Wax the Coping: Ben McQueen’s “Let It Kill You” Series

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You may remember Ben McQueen from his “LET IT KILL YOU BOOK” which featured pro skaters who have a connection to tattooing along with tattoo artists who skate. Well, he’s back with a video series focusing on skateboarders who create art. The first three episodes feature Mike Gigliotti, Ryan Townley and, surprisingly, me. With a sneak-peek premiere happening tonight in The City, I thought I’d hit up Ben to see what this new show is all about. —Michael Sieben

Photos by Andy Eclov

wtc liky series 1Ben grills Mike Gigliotti, the guy behind some of your favorite Baker graphics

Your book Let It Kill You focused on the intersection of skateboarding and tattoo culture. Does this series also explore that theme?
Well, for this series I made the decision to open the conversation up a bit more to focus on artists and creatives within the world of skating; it felt like the natural next step. We aren’t ruling out the possibility of revisiting a tattoo episode or even a second volume of the book at some point, but for now we’re going to look at a wider range of subjects—that could include board graphics, photography, shoe design, skate videos—we have a lot of different directions we’d love to explore.

Who’s the target audience for this show? Do you think kids are going to tune in?
The impact that skate-video content had on me as a kid was massive. Any time I was able to get a sneak peak at one of my favorite skateboarders off the skateboard was invaluable. Having said that, I’d love if kids took something away from these episodes, however, the target audience would first and foremost be fans of the people in these episodes. Nonetheless, any time I’m able to bridge that gap between the nine-to-fivers and skateboarders I think that is special as well. I didn’t solely have skateboarding in mind when I made these.

wtc liky series 2Reynolds weighs in on Gigliotti

How long are these episodes?
Each episode is around 30 minutes.
Are you showing the episodes in their entirety at the premieres?
Each premiere will be a little different, but we elected not to show all three episodes in their entirety back to back. We thought that might be a little much to ask people to sit through 90 minutes of Let It Kill You. Each screening will be about 45-60 minutes long total.

What made you decide to work on long-form content versus just feeding the social-media machine?
I have a background in film and spent a couple of years at film school while gripping boards at the skate shop. I’ve always been drawn to visual storytelling. Social media is great, but how do you tell a compelling story in 90 seconds or whatever it is. I didn’t feel like I could do these people justice by making an Instagram reel about them. It was an easy decision to move in this direction. My reels are pretty jammed up with how to recreate Taco Bell menu items in my own kitchen anyway.

Were you inspired by other mini-doc series when brainstorming this show?
I’m 35, so I grew up on 411 videos, ON videos, all the video-magazine stuff. Growing up in Indiana, I felt so far away from where all of the best skating was happening, so those videos gave me a seat at that table from my living room. So, naturally those doc-style pieces from those video magazines were huge. Epicly Later’d had a huge impact on me as well. I spoke with Patrick O’Dell a couple of times during the early stages of getting this thing off the ground and he gave me incredible advice about his experiences. Chris Grosso was also very helpful. I think those two have been able to make some of my favorite content over the last handful of years, so to be able to tap in with them for some sage advice was amazing.

These first three episodes feature Mike Gigliotti, Ryan Townley and me. How did you land on the three of us for the inaugural offering?
When I was initially kicking this idea around, I had a list of people that I was hoping to reach out to for the first season of these episodes. I’ve simply been a massive fan of all of you in different ways over the years. Most importantly, I wanted to make episodes that I would be excited to watch. It didn’t hurt that we were all friends in addition to that, so it certainly made the first attempts at shooting these so much easier.

wtc liky series 3Ryan Townley, Blue and The Giving Tree

Did you find out anything surprising during your interviews?
Much like the interviews in the book, it was refreshing to hear and commiserate with one another about the life of an artist. We’ve all experienced those all-too-familiar feelings of self doubt or imposter syndrome. You always assume that everyone goes through those same motions, but I think from the other side of whatever screen we are seeing one another’s work, it feels like nothing but confidence on the other side— and so goes the continued insecurity hamster wheel. We are only putting out the stuff that we are the most confident in and most of us only see that. It just makes the whole thing feel so polished and doesn’t typically tell the whole story.

Were there any overlapping experiences that shaped the three of us as skateboarders and artists?
It was interesting to hear where everyone started. The effect that art within skateboarding had on all of us was undeniable. We all have that thing, you know? Whatever it is, however you explain it, we have the thing that our school teachers didn’t like; the thing that was hard to explain to our parents at times; the thing where we just constantly needed to be creating something. I’d say there was something bigger within all three of you that kept individually pushing you all to leave a creative mark on the world of skating.

wtc liky series 4Storage Wars: Skate Edition—Sieben searches the stacks

Was there a specific artist or company that initially sparked your own interest in skate art?
Ed Templeton will always be my answer. For me, personally, the late ’90s and early ’00s Toy Machine graphics just spoke to me so much more than anything else at that time. As I’ve aged, I’ve discovered loads more, but The Tempster was easily the first.

When can viewers watch these things?
For now, we have three screenings lined up. The initial screening is in San Francisco at the Roxie Theater on December 18th, then we have a Los Angeles screening at Highland Theater in Highland Park on January 12th followed by the final screening in Austin at Double Trouble on January 20th. People will be able to watch them online after that.
wtc liky series flyerGet to a screening near you

Who’s on the short list for future Let It Kill You episodes?
I’ll just drop one name for now—we have a Nora Vasconcellos episode lined up which I can’t wait for. She’s the best. Other than that, maybe a familiar face from the book, maybe someone from the supporting cast of these first three episodes—people will just need to stay plugged in to find out!

wtc liky series 5Mike G, never not working

Last question: When am I going to get a tattoo by you?
Oh, man, don’t stress me out like that! I’ll do it if we put it somewhere that you can’t stare at forever and judge my shaky lines from being nervous. Deal?

Get your first look at the inaugural episodes in this rad trailer
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