BY BETH ALLEN
For those of you who have read Custom Vanner magazine, you know what I’m talkin’ about when I say this rag has substance. Every issue has been a killer read from front to back. The eye candy alone—with a van centerfold in each issue—is drool worthy. 2011 marked the first drop and smallest scale issue, with the next nine being full 8 x 11’s (I’m including the calendar issue here). Things seemed full speed ahead but sorta quieted down after issue ten. While you can still order cool Custom Vanner swag (one of my favs being the #1 die-cut sticker) the CV blog has been gathering dust since 2013. An instagram post the last week of April 2016 stated “When issue 11 comes out, issues 1-10 are going out of print. That’s soon”. You have been warned! My favorite thing about CV is that I get the vibe this magazine comes from the heart. All sorts of vans and vanners are covered with lots of kudos payed to the heydays of vanning. The How-To’s are staples and are all pretty rad. So gearhead or not, you can learn some shit. Remember, “custom” means doing-it-yourself! So if you have a van, get those hands dirty and have fun. Big thanks to David aka: “Matchstick” for letting me pick his brain and get the inside scoop on the man and the mind behind Custom Vanner. Keep ’em coming! Interview April 2016.
Name, age, where you live:
My given name is David Ryan Brooks but you can call me Matchstick. I am 28 years old. I live in a strip mall of a town known as Lancaster, California.
Why the nickname Matchstick?
When I was around 12 I worked at a bike shop. I had really crooked teeth and I have an overbite so this guy Frank started callin’ me Ratface. When I asked if he had anything better than Ratface he said “ummmm, Opossum Skull?” Naturally I stuck with Rat Face until one day someone suggested they call me Splinter as in Master Splinter from the teenage mutant ninja turtles. For many years that was the only name I knew. Fast forward to the age of 19. I’m working at a print shop and someone I through the bike shop came in calling me Splinter and my boss said “What do you guys keep calling that kid? Matchstick or something?”
The idea of Custom Vanner started in late 2009 early 2010 while I lived in Cleveland, OH. I was there attending a shit hole of a tech college for automobile restoration. There was a lot of vanning history around me in that region that was inspiring me and the current van mag offering Van-In Magazine, produced by Leadfoot, was folding up.
Why a magazine?
In high school I took graphic communications as a vocation. What that meant was that everyday for half a day we took a bus across town and we learned how to print on various antiquated pieces of machinery. We made paste-ups, we shot the films for our plates on a giant camera built in to the wall just like they did in the seventies. We hand set type and cut rubylith. We ran windmill letter presses, offset presses, foil stampers, folders, paper cutters, stitchers, screen printing, ink pad printing, collating, digital presses, you name. It was during a unique point in the evolution of the print industry where we had several different eras of equipment available to use and I got a really well rounded education because of it. My instructor, Delbert Hillegas, was an interesting character and he had a huge influence on me. He excelled in many areas creatively, he was a printer, an actor, a magician, a musician, and he had a good sense of morals that kept certain things off of his printing press. One day he said “Wellll the pro-lifers really want me to run a poster for them, but that’s just not my style.” That class, that person rather, is the only reason I didn’t drop out of High School.
How did you get the funds to get started? It’s such a nice magazine!
I didn’t have any money. I’ve never had money, and I still don’t. I’m white trash from Southern Indiana. When I quit the college in Cleveland I came back to Louisville, KY with no job, no money, and Custom Vanner Issue 1 about three quarters of the way laid out. I went to Delbert and we made Issue One right there at Prosser School of Technology. High School kids collated, stitched, and trimmed those first copies. Some of them looked kind of ratty but it was a learning experience for everyone. Literally. Delbert issued me an invoice for 250 copies with 30 days to pay. That was the beginning.
You have patches, shirts... what’s your hottest selling item?
Probably t-shirts. I hate t-shirts. I started screen printing when I was in high school. I got a job at a shop shortly after and never stopped. I didn’t make a Custom Vanner t-shirt until issue 5 came out. I really hate t-shirts. Patches sell ok. They’re like 7 inch records when you’re in a band. If you sell them all you’ll make your money back, but you can NEVER sell them all. You always have to give some away. So they’re nice to have but worthless as an investment. I still print all of my own t-shirts so they’re all made with hatred. I see them all as future goodwill items but I do hope you enjoy them before they go there.
Any plans for other swag?
I’d like to do some tucques, like the McKinsey brothers wear in Strange Brew. We’ll probably do some enamel pins soon too. I’ve been working on re-production parts for vans rather than soft goods. I want to offer new door skins for all of the early vans, as well as quality reproductions of the floor pans. I should probably focus on magazines instead but I’m easily distracted.
You seem to have a solid mag crew, who helps you out?
Well it’s evolved over time, and it takes a village to get it done. It started with myself, Wookee, and Virtual. Wookee (Joe Russin) really made things come together in the beginning. He shot photos, wrote stories, gave me pep talks. Put up money, sold mags. Without him CVM would not exist. Virtual offered up the really good photos in the beginning. Then around issue 3 Adam Reitano came in to the fold. He brought some killer photography to the table, and still does. He gets out there books a shoot, makes a day of it, and comes back with 150 great photos. Unfettered dedication. Chadly Johnson is another good one with the camera. He shoots for some newsstand rags like Scott Stevens’ Traditional Rod and Kulture Illustrated so his stuff is pretty top notch. He’s good with the pen too. He was a passenger when my econoline engine blew up turning my whole supervan in to a sauna. Talk about grace under fire. He was a man after my own heart that day. Around Issue 8 Scott Magrath became involved. Scott is a graphic artist by trade. He’s supported the mag since issue one. I remember because he wrote me a letter to tell me about his Econoline. Scott gives me daily guidance, criticizes my every move, and makes the magazine look really, really, sharp with relative ease. He helps a lot, in a lot of ways. I love him. Andrew Morgan from the Vannin documentary writes for us occasionally and he’s very good at it. I wish he would do it more often. He and my oldest brother Mike also edit stories from time to time. Tom Staszak helps a lot with web content, photography, general ideas, and motivation. Justin Desroches deals with distro wayyyy up in the northeast, he helps with web content, and he can handle the business end of a bottle of booze. Smiley from VCVC has been doing a lot of editing for us, and he writes the occasional article which is pretty radical too. Then there’s my poor sweet Kristen. She does so much. She packs the van for shows, takes piles of orders to the post office, motivates me to write, tells me to go to bed, washes the clothes, somehow sleeps while I’m being super noisy with packing tape trying to get people’s orders out. Helps me put engines in vans. All kinds of stuff. All of the stuff. She’s the best. There’s other people that help but it would take a lot to list. SO thanks to whole crew. If you’ve helped out, you and I both know it and I do appreciate it.
And what do their nicknames mean?
I honestly don’t know what anyone’s nickname means. Which probably seems weird, but I ask very few people how they got their names. I usually just accept it. Some vanners got their names so long ago that they don’t even remember how they got their name.
The magazine looks GREAT you have some killer layout skills. How’d that happen, you have a graphic design background?
Thank you for the kind words. Scott Magrath has really spruced things up since he joined the ranks. My background in printing established most of my skills. I used to think I was going to be a poster designer/printer. I used to design a lot of show flyers and stuff for my bands, and local bands, as well as a few bigger bands occasionally. I’m more function than fashion though. I have more experience on press and in bindery so sometimes I just do basic things that will make a page easy to print and assemble. I used to work as a paper cutter operator from 4 in the afternoon until 2 in the morning at a commercial print shop, so I’ve worked in all stages of the process. I try to employ that experience the best I can to page layout. I’m also a big fan of Art Chantry. He was a genius of the pre-computer era and people just ripped him off. Myself included. Occasionally I get lucky and lay out a spread that looks great and other times I hate everything I make. Some where there is a balance and we refer to that as an issue of Custom Vanner.
CV was going super strong for a few years there – then sorta disappeared, what’s up with that? Even your blog hasn’t been updated since 2013... we miss you!
I miss publishing! When I started the mag I had also started my quest to become a metal shaper. So the mag has always been a side item on my path as a craftsman. In 2015 Kristen and I moved to Mojave, CA so I could work for legendary Kustomizer Gene Winfield. Gene is 88 and has been customizing cars since 1946. He built the Galileo for the original Star Trek, all of the cars in Bladerunner, Back to the Future 2, Woody Allen’s Sleeper and more. Working for Gene was an opportunity that I could not pass up. We gave up our 3 bedroom house for $600 a month and moved to the trash hole that is the Antelope Valley. We lived in the living room of a double wide for 6 months with 3 other dudes, and my office was a broken down RV in Gene’s junkyard. We just got the internet for the first time in almost a year aside from tethering our phones. It’s been difficult but we have our own place now and we’re going to get Issue 11 out soon!
I love that you cover all walks of vans, van owners, you seem like an equal-opportunity van lover! Is this something you aim for or does it just happen?
It just happens. Some things just show up in the inbox. I might not like everything that we run but my opinion does not represent the entirety of the readership so we run a variety of stuff. Hopefully there is something in each issue for everyone. I think the articles all have value in some sense. Otherwise I wouldn’t waste the money printing it.
So you moved out here from the midwest. How do you feel the van scene is different/the same in California?
It’s wildly different. People in the West for the most part have no clue what midwest vanning is like. So that means they’ve never been to a truck-in, which means they’re missing out on a crucial part of the vanning experience. Driving a van is one thing, vanning is another. While one encompasses the other, they are not mutually exclusive. Partying, and hanging out with people you like via a van is the basic idea of vanning but the Midwest preserves what vanning evolved into in the seventies. Good parties away from civilization with vanners ONLY. While that version of vanning clutches on to it’s dying breath in some regards it keeps a very strong tradition going and I hope everyone makes it out to the Van Nationals some time soon to experience it. The Van Nats still pulls 5-600 vans for 5 days. Where else are you going to find a party like that? I’m fairly certain that you could put together a few of the big clubs from the Midwest and have more vans than all of Southern California. But what do the vans look like? So-Cal vans are for the most part pre-smog (1975) so the quality of the vans is much better, and that goes a long way. The crowd is much younger out here as well and that has a big (positive) effect on the scene. You don’t see conversion vans at events out here. My Astro is probably the biggest violation of style possible out here but I usually park away from the action. I know what it looks like. The big difference that I have seen is rather than get a bunch of clubs together for a weekend at a truck-in like in the Midwest, people out here gather in small tight-knit groups and hit up some of the amazing camping that California has to offer, or attend an event in a parking lot for a day, or get a decent line-up of vans lined up outside of a rock show or something like that. In the end I think it’s a decent trade off. I like it all.
Do you miss going to the big van runs on the other side of the U.S.?
Absolutely. Kristen and I are still flying back a few times a year to catch the big truck-ins. Butler in Pennsylvania always draws at least 200 vans and it’s over labor day weekend which means a bonus day to party. Memorial day weekend with Midwest Vans LTD in Illinois is the same way. They throw a hell of a party and I haven’t missed it since I started vanning so I don’t plan to start now. The Van Nationals is not to be missed. It’s a huge blur. Around 600 vans partying together for a whole week. It goes by so slow and so fast at the same time. It has to be experienced, it can not be explained.
Love that the magazine does the HOW TO columns. Very cool. How did you get into metal fabricating? Is that the correct term?
Sure fabrication is a good term. I wanted a van with no windows, and I bought one sight-unseen. It turned out it had windows, and some rot. So I had to learn how to weld. Vannin.com used to have some really cool how-to threads and those inspired me a lot so I just wanted to return the favor. Sometimes when learning you make mistakes but the important part is trying. That’s how you learn. I found that I had a knack for that kind of work and eventually I found myself working in a street rod shop doing that kind of work on a daily basis where I remain today. The work requires critical thinking to solve problems on a daily basis and I enjoy that a lot. I want to share some of the things that I have learned.
I was 20 years old and I needed a van for my band Plows to tour in. I also really wanted my own hot rod. It was between a 79 Nova (read: not cool) and an 83 Chevy Van (read: still not cool). I realized I could put headers on my van, and maybe a set of cragars, so I could have my tour van and my hot rod at the same time. I bought the 83 Chevy van and the rest was history. I had been to car shows my whole life with my father and I had NEVER seen a custom van. I was completely engulfed by it. It blew my damn mind. So much so that I quit the band and joined a van club. I never looked back.
Presently I own a 1967 Ford Supervan (aka a butt van), a 78 Chevy shorty, and my 88 Chevy Astro with factory 5 speed that I drive daily. When I got in to early van’s I realized I might not always be able to drive my van daily so I decided to fill the void with an Astro which I have to say I love. I’ve driven it cross country 5 times and it’s still running strong for a $600 van.
Are you in a van club and if so how long have they been around?
I am a member of Bluegrass Vanners of Louisville, KY. We have been a club since 1976. I joined in 2008. We have a pretty good sized membership of around 20 vans. We don’t discriminate based on age of van. We don’t charge dues or any bullshit like that. We’re a social club. We just ask that members help work our event Van Jam which has been on the last weekend of April for 40 years this year. If you’re near Friendship, IN please come out. We usually draw about 100 vans.
What do you think about the current van “scene” today?
It’s healthy. There’s been some forward momentum in the last five years thanks to media attention from things like weekly magazines, some newsstand publications, blogs, documentaries and the like. We’ve got a couple of shitty magazines to represent the community. There a few parts manufacturers and distributors and the world of hot rodding has embraced the sixties vans as classics making vans like the first gen Ford Econoline an icon like the 32 Ford is in hot rodding. It’s still small, it’s in it’s infancy. Like all babies it has some potential but it could be a still-born. The aspects that were promoted as cheeky novelties in the past are stigmas now which has led people to calling our vans rape-mobiles and things of that nature. I see comments like that as more of a statement about the person saying it than it does our culture but it’s created an uphill battle for us among society. But I maintain that society can fuck off. I’m goin’ vannin.
Any past vans you’ve owned?
My first van, an 83 one ton long wheelbase, my 68 Chevy no-door, my 69 Chevy no-door, a 91 Astro, and a 91 Dodge that used to belong to the band Big Business which had royalty check stubs for the Murder City Devils in the glove box. Last but not least is my second van an 85 Chebby long wheel base. This van was integral in my career path. I learned to weld on this van replacing the rockers, and wheel arch. Later I replaced the back bay windows at the 39th van nationals as a seminar with Wookie. I put a 5 speed manual transmission from a trans am in it, gull winged the side door, put numerous grilles and interiors in it and much more. I miss it. I sold it to a club member when i got my first early Chevy and we stripped it and crushed it.
Have you “rocked” all the vans you’ve owned?
Nah. Some of the vans I didn’t have very long and they were gross inside. It would not have been a very sexy atmosphere. All of the vans that I drove regularly were shaggin wagons.
Full custom. Probably chopped and sectioned. Super spacey. Like from another world. Weird body, lots of color outside in the style of Greg of Akron. Tube grill, wide meats with custom flairs to meet the tires. A complete space cadet. GM 4.3 V6 with an overdrive transmission so I can haul ass on the highway and get 20mpg consistently. Crushed velvet interior with mood lighting and mirror panels. Weirder the better.
We are switching formats going to a perfect bound book. We want to class the place up a bit. Now that I’m working full time, and making van parts from both fiberglass and sheet metal I don’t have as much time to devote to the mag. One to two mags a year would be an accomplishment at this point. We hope to return soon with a quality rag for all of you van fans.
I’m a weirdo and I like slow stuff so I’ve always got Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Melvins, Fugazi, Shellac, Elliott Smith, Karp, Hammehead, Earth, Neil Young, Smog, Young Widows. Hard to say. I’m all over the place.
Ford, Chevy or Dodge?
I love them all. The Mid dodge has an amazing front end and lends it’s self very well to angle chops. First Gen Chevy (flat glass) looks mean as hell with a stinkbug stance, whip antenna, and wide slots in the rear. Actually all of the earlier look bad ass like that. Short wheelbase 3rd Gen Ford’s (long nose) have an amazing look which is only accented by it’s disgustingly generic mate in the long wheel base version. The 3rd Gen Chevy (71-96) is a great looking body style that was always paired up a reliable engine and trans and cheap replacement parts due to it’s great popularity over the course of it’s production. I could never choose a favorite but the Mid Ford does kind of trump all in it’s unicorn like one-of-a-kind nature and short production run.
Ass, and I am of course obligated to Do it in a van.
Plether, shag or tuck-n-roll?
Shag. The gift that keeps on giving. It’s easy enough for anyone to do an interior with, and all of your passengers will take home a keep sake to remember your van by via loose fur.
Any other comments for DON’T COME KNOCKIN’?
I’m just stoked to be out there truckin’ with ya’ll. I’m grateful that anyone wants to read Custom Vanner Magazine. I’m thankful for the life long friends I’ve made and I’ve enjoyed every little bit of North America that vans have taken me to. Truck on Keepin.
PICTURED ABOVE: (Top to Bottom: Various Custom Vanner magazine covers, Custom Vanner patch, some Custom Vanner centerfolds, How To spreads, Custom Vanner #1 Sticker, More covers...)