Who remembers Skank magazine? Launched in 1993, the comic strip style publication was a somewhat brass, raucous and anarchic addition to the newsstands. Similar to Viz magazine, it would frequently take a satirical look at topical issues but with a very specific lens: most of the characters featured were either black celebrities or the type of characters who would be considered stereotypical tropes within the black community, such as old favourites Wendy Weave and Mary Mampy. In short: Skank allowed us to laugh at ourselves. If you attended a local college in the early-mid ’90s no doubt Skank would be the topic of conversation, or someone would have a copy that you would pour over in the canteen during lunch time. Now nearly twenty years after Skank closed its doors in 1997, the brains behind the publication, Bobby Joseph, returns with a semi-autobiographical book which takes us on a journey behind close doors, charting some of the crazy happenings which occurred while producing Skank.
Hi Bobby, take us back to 1993 when Skank was first launched, firstly what gave you the impetus to start it?
I was approached by the X-Press Books (publishers of Yardie and Baby Father) to come up with a Black Viz. I knew a few Black writers (Gary Coley and Michael Robinson) and artists (Daniel Francis and Joseph Samuels) from around the way (and in college) and along with the watchful eye of The X-Press, we took the formula of Viz and ran with it (some would say mangle it (laughs). It was a team effort. Some comic strips worked better than others. Some we don’t mention…
Were you nervous that you were essentially taking the piss out of some beloved members of the community, not to mention creating characters that some may deem offensive due to the fact that some felt Skank played on negative stereotypes within the black community?
We never thought we were doing anything negative. We always had the intention that we were satirising people’s assumptions of stereotypes (that was always our brief from the XPress boys). We were all kids back then, so we were learning our craft and maybe that got lost sometimes in the translation.
During its heyday Skank sold 30,000 copies per issue, why do you think it was so popular?
People loved us. We had a magazine that represented people out ‘on road’ but still had a certain level of ‘satire’ that was embraced by the mainstream. Remember, Skank was pre-Ali G. So back then, what we did just blew people away with the humour we dropped. Yeah, we may have been crude, rude but at the heart of it, we were funny as hell. I still look at some stuff today and chuckle.
Your company allegedly folded following a lawsuit from Linford Christie who felt your comments defamed his character. Can you tell us more about that situation?
How did it feel to see something you’ve worked so hard for get taken away so rapidly?
I’ve moved on. That was over twenty years ago… I’m not one for dwelling on negativity.
So now over 20 years later (wow, how time has flown), what made you bring back Skank?
Has it been over 20 years? Dang! NOW I want to dwell on negativity… (laughs). There are a few reasons why this novel is coming out. The first one being that it is a semi-autobiographical story about Skank Magazine. What went on behind the scenes were a lot crazier than the contents of the actual magazine. We were crazy yutes on an adventure that went pear-shaped! The second reason is that the Skank fans will be able to get hold of their favourite Skank comic strips (along with new ones) all in one place. The last reason that the novel/collection is coming out is for charitable reasons. All proceeds of this book will go to Meningitis Now. My daughter Akira died of Meningitis 15 years ago and this is my way of honouring her.
Can you give our readers an indication on what to expect – who are some of the celebrities you’ll be taking a shot at?
Apologies to the Skank fan base expecting us to drop some raw vibes, but this book doesn’t take shots at any celebrities! That is soooo 1994 – lol. It’s a different type of Skank now. Is that maturity? Nah! Lol. Thinking about it… we the Skank Magazine Squad get gunned repeatedly through the book. I’m ridiculed throughout the book… I don’t know if that counts?
Would you ever consider bringing back Skank?
Nah Skank Magazine is done. It was a product of its time. And I am proud of it. If you look at the hilarious memes on social media, that to me is the suitable successor to the anarchic humour of Skank. As for the comic strip front? We are doing some Skank related projects. There are graphic novels in development… Scotland Yardie (one of the most popular characters in Skank) is coming out as a full colour graphic novel from Knockabout Comics this summer. It’s essentially a Black Lethal Weapon in South London. It is a satirical piece that looks at police brutality in the UK (and I don’t think the Met will be very happy when it comes out!). I’m doing this book with the brilliant Joseph Samuels. There is also a whisper of a Skank Fairy Tales graphic novel (by Michael Robinson and Danny Francis)… but that is a tale for another time.
Skank: The World’s Most Dangerous Comic Book is available to purchase on Kindle via Amazon, click here for details.