When John Lucero first turned pro in 1983, salary minimums didn’t exist, skateboarders didn’t draw their own graphics, and sneaker deals were unheard of. Most top-named pros did well receiving a pair of shoes a month, never mind a crate for their friends. On top of that, pros were subjected to becoming the person the sales and marketing team wanted them to become. It was an environment where many pro identities were swallowed by company art direction, but the formula was proven at the time: insert name, face, board graphic, 10 x 30 board, stir, and serve chilled. Enter shaken, not stirred, John Lucero.
Though never formally trained in art, John tinkered with a skull-with-batwings graphic for his first sponsor, Variflex, in 1982. But it wasn’t until 1985 when his dream came true as he earned his first hand-drawn pro model on Madrid skateboards (his first model was on Variflex in ’84, but not designed by him). In the time of the “big three companies, John broke the mold by being one of the first skaters to design his own board graphics.
At that same time, a small fish was making big waves in the pro skateboarding ranks, Professor Paul Schmitt. Long before PS Stix became the force it is, it too came from humble beginnings. “Paul was making boards at home in a press that used the weight of his mom’s car to set them, says John. Though the concept was insane, the boards were in demand by all the top pros.
By 1986 Brad Dorfman at Vision had built a woodshop for Paul’s infant Schmitt Stix brand, and though Lucero wasn’t the number one pro in the world, he approached Paul to ride for the company. “I knew I could help create a company by skating hard and having the energy and love for what we do, says Lucero. “That, coupled with that fact that I had Jeff Grosso coming with me, the number one am at the time, didn’t hurt, he now jokes.
Good wood and decent pros alone do not make a number one selling board, but leave that to John, too. His first “Behind Bars graphic was a godsend for Schmitt Stix, selling more in its first month than Schmitt Stix sold in its first year.
“My first check was 1,500 dollars, because of the pay raise from $1.25 at Madrid to $1.50 at Schmitt Stix, he laughs. “I thought I was on top of the world then, but with each check I realized I was only beginning to climb up the mountain. The expedition paid off generously, ascending to peaks of 15,000 dollars a month.
When he came in to pick up his checks, Brad would laugh at him and say that he wanted John’s life, Money for nothing and chicks for free, laughs John. “But we really put in a lot of work to make this happen.
Existing in many forms throughout the years, the Lucero brand and logo have been a skateboarding staple and a part of many companies, including NHS and even a short stint with World Industries. With time, even Black Label returned to its OG roots with Schmitt at Giant Distribution. Yet the more things change, the more they stay the same, and Lucero has gone full circle and The Label is once again on its own.
“Brad and Paul took a chance letting me design my graphics, and without their help I wouldn’t be where I am today, he continues.
John Lucero’s instincts helped change the course of our graphic history, but also broke the record of how many zeros can be added to the bank account of a young skateboarder with a vision to be different.—Neftalie Williams