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Sketching the irony with Henry Jones

October 7th, 2015 by Zac

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The observer who lurks behind the counter of your local skate shop generally picks up on traits in everyone who visits the store. Aside from providing you with the best freshly glossed pieces of maple and urethane to suit your steez, their other natural game is to be aware of the characteristics of their clientele, by clocking the dominant, the followers, the thinkers, the slackers, the fearless, the jokers, the thieves…. and so on. It’s not set in a rule book, it’s just human behaviour.

Within these observations comes banter and Henry Jones likes to dish out a lot of it, in illustrative form. His satirical sketches, derived from his experiences, have become insta and tumblr favourites, bringing a smile, a thought, a chuckle and a share, generally in that exact order. So long as irony presents itself on a plate, Henry’s fingers will never get bored.

Find his world on instagram.

How’s it going out there Henry?

Good man, just hanging at the shop all day working on stuff.

Fairman’s right? Isn’t that one of the oldest skate shops in the US?

Yeah man, one of the oldest, if not the oldest on the East Coast. Some people just came in but they are just riding around on Penny boards so I can answer your questions now. Haha!

Let’s start at the beginning as this is straight off the bat with no notes…

Originally I’m from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, which is just short but outside of West Chester where I’ve been living and working for the last few years.

How did skateboarding take over your life?

When I was younger we only had like one other family living close to us, two of their sons who were a little older than me skated and I thought it was the coolest thing. We also didn’t have a paved driveway either so if I wanted to skate I had to go over to their house or just skate flat on a 4×8′ piece of plywood. A few other people in the area started skating and eventually the local hunting and fishing store started to sell skate stuff since the owners’ sons both skated.

Result, at least you had some access. So what era was this and what decks were on the wall at the fishing store?

This was like early 2000’s, I started skating in ’99. I remember the first pro deck I bought was a Blind ‘Switchblade’. Their wall was usually filled up with classic Shorty’s logo boards; they had Maple, all the old AWS decks too. That was when everyone still screen-printed a lot of their boards so I can still remember how the place smelled of freshly screened boards. Haha!

What a memorable waft…

Right?! The nostalgia is really seeping in right now.

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I guess you were watching the likes of Welcome To Hell, Mouse, Menikmati, Misled Youth etc. Board graphics would have been starting to get gnarly in that era…

Yeah mostly stuff like that, I had a lot of the Logic and 411VM’s.

They were skateboarding’s Holy Grail back then before the internet watered it all down…

Exactly! I’d watch the same ones over and over just to make sure I’d be up to date on everything. Now I don’t know shit about anything going on in skating cause it seems like there’s just too much happening too fast.

What video was your most wanted? I see one of your sketches references Flip’s Sorry vid.

Sorry was and will always be a favorite of mine. I think the video that I really enjoyed the most though was Maple Skateboards’ Black Cat video. I remember all the intro’s to everyone’s parts had really sick animations and some of them had like cartoon titties and shit, so I though that was ‘cool’.

Nothing like seeing cartoon titties to get you in the mood. Were you one of those kids at school who would sneakily draw dicks on people’s school books then?

That was the least of it. I used to draw some pretty fucked up stuff in grade school. Haha! Mostly for shock value but yes, that was definitely me in the simplest of terms.

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Were any family members caught up in the artistic world or did you just pick it up yourself?

Yes, both of my parents are phenomenal artists, graphic designers, carpenters etc, so I’ve always drawn from a very early age. I think skating actually kept me from drawing as much as I did before I discovered skating. I consider my Mom) a real “artist”. She does amazing oil portraits and things like that. She actually started a sign shop on their property that my Dad pretty much took over since he is very talented with graphic design as well.

What about sarcasm, did they manage to pass a heavy dose of that on you too?

I’d say that’s mostly me. They always managed to stay pretty wholesome when I was growing up. They actually made me go to a Christian school until middle school and I would always get into trouble for my drawings being too “obscene” or “demonic”.

Ah, so it’s the old rebellion uprising from being around religious nuts that fuels this party then originally, good call. What offended people most in your initial offerings?

I used to draw like knights, dragons and shit like that – people getting their heads chopped off etc. Some of it got pretty gruesome.

I also had a friend whose Mum and Dad were priests and he turned into the gnarliest skater / crack head you ever met…

Ha! I could definitely see that happening! Thankfully my parents never tried to jam anything down my throat and respect my beliefs, or lack thereof.

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What about irony, at what time in your life decide to rip the piss out of traits that skateboarders can’t help but drag around with them?

Well I’ve worked at Fairman’s skate shop for almost five years now and in those first few years I was really exposed to all ends of the skateboarder spectrum. The material just seemed to walk in a present itself to me. Also being in a relatively busy hub like West Chester I get a lot of opinions about skateboarding from people that haven’t the slightest clue about it.

We also run skate camps so I’ve taught private lessons in the past, and let me tell you…holy shit, it seems now that every parent expects their kid to be a pro skater ’cause they saw it on fucking ESPN2 or some shit. I could go on and on about that. Yeah man, just the fact that we are in downtown West Chester means that we have so many weird lurkers and shit, the inspiration seems endless sometimes. Haha!

Skate shops are built for lurkers though, (thankfully) especially when it rains, I guess the doodles just flood out from every scenario…

I think that I spend so much time either working in the shop or just lurking there that so I get so much inspiration I don’t even know of. Fairman’s is like right in downtown West Chester, which is a college town 75% of the year so we have our fair share of longboard douches, penny douches, segway thing douches, etc. We have a wall with a bunch of old boards that the original owner, Dave Fairman, pressed and shaped himself and every fucking Friday night some drunk middle-age dude wanders in to convince me that he “had that exact same board with the roller skate wheels” when he was a kid. That traditionally then leads into their life story and how “kids these days”…..yadda yadda yadda. Oh man, I could go on and on. I don’t wanna seem like too much of a hater. Haha!

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The old “I skated with Tony Hawk once and have a lock of his hair” scenario…?

Exactly. I’ve heard it all. We also get a lot of Bam Margera fans coming in looking for him because they think it’s his shop. In fact we still get fan mail for him every week! The shop has sponsored him since he was a kid so he’s always been associated with us, but yeah, he’s nice enough to usually give the shop guys the code to his gate so we can skate his park.

Ah, Castle Bam….

Yep, it’s like ten minutes or so outside of town. It can get pretty crazy over there but I usually steer clear. Haha!

Is he still painting his old man’s kitchen white and slamming axes through his front door or has he chilled out a bit now? Is there a local legendary story?

His kitchen is currently paint splattered with a multitude of colors for reasons I don’t know. The craziest local Bam story would probably be the time he got too drunk in town, started a verbal dispute with a local resident, that ended with her knocking him out with a baseball bat. Ha! Or when he burned down his mega ramp. As the intro to ‘Viva La Bam’ states: He does “whatever the fuck he wants”. In all seriousness though I have no idea, I’m sure I could make assumptions but I’ll leave it at that. Long forgotten, he’s a fruit cake.

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The 90s had so many characters, I see your art reflects all sorts of responses debates from skaters that their generation were better than the current scene. Knowing your skateboarding history often helps with progression though.

Yeah, I like to draw stuff like that because I think it’s so easily forgotten. Like it’s weird for me when someone comes into the shop and has never seen ‘Sorry’ or ‘Photosynthesis’, or any skate videos like that. I’m biased because that’s when I started skating but it will always hold a special place in my heart.

The old “My era will always better than yours” debate will go on forever. Your ‘2015 trends’ carrot chasing sketch really captures an image of exactly what’s going on…

I think that drawing can translate to every era, 2015 was just appropriate at the time. People are always chasing the trends trying to stay ‘cool’ and make sure no one has a reason to hate on them (that’s where I come in) that they almost seem to end up losing their own sense of style just to look like everyone else. It’s kind of depressing if you ask me.

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Does ‘cool’ even exist in skateboarding? Everyone will always have their own opinions on what they believe it is. Sheep culture seems to have kicked in more than ever right now, at least when Bam was at his peak, he dressed like a pirate and didn’t give a fuck. Isn’t that what skateboarding was supposed to be about originally?

That’s exactly what skating is supposed to be, but on the other hand if you really want to dress a certain way or skate a certain way, fuck it. No one’s hurting me. I will make lighthearted jabs at you however. I try to poke fun at everyone; we all have our flaws that can be exploited via pen and paper.

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That’s true. Who do you think has got away with it the most?

Today all people get away with it most. I think recently it has got to the point where I almost expect a skateboarder to be dressed a certain way. I call it the skate uniform. Skateboarders are so connected now that once something is ‘cool’ everyone knows and everyone is doing it.

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Sheep mentality is unfortunately herding skateboarding towards the Olympics. Core brands have always resisted involvement in the past but sports brands have moved that theory into skating ten fold to sell more product globally. There’s no doubt that the sheep who think they are ‘cool’ will all complain when the Olympics arrives, but forget that the shoes they have worn played a huge part in it. Typical skateboard irony.

I think we are defining ourselves too much. When it gets to the point that you can televise it and make it that sort of competition, when one can say, “that person is a skateboarder because they do that like everyone else”, I think that’s bad.

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Is that what skateboarders really want in the long term though? Do they realise by backing big corperate sports brands not owned by skateboarders that vacuums money out of the core industry, they are funding the movement towards the complete opposite of ‘cool’? The hashtag skate every day thing means skate more, wear out our shoes and buy more of them please kids. You can picture the sales graph and the marketing people around that boardroom table if you shut your eyes.

I don’t think most people think of it on that level unfortunately. Skateboarders started out as the misfits, now when I see the generation of skateboarders they just remind me of jocks.

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There was a moment in the early 2000’s where all the supposed ‘cool’ kids started working for sports brands who hated on skate parks. It was street or nothing, with turned up noses to the internet, skate jams and fun comps. Now we see those same people talking about parks and repping skate events because the corperate brands they front own them. It’s just one of the sad, ironic situations that has made a lot of people laugh worldwide. It’s even harder not to laugh at those individuals who shouted skater owned to the hills and finally gave in, jumped ship and took the money.

Yeah, I do think that’s pretty unfortunate, but you could also look at from a different perspective. I also think it’s great that more people are able to actually make a decent living off of skateboarding since so many more people are willing to endorse skateboarders. It’s a double-edged sword. Do you want to stay ‘core’ or do you want to be able to lay a foundation for a future family, housing, retirement even?

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That’s an obvious point, but if the industry backed skater-owned shoe companies, like the majority used to, and skaters fucked off the sports brands, the skate industry would actually have sales to fund those same jobs for those who needed them keeping ownership of their own scene. It worked for everyone before those brands came along just fine. How is your own brand Corposkate going to cope with demand when it launches?

Haha! Corposkate will never be an actual entity; it’s merely just a manifestation of all the different pros and cons of big business in skateboarding. But yes, if skateboarders did actually back skater owned companies that would be possible, but unfortunately Janoski’s are just so darn ‘cool’. There’s that word again.

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If Corposkate was real, who would you have on the team?

Hmm that’s a tough one; I’m assuming I’d have a corporation sized budget right?!

Well of course, everyone else’s mum, dad and cousin would be funding it as a tax write off in their jogging wear and hackey sack lycra shorts.

Bobby Worrest would be up there, the hometown hero. Also if I could actually get the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater line-up on my team I think that would be pretty legendary.

Pushing those buttons…

Up down left C, man.

Ha! Pass that blunt.

We might not win too many contests with that lineup however.

That’s fine though because if you ran your own branded contests your own team riders would win anyway. Isn’t that how it works?

That is how it works! When your own skater wins your contest it’s just like paying yourself for advertising.

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Exactly, small world problems then. How do you run away from your own problems in this life?

I can usually only run away from my problems for a few hours when I skate before I’m dragged back to reality. It’s getting tough to find the time these days.

How much time goes into the drawings, do you bust them out super quick?

I can usually bust ‘em out pretty quick and the actual concept or idea takes the longest. I do everything with just a black pen then colour them with markers.

So no computers needed, that’s rad.

Nope, I’m sure I could do them on a tablet or something but when I scan them, the actual drawings have a certain grittiness to them that would be impossible to mimic on a computer. I like that, it keeps it alive and very real.

Have you ever tried to roll them into comic strip form?

I’ve thought about it. I really like the idea of single panels though, short and sweet. I suppose if an idea required me to do multiple panels it wouldn’t be out of the question, I’ve just never felt the need to yet.

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If ‘likes’ are a means of measuring what’s most popular which drawing takes the #1 spot? The pills?

I think that one would probably be up there if I posted it now, more recent ones have more though. Like the “sorry mom” one and a few others have a considerable amount more than the others.

Do many people send requests?

All the time! A lot of time though it will be for a personal thing like a tattoo or something so I try to help out if I have the time.

What’s the most ridiculous?

Hmmn…Nothing too ridiculous. More likely than not it’s simple stuff, like people ask me to doodle their dog or something. They just want it done they way I do it I guess.

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Did you laugh when you first saw your art tattooed on someone’s skin?

At first yes, because the first tattoos I saw of my art were people getting them thinking it was Gonz artwork. After a while more and more people started to get them knowing it was me, which really amazed me.

I will let you get back to counter duty, I’m sure that Penny boarder will need some new sports shoes and weed socks, but let’s have your final words on whether you see yourself as a skater or an artist…

I fancy myself a skateboarder rather than an artist for sure.

Nice one, keep up the splendid work.

Find Henry Jones’ wonderful work on instagram.

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