A Manbaby's Requiem collects skateboarding fiction from Sanford's 10+ years as Lowcard's resident literary authority.
By Cris Lankenau
“Before all the buttsluts were sharting out skateboarding on ESPN, skating was cool-guy in GV.”
So begins one of the many hilarious lines pulled from Sean Sanford’s A Manbaby’s Requiem, a collection of stories he’s published in Lowcard over the past decade. His tenure is nearly as long as the magazine’s existence, starting when it was a hand-copied pamphlet and it continues on to the slick, widely distributed mainstay we know today. Like most good things in skateboarding, Sean Sanford was inspired by Mark Gonzales.
“He started writing for Thrasher. It didn’t last long, maybe a year,” Sanford recalls, “It’d be a story and a drawing in every issue and I’d dig it out of the mailbox. I’d just started discovering the culture of skateboarding. I was like, ‘What the fuck’s up with this guy?”
The brief tenure of Gonz’s career as a regular fiction writer for Thrasher has become legend for guys like Sanford, whose goal is to integrate the subculture of skateboarding into his literary endeavors, or, as he puts it in the introduction of his book: “illuminate the culture of skateboarding with words.”
Before you start rolling your eyes like you have something lodged in your windpipe, be advised that the stories Sean Sanford writes aren’t anything like the Young Adult fiction you’re likely thinking of, nor do they have much in common with the 1980’s skate-movie kitsch that most skaters remember with an embarrassed cringe. Sanford is well aware that the previous attempts at telling stories through the lens of skateboarding culture have usually made our Cosa Nostra look lame as fuck.
“Whenever i’d read something about skating, it always just seemed totally illegitimate and fake and trying too hard. It’s written by someone who doesn’t skate but knows all the words and is just trying to incorporate them as much as they can it just seems so….stupid.”
That legacy of failed attempts instigated a trepidation that it took a while to shake. He recalls his initial feelings after Lowcard founder Rob Collinson suggested he contribute to the magazine back in its infancy.
“I think he just wanted something a little different in there. Something to mix up the content a little bit.”
The weight of all the terrible, purportedly “skateboarding” films was a difficult pressure to get out from under. Sanford struggled to find a way to balance enough technical vocabulary to make his work ring true but without coming off like someone trying to prove authenticity. It wasn’t until several years of his ultra-short fiction being regularly included that he realized what a lack of interest the average Lowcard reader had in fiction.
“You don’t pick-up a Lowcard to read an in-depth article about the politics of class culture in skateboarding.” He admits, “You pick it up to read one page at a time, while you’re taking a dump.”
He describes conversations he’s had with people claiming to be regular Lowcard readers, how when he mentions that he’s been writing for the magazine for over ten years, he’s almost always met with surprise or confusion.
“I finally realized that no one really reads my stories, which was a relief because it made me think ‘Oh, I can write whatever the fuck I want. It doesn’t matter.”
It was the moment the lightbulb went off and a brave new muse seemed to say “Get as weird and artistic as you want!”
Despite his embrace of an avant garde philosophy, most of Manbaby’s stories are easily relatable and involve little effort to dive into. The settings are familiar and the situations could evoke an eerie Deja Vu moment for anyone in their early-to-mid 20s who’s navigated the strange lifestyle that comes with prioritizing skating over normal societal pursuits like a career, family or comfortable living.
Sanford’s characters are nothing special, content or even proudly unexceptional, but they sometimes encounter unconventional situations. A boarder in a shared-living household discovers a doppelganger roommate. Survivors of the apocalypse are led through the dystopian landscape by a descendent of John Cardiel. Because of the length limitations imposed by the magazine’s editors, the stories never require much of a commitment. In addition, Sanford has developed a real knack for getting you interested within a single opening line.
“Their spot was down a hill and surrounded by trees for fuck’s sake.” begins one story.
Or, my personal favorite:
“I hated Green Day but loved Screeching Weasel, so make of that what you will.”
For someone trying to combine the erudite with something notoriously feral, Sanford’s persistent struggle is both noble and relatable and he’s the perfect contributor for a publication whose motto is “Stay lame.” He maintains the underdog spirit of some of literature’s most adored antiheroes while preserving an authentic aesthetic of skateboarding and makes the lifestyle that our moms or employers continually denigrate seem noble, if not totally honest. It’s an endearing, unpretentious collection that anyone can enjoy, one story at a time at least, while you take a dump.