September 4th, 2016
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: email@example.com
In the early ‘90s, one magazine helped change the scope of alternative publishing during the unpredictable era of print media with a simple question: “Would you chew up a nasty-tasting vitamin B-12 for $5? Yes or no?”
The question, though random, seemed innocent enough. What no one predicted though, was that this survey would quickly spark a growing number of male teen magazine readers during a time where a published voice for young male readers was noticeably absent on magazine shelves. Dirt magazine, brother to the universally-adored Sassy, was the brainchild of young guns Spike Jonze, Andy Jenkins, and Mark Lewman. But to relive the birth of Dirt magazine in full graphic detail, one must go back to the late ‘80s, before Spike, Andy, and Mark were formally connected. Back in those days, Spike was just a 17-year-old Maryland BMX shop worker and Mark was simply a bike-obsessed high schooler from Michigan who wrote fan mail to a 20-year-old Freestylin’ BMX magazine editor named Andy Jenkins, who was based in California.
“My introduction to Mark [Lewman] was pretty cool,” Andy admits. “I kept getting these rambling letters from some 17-year-old kid in Michigan. They were long and all one paragraph, but they were really interesting and funny.”
“Everyday until my stamps ran out, I wrote letters to Andy. After about a month and a half, I got a letter back [from him] and I was freaking out,” says Mark. “This rockstar magazine journalist had written me back and basically said, ‘You’re a freak, but you’re the good kind of freak.’”
After the postcard fan mail subsided, Andy gave Mark the opportunity to freelance an article and told him that if he did a good enough job, there would be a Freestylin’ staff desk out in Torrance, California with his name on it. Mark wrote an article on Mark “The Gonz” Gonzales and Andy made good on his promise almost immediately. And so, at the tender age of 17, Mark packed up his belongings and headed out West to begin his first “big boy” job. Not long after his arrival, the Freestylin’ staff decided they needed another writer to join the team. Enter Adam Spiegel, aka our old pal Spike Jonze.
“I heard about Spike before I ever met him. He had a reputation for being a bit of a wild kid,” says Andy. “The first time we met was when he was 14 and had come to LA on a BMX tour. After he went back home, we started to correspond and he would send back these funny postcards.”
Spike stayed in touched with Andy and the Freestylin’ team throughout high school and during his senior year, they offered him a job. Needless to say, Spike packed his bags the day after graduation and booked it to Cali. “We had a townhouse across the street from the publishing company headquarters,” says Mark. “So we went to Goodwill and got a couch and a dresser and put [Spike] in the spare bedroom.”
The trio quickly grew close, bonding over riding and skating while goofing off in the company warehouse they had 24-hour access to. All of this mayhem quickly lead to discovery. “Spike was a visual kid right off the bat,” says Andy. “He brought his camera and we quickly realized that he was going to be a better photographer than writer,” adds Mark. “He won an Oscar, so we know he can write, but back then, he was geared more towards visual storytelling.”
After putting in work at Freestylin’ magazine, the trio soon had a craving for more. In addition to the standard coverage they were already producing for Freestylin’, they wanted to cover their life interests outside of biking, such as music and skateboarding. In 1987, they introduced Homeboy magazine, which documented youth culture as well as the trio’s travels.
“You’re going through a transformative experience when you’re young and the chance to document that is intoxicating,” says Mark. “The industry we were involved in was by and large driven by young and disruptive people with big personalities.”
Homeboy magazine would only last 7 issues, but after getting a taste of running their own publication, the young BMXers quickly realized that they were on to something. Luckily, one Homeboy reader felt dissed by the magazine’s content and subscribed the team “bill me later”-style to random magazines as “punishment.”
“It started out with Pig Farmer and Cat Fancy… shit like that,” says Andy. “Then we got our hands on Sassy.”
It was like discovering the holy grail of teen magazines. Mixed in amongst the Coal Miner Monthly and Guns and Ammo subscriptions was the ‘90s teen bible. “We were like, wait a minute this is really good and authentic,” says Mark. “Even though it wasn’t a bunch of sweaty people jumping off of fences to ride a swimming pool, there was something totally authentic about the voice.”
Impressed with the teen girl magazine’s blunt coverage and honest articles, Andy, Spike, and Mark quickly developed a cross-country relationship with the Sassy magazine editorial staff based in New York City. It wasn’t long until they posed a very important question regarding Sassy to the fairy godmother of all things cool, Sassy Editor-in-Chief Jane Pratt, with a simple thought: “Why isn’t there one for guys?”