Art History Lesson: Life Sucks Die

The Minneapolis graffiti magazine that gave zero fucks

Photos by Kara Hakanson

Photos by Kara Hakanson

In a world where print is constantly described as “dying,” it’s interesting to take a look back at what kinds of magazines used to be in print. Graffiti magazines in the mid-1990s made an eye-popping impact with their graphic collages and insane articles about things your mother wouldn’t even understand.

In this genre, Minneapolis has its own claim to fame with Life Sucks Die. The magazine was founded by a group of graffiti artists and writers from today’s Burlesque of North America—known as much for their amazing poster work as their Triple Double and Dre Day parties.

Wes Winship, one of the magazine’s founders and now Print Director for Burlesque of North America, said the magazine was mostly aimed at young people in their teens or twenties.

“Everything was really sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek,” Winship said when asked to describe the publication. Graffiti artists, skateboarders, underground hip-hop enthusiasts, and even just “people who were sick of their jobs” flocked to the sensory-overload mag for an escape from daily life. Winship summed up their readers in one word: “Troublemakers.”

xDSC_0097  - photo by Kara Hakanson

Life Sucks Die, the magazine’s punchy name, came from a deliberate misinterpretation of notorious punk rocker G.G. Allin’s tattoos. Allin’s balls-to-the-wall show antics included performing naked and defecating on stage. Winship and the others loved that mentality so much they took two of Allin’s famous tattoos—“Live Fast Die” and “Life Sucks Scum Fuck”—and combined them to create the moniker Life Sucks Die. Winship mentioned that the LSD acronym was just an added bonus.

LSD’s beginnings came about during a time when lots of similar magazines and zines were trying to dominate the underground scene. Winship and his Minneapolis-based graffiti artist friends decided to jump on the cultural bandwagon and make their own creative name. One of the founders worked at Kinko’s and became an essential element for the magazine’s birth. Thanks to the Kinko’s friend, Life Sucks Die was able to print unlimited color copies of their illustrations and writing to form their publication.

Life Sucks Die may have started out as a strictly graffiti magazine, but the founders and their contributors had so many other interests that the content expanded and became a platform for some ridiculous articles—if you’ve ever picked one up, you know that’s an understatement. Many of the writers worked under pen names to stay under the radar.

Winship remembers a specific article about “How to Tower Dump” which featured a photoshopped picture of someone hanging off a water tower while defecating.

Wes Winship - photo by Kara Hakanson

Music was also a huge influence during the mid-1990s when punk rock and hip-hop were coming out in a big way. Andrew Broder, one of the main writers, was heavily involved in the hip-hop and DJ scene and has since collaborated with other Minneapolis musicians like Dosh.

The articles printed in Life Sucks Die ranged from music interviews to NSFW how-tos. Winship remembers a specific article about “How to Tower Dump” which featured a photoshopped picture of someone hanging off a water tower while defecating. Similar articles included “Things To Do When You’re High” and “Things You May Have Slept On.”

And another: “It was like an emulation of an in-flight instructional ‘How to buckle your seatbelt’ except how to do these really raunchy things,” Winship said. You get the idea.

The visual element of Life Sucks Die contained some of the best graffiti layouts in the country and wild collages. “You were supposed to look at everything in there,” Winship said of LSD’s visual layout. “We were going for a reaction.” He bluntly described the graphic design element of the magazine as “not good” but also reinforced that as a main point of the visual aesthetic.

Wes Winship -  photo by Kara Hakanson

The magazine functioned on little income so Winship and the other magazine producers sought to fill every inch of space with written or visual content.

Life Sucks Die eventually died out after printing eight issues with a distribution of around 10,000. Winship said the loom- ing pressure to find a real job made him and his friends put the magazine on the back burner. Although, he says half of a ninth issue still sits on his hard drive.

When asked to dole out advice for young people looking to get started in the print magazine world, Winship wants you to “do it for fun, do it because you want to do it, and don’t try and do it to make money.” He also commented on how regularity in publishing your magazine is important to carve out a niche audience. He also said to seriously consider the impact of the web on journalism.

“If our magazine came out today, it would probably be one of those pages on the web that’s all full of animated GIFs.”

Winship hopes the magazine “encouraged other people to go out and make stuff” and showed the rest of the world that “Minneapolis has shit going on.”

Whether it was printing pages upon pages of graffiti or writing articles about new bodily function fashions, Life Sucks Die conquered its vision. But we still want more.

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- photo by Kara Hakanson