Teen Angels is not what it sounds like.
While its name indicates a magazine for dewy-eyed preteens (or middle-aged doo-woppers), the 33-year-old publication’s audience is graffiti and tattoo artists, as well as the prison population. Its website touts Teen Angels as THE ONLY MAGAZINE DEDICATED TO THE VARRIO WAY OF LIFE, PRISON & TATTOO ART & MORE!
“From what I can gather, Teen Angels was something between a fanzine and a not-for-profit community organization,” says designer Christian Acker, who first showed me a copy of the publication. “It seemed to give a medium and a voice to people who may not have had a way to get their art, poems, and writings out to an audience. It no doubt also gave inspiration to countless kids within that lifestyle to express themselves in these ways, or provide a model that was acceptable.
For a very macho culture, art and poetry are extremely alive and valuable to these guys. The magazine itself seems to have a very closed off attitude to the outside world, and although I’m sure they know that a fair size of their audience is not within the core of the same culture, they seem to ignore them to some degree. They also avoid censoring the content of the magazines, and some letters will divulge criminal involvement, while most seem to speak to common themes of Aztlan heritage, and gangster dreams of wine, women, and song, riches, freedom, et cetera.”
Acker continues, “I believe the name Teen Angels is a reference to the 1950s doo-wop and early rock ‘n’ roll song by Mark Dining. There is a very heavy retro fifties influence in the entire culture of Southern California. And the way cholos dress and the hot rods and music are still very heavily influenced by that fifties, sixties early youth culture. The old and new have been combined with oldies and hip hop both getting play.
“At this stage, Teen Angels is pretty well known in the tattoo world. Most artists have come across them or collect them. But in the last few years I have noticed that they have decreased in quantity and increased in value on eBay. For a while I was picking them up on eBay for modest prices. I really like the older ones. The newer ones have glossy covers and mastheads created with computers. They’re not nearly as fun for me as the old hand-drawn ones. They still have the letters inside, but there’s more illustration. The older ones seem to have nicer hand lettering. I have traded photocopies of whole magazines from collection with tattoo artists.”
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