The Colorful History of 1990s Graffiti Zines Comes Alive in New SF Exhibition

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A map of Boston decorated colorfully with graffiti bubble writing.
Correspondence from Monk One sent to ‘Skills’ editor Greg Lamarche in the 1990s. (Letterform Archive)

If you were a skater, punk or hip-hop fan in the ’90s, graffiti zines were just another part of the culture. The hand-stapled, photocopied scene reports were a product of graf writers and street art enthusiasts banding together, taking photos with cheap point-and-shoot cameras, developing the images, and then collaging the best ones to share with eager readers.

Subscription to Mischief: Graffiti Zines of the 1990s, a new exhibition at Letterform Archive, seeks to capture that community as it was before the new millennium rolled in. It’s a time machine for anyone who was there the first time around, and a valuable glimpse into a since-changed underground scene for those who weren’t.

A sheet of six images featuring the face of Andre the Giant with the text, 'Andre the Giant has a posse' and his height and weight.
Shepard Fairey’s ‘Andre the Giant has a posse’ stickers were ubiquitous in the latter half of the ’90s. This unusual full color set is on display at Letterform Archive as part of ‘Subscription to Mischief.’ (Rae Alexandra)

The small-but-dense exhibition was curated by Letterform Archive’s Kate Long Stellar and Rob Saunders, working in tandem with Greg Lamarche (a.k.a. Sp.One), the artist and former publisher of Skills magazine. Fellow graffiti writers Kel Troughton and David Villorente (a.k.a. Chino BYI, former editor of The Source magazine’s Graf Flix column) also curated. As such, the final result is an authentic look at the underground scene from those immersed in it. Many of the items on display come from Lamarche’s own personal archive of graffiti-related artifacts he’s faithfully collected for more than three decades.

Glimpses of early works by street art giants like Barry McGee, Shepard Fairey and Steve Powers share equal billing with handwritten correspondence between those in the subculture at the time. The letters are often works of art in and of themselves, with highly stylized lettering and adjoining sketches. Their content is also a reminder of just how time- and effort-intensive these kinds of projects were in the days before the internet. “Take your time with my pictures,” a writer named The Dekster says in one letter. “I’m in no rush to get them back. I know they are in good hands.”

A hand written letter and sketch of a man done in 90s hip hop style lays on a sheet next to a photo of graffiti, a sticker with a JOKER tag on it and some artwork of a guillotine.
‘I’m back in the SF Bay Area where a lot of people are painting,’ this letter from Jerry (a.k.a. Joker) says. ‘So enclosed is (hopefully!) good photos of some of the new stuff that’s running.’ (Letterpress Archive)

Though Subscription to Mischief is focused largely on the east coast — starting with the New York subway art of the ’70s and ’80s — it also reflects a global community. Zines from as far afield as Copenhagen, London and Stockholm are included. San Francisco is represented by Girlzbomb, a zine by Jocelyn Superstar about female graffiti writers, and Graffiti, by Nate Smith and Josh Lazcano. Artwork from longtime SF resident Mike Giant is also featured via a 1997 issue of Huffer.


Subscription to Mischief is a fascinating look at an incredibly specific moment in time. One that was forever changed by the arrival of the internet, legal clampdowns on graffiti and the advancement of street artists into mainstream culture. If you were a young person in the ’90s, expect pangs of intense nostalgia.

‘Subscription to Mischief: Graffiti Zines of the 1990s’ is on display through Nov. 1, 2023, at Letterform Archive (2325 Third St., Floor 4R, San Francisco). Details here.