‘I’ve always wanted to show that side of skateboarding, be more realistic and make people see what the brands would not necessarily want to be seen.’
Your latest issue (#23) released in Spring 2021 is interesting. Not a single skate shot. What was your main driver for this issue?
This issue could be the last A Propos ever printed. I don’t know. I lived off magazines since 2002 and it was already a few years that I knew this wouldn’t be my main income anymore, maybe since 2018, so I decided that if I wouldn’t make money out of it, at least I would be totally free to say what I wanted and make it more like a zine, like the first ones I used to do when it was all about having fun and not a business. I thought it was time for me to go back to that and buckle with the experience I now have. To me this issue is the best mag I’ve ever done, the one I’m the most happy with. And the reason why there is no skate photo is related to the fact that I obviously didn’t have any budget because there is no advertising, only for some other European medias who got the pages for free. I used to pay all photographers (I might have forgotten some throughout the years, but it honestly never was on purpose) and I just couldn’t ask people to send over photos for no money. I did manage to do so with the guys who made the drawings, though! (laughing). And they’re all professionals… but good friends too. Anyway, I also think that we just see enough skate footage online and not enough true stories and developed opinions (comments are not real opinions to me, laughing) so I decided to just not use photos and focus on text and drawings. I always loved satirical magazines like Charlie Hebdo and I wanted to go into that direction.
My French is a bit rusty but I read in #23 that you worked for Sugar skatemag in 2006. How did you end up there?
Me and my friend David started a zine called 2D in 1998, after a first zine I started in 1995 called Focus. 2D was more ambitious and our plan was to improve every issue with colour at first, more pages, bigger format, bigger circulation, to hopefully become a proper skate mag one day… So, we started having ads, got a solid distribution and eventually met the people running the other mags, and I became friends with Benjamin Deberdt who started Sugar in 1997. He took me under his wing, introduced me to a lot of people and taught me the basics of skate photography. I had already sent photos to Freestyler magazine since 2000, and I believe that the fact that I could shoot and write a full article to go along helped to be published. I also had my own car, I could speak English and I had a tireless motivation. I would sometimes drive around American teams and shoot photos, do interviews. I would go to the Sugar office all the time and help them with video reviews or be the model for the product pages… Eventually, Benjamin decided to quit to go start Kingpin magazine in London and asked me to come help the editor in chief that took his position at Sugar. I started as editor in September 2002.
From your editorial, another skatemag called ‘Chill’ stopped publishing which prompted ‘Sugar’ to release a second skatemag. Interesting strategy. How did that work as you were competing with ‘Sugar’?
In 2005, there were at least 6 skatemags in newsstands in France: Sugar, Freestyler, Thrasher France, Chill, Kingpin and Tricks. The competition was hard, and it was obvious that some would have to go sooner or later but I believe Sugar was the most profitable. In the summer of 2006, Chill and Freestyler died so our boss decided to start a second skate mag to not leave any empty space on the market. We would tell him that the French version of Thrasher was shit and since Freestyler, being the punk skate mag, was dead, that side of skateboarding wasn’t covered anymore. Sugar was more about the serious side of things, (laughing) so he thought it would be a good thing to go in this direction with the new mag. He wanted me to run it but Sugar’s editor in chief back then couldn’t stand the idea. I honestly didn’t want to fight, and I was over Sugar anyway, so I called Fred, former editor in chief of Freestyler and convinced him to make a mag together. He wasn’t even finished with the last issue but said ok, and the first issue of Soma came out in August 2007. Sugar’s little brother that was supposed to be called Karma never happened.
‘Soma was the first free skate mag in France, maybe in Europe, and quickly advertisers jumped on our train, so it worked for a year or two until the 2008 financial crash hit.’
In the same issue you spoke about showing different side to skateboarding. Can you be specific?
Skate mags mostly run tours which are most of the time just extensions of a double page advert, basically 10 or 12 more free pages, interviews that half the time have no interest or stuff that has a link to advertisers. I’ve done it, that’s how it works, and it did pay off. You do these interviews because you know it’ll secure a couple ads in the next issue. You can’t really take risks saying this event or this video sucked because you might lose ads, or just never get them. Though we would sometimes make fun of things with Soma and learned the hard way… So, you create your own censorship, and you can’t talk openly about how the skateboard industry works, that kind of things. I’ve always wanted to show that side of skateboarding, be more realistic and make people see what the brands would not necessarily want to be seen. I think it’s more interesting, but then you have to forget about doing this as a job and find one on the side, which I had to do.
How did you kick things off with A Propos?
I was living in Paris, and I was very productive. I would shoot a lot in the city, and we just couldn’t run all the photos in Soma, so based on the idea that my old boss at Sugar had, I decided to start a second mag parallel with Soma, inspired by Anzeigeberlin Information magazine in Berlin and Grey mag in London which were pocket size magazines focusing about their cities. So, I did that for Paris. The first 7 issues would only talk about the Parisian scene. I would do it on my own between two Soma deadlines. It wouldn’t bring in much money, but we didn’t lose any with A Propos. I wanted to prove myself I was able to do a mag alone from A to Z. But the print business was decreasing every year, and me and Fred never were the best businessmen. At some point Soma couldn’t pay for the two of us anymore. Long story short, we split, and we ended up competitors a few months later. Fred kept Soma running a few issues more with a new format, and I did the same with A Propos, I just decided to focus on a specific topic for every issue and have English translations, hoping that it would go further than the borders of France like Grey and Anzeigeberlin were doing. About the name I had a strong link with Germany, and I wanted something that would work in both languages. I remember brainstorming with Stefan Marx one day at his workshop in Hamburg when we decided A Propos would be a cool name. First issue came out in early 2011, did 2000 copies and I went up to 10 000 copies from issue 8 to 19, I think.
Your earlier issues with A Propos had some strong brand presence. How has that changed the over the years?
When I left Soma, I had to find a different angle with A Propos and it didn’t really pay the bills. So I started doing side jobs more and more. And since my main income wasn’t the mag anymore I wouldn’t spend so much energy trying to find the money to put it out there. I just didn’t want to go back into the craziness I went through the year before I left Soma. As long as I could pay the print, the photographers and refund me some train tickets I was happy. Until having no ads at all now and total freedom. The less advertising I would have the more fun was coming back into the act of doing a mag. But I’m not saying it wasn’t fun with Soma, I guess it was a different fun. Soma was a full time job, the coolest job ever to me, where we learned to compromise. Now with A Propos I’m not really feeling like compromising anymore.
You have a lot of content on social media and on your website that is updated very frequently. How important is to you to still print issues?
I would love to print at least one issue a year, but distribution is also a problem, added to the costs. It is important to print stuff but not as much as it used to be, at least for me. I still have things to say, an opinion to give or when I find something that needs to be highlighted, I just do it. And I found out that social media is 10 times more efficient to deliver your message than anything else. I did the test once: posted exactly the same article on my website and on social media. First, I promoted the article on Instagram and got like 100 views on the website, then the week after posted the full article on Instagram and got like 1000 views in 24h. So now I don’t really care how my message is delivered, print or digital, I’m happy when people see or read it. Of course, it is sad for the History of skateboarding that what’s happening now will never be printed but is that so important? To me best eras of skateboarding are already on paper, anyway!
Proudest moment in your publishing career so far?
I’m not sure if I’m proud of anything because I know I never did anything that really stood out. I was never the best photographer or the best graphic designer but I’m happy I got to learn all these different skills and didn’t get stuck with only photography. Nothing to be proud of, I’m just satisfied with myself to be able to run a magazine on all aspects. Oh wait, I got a BESA award for best cover one time, maybe that could be the thing to be proud of, especially because it wasn’t even a skate shot.
‘To me best eras of skateboarding are already on paper, anyway!’
Most embarrassing or funny, or both?
Ok, so we were organizing this thing called The Battle Of Normandy in 2011 where we would invite teams to stay in a massive mansion in Normandy and shoot photos and videos for a week. No challenges, no rules, only good times. That one time we invited Magenta, Radio skateboards and Palace before the big hype. We would have someone cooking for us at the house and we would have breakfast and dinner all together. I was pretty much responsible for it all and I was also shooting the Radio team, so I was a bit stressed out running all over the place. One morning I came in the room for breakfast and all the Palace team was there. For some reason I just felt confident and said « heyyyyy, what’s up n******z! ». The room went instantly silent, so it didn’t take long to realize that I just said the most stupid thing ever, so I tried to make up for it which made my case even worse. I honestly don’t know where that came from. I guess I wanted to be as cool as they already were! (laughing) I still think of this with shame quite often but never told the story, maybe that’ll help me get over it.
Anything left on your wish list?
I wish there was a good French skateboard media. There is definitely room again for a new mag in France and for the French speaking community which is France, Switzerland, Belgium, many countries in Africa and even Quebec.
Last question. If you could interview one person, who would it be and why?
I interviewed hundreds of pros or people from the Industry, and you never know how it is gonna come out so it’s hard to say. Obviously, it depends a lot with your questions but it’s also about the time and how the person is feeling at that moment. I interviewed Reynolds twice but it just never worked for some reason. I didn’t expect much from Dustin Dollin but the one interview we did was pretty good in my opinion. I knew Muska was the nicest dude, and he really was, making me feel like we were good friends from the start which helped a lot. So, I don’t know, I guess if I could choose only one person in the world to interview I would go for some big politician. Barack Obama. For his answers but also to see what I could come up with, how I would behave myself, how far I would dare to go in front of someone I admire for the charisma, the humour, the intelligence, not necessarily for all his actions. Would love to shoot a portrait of him too!
‘I always loved satirical magazines like Charlie Hebdo and I wanted to go into that direction.’