Campbell Milligan found out the hard way that barcodes -- those ubiquitous black-and-white stripes married to bits of numerical data -- serve an actual purpose.
For an early issue of the magazine Monster Children -- the sumptuously produced skate/art/fashion magazine Milligan cofounded in 2003, based in Los Angeles and Sydney, Australia -- he prevailed upon the artist Thomas Campbell to hand-paint a barcode on the cover. Though this might have been a sound aesthetic decision, from a strictly utilitarian point of view the experiment was less than a raging success.
Campbell's hand-drawn barcode could not be scanned.
Thus, several bookstores that carried Monster Children called to complain. Barcodes, Milligan was made keenly aware, are necessary for the stocking, distribution and inventorying of a wide variety of consumer products -- even antiestablishment skateboard-culture magazines that would prefer to treat such mainstays of modern commerce as merely arbitrary suggestions.
The end result of this "ah-ha moment"? Machine-made barcodes were plastered over Campbell's artwork at a cost of about $4,000.
But, as William Blake once observed, the crooked roads are the roads of genius; the straight roads are the roads of improvement. And clearly the barcode anecdote says something about Milligan's uneasy relationship with the straight and narrow.
Whether it is his deconstruction of the barcode's orderly stripes, or the idea that a skate/surf/snowboard magazine need shy away from high culture, design and fashion, Milligan has never shied from iconoclasm.
"In the early years we were little s---s," Milligan, Monster Children's creative director and publisher, wrote in an e-mail. "If someone told us green was a bad-selling color for the cover, next issue would be a green [camouflage] cover. Barcodes. Who uses them? Apparently lots of people, as we found out."
And even if Thomas Campbell's artistic experiment did not quite work out as planned, Monster Children has been able to reap the benefits of its nonlinear approach to publishing and, somewhat paradoxically, has achieved something resembling staying power by staunchly refusing to stand still.
It is, after all, a magazine with an abiding interest in skateboarding.
Rapidly approaching its 10th-year anniversary, the journal features contributions from musicians, art-world A-listers and literary lions alike -- many with longtime skateboarding affiliations. A column about wine by the iconoclastic prose stylist, gonzo journalist and mordantly witty Big Brother alum Dave Carnie, writing by Girl Skateboards' Andy Jenkins, even a Dylan Rieder interview by ESPN.com's own indefatigable reporter Chris Nieratko, are among the embarrassment of riches bestowed upon its readers.
And why stop at barcodes?
With consistent inconsistency, Monster Children visually reinvents itself every single issue, playing with fonts, format and convention all while happily mixing "high" and "low" culture. In practice, this means one can find interdisciplinary movers and shakers -- like Jerry Hsu, Greg Hunt, Damien Hirst and Raymond Pettibon -- mingling between its pages. (As this is a hip arts magazine, also be prepared for a certain amount of tasteful, well-lit nudity.) Reading Monster Children is a lot like attending a party where there is beautiful art on the wall, beautiful people engaged in searching conversation and also a more-than-respectable skate session underway.
Monster Children's latest U.S. issue, its 37th, celebrates just this kind of teeming cultural diversity.
Beck, the quintessential '90s alt-rock collagist, graces the cover. Inside you'll find an interview with mildly neurotic professional skater Alex Olson and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Girl/Chocolate video 'Pretty Sweet.' (Come to think of it, ESPN.com should challenge Monster Children to a friendly game of S.K.A.T.E. I got nollie flips on lock! I used to...kind of‚Ä¶have switch tre flips! Bring it!)
Milligan's original goal was to create a magazine that could illuminate the singular sensibilities skateboarding spawns and ensure that one outlet would always remember that skateboarding will never be just a sport, but a way of seeing and being in the world.
"We started Monster Children with the idea being that if we made it past 10 issues, it would be a success," Milligan writes. "So making it to our 10th year is a little bewildering. The magazine spawned from our own lives and interests. We grew up skateboarding and surfing, so of course we read surfing and skateboard magazines religiously. But as we got a little older, our tastes matured; everyone's did. We discovered that the same people who liked the work of, say, Richard Prince were also big fans of Gonz or Jason Lee. Skateboarding has always fostered creativity, though."
Follow the mag at monsterchildren.com or on Instagram at @monsterchildren.