I never bother painting or drawing before settling it too far. But most of my work is in skateboarding and the work I do for Anti-hero, I don’t know if you really can’t go too far, if it’s a good idea, if it’s intelligent and funny, I don’t really look at stuff whether it goes too far, it’s just is it funny or smart, does it make sense ? That’s more the stuff I talk about lately, I don’t think too much about good taste. It’s about taste and how good is the idea and how can I make it better.
J / Which one of your illustrations are you the most proud of ?
T / The Hitler Christmas car, a lot of stuff I do with the pigeons, pharmaceutical drugs. I just did one with the ISIS prisoners going on the beach to get beheaded, replacing the prisoners by famous fast food images. I’m proud of that stuff and I don’t see a lot of people doing that kind of work. That’s sort of what’s going on with me, these days.
J / Do you think one can laugh about anything ?
T / I don’t know if it’s gonna make me sound incredible, but I don’t really think about being careful, which I consider boring. I think most artist are careful, there’s no shortage of “Careful” out there, so I’d rather meet and challenge people. Whatever I’m working on, I don’t worry too much about going too far. If you want boring, it’s easy to find.
J / Pigeons. What is their true meaning to you ?
T / Well, yeah it goes back quite aways, because it started by doing the pigeon for the anti-hero logo back in the early nineties, before we decided to go with the eagle. Pigeons have always been special to me and they’re are funny, you associate them with the city and most of the work I do is about the city so it’s like a reflection of all that. I just try to make it funny and cruel and upsetting, dark, they’re just a vehicle for me to do that. It’s an extension of people. There’s a quote of I don’t know who, saying you can judge a society on its treatment of animals and I always see that city pigeons are always in a rough state, really diseased. SF particularly, so I always hung on to those ones you know.
J / You seem to carry little respect for cops...
T / It’s not like being anti-police is a huge thing for me because I see both sides, police have a super hard job. Most of the people that become cops were in the army or tried to get in it, there’s a certain type person that is primarily willing to become a cop and so that’s the kind of people I generally trust in their decisions. No, it’s never blown up in my face, I do it when there’s a famous shooting or a trend about police. It’s not my priority though. You see a lot of anti-police stuff so I try to save it for when it’s more appropriate. Los Angeles has recently had issues with shooting on the street where police are shooting hoboes on the street, when that happens I do something about it.
J / You got involved in the development of Anti-Hero Skateboards, how did that roll ?
T / Since the early nineties, I’ve been working for DLX and Julien Stranger had been riding for Real during years. Jim tiebault and Tommy Guerero and a couple of guys around the place decided he needed his own company and so he and John Cardiel said hey don’t you wanna create your own company and I was just lucky enough to be working there at the time and the art department was like small, we were two or three there. So I kinda took this idea as my pet project creating anti-hero from nothing and at first a lot of the graphics we did early on were not too good, it improved with time though. But the first ones I made were pretty mediocre. The graphics were actually the last part to get good because the skaters, the brand and everything were good.
J / The craziest story you got in your pocket.
T / When the team got thrown together, it went pretty fast. There was Shaun Young, an amateur for Real, Julien Stranger, John Cardiel and this other kid named Bob who was doing tricks no one did. They grabbed him at a contest in Vancouver, which he won. They didn’t know his name at the time so they just called him Bob Gnarr. So the team was like “Alright, this dude has a long complicated name we don’t even know what it is and we have to create a graphics for his board”. I had a week to make this visual so his first board had just Bob written on it. That shows how fast we must do what we gotta do.
J / And the craziest dude you’ve worked with ?
T / When I think about someone I worked with or someone who stands out of them, the first guy who always comes in mind is the same every time : Ruben Orkan. He’s the dude who ran Spitfire and Thunder at DLX through the nineties, and this guy was hilarious ! He talked and acted like Ronnie Dangerfield, but in skater. So a lot of the best ideas he would have for Spitfire were stuff he dreamed up while drinking on a Sunday night and he would just bring them the next day. He was so funny, doing funny shit, so he’s the person who stands out, which’s got the strongest personality. Unfortunately, he died in 91 because of a lung cancer and eventually died, it was pretty awful as he was a good friend of me. We used to live in the same street... We would carpool to work everyday. He’s great.
J / If there was one board graphic to be taken down your grave, which one would it be ?
T / Probably the same one I always say: Julien Stranger’s graphic for K9, where the German Sheppard is attacking the policeman. For me, it’s probably the best graphic I did because of the colors and how nasty the graphic is. Also, it’s a board for Julien Stranger and I really like him so it has an extra meaning.