From 1977 to 2000, one of the strongest voices in the zine community was an artist and writer going by the name “Teen Angel.” Several years of working at a magazine called Lowrider delving into the details of Latino car culture convinced him that there was a market for a zine catering to broader issues in the Chicano community, which inspired him to start a zine with a name based on his pseudonym—Teen Angels.
Teen Angel sought to expand the Lowrider concept into areas like fashion, art, and politics, and adopted a thoroughly unpretentious style with strong ties to Chicano prison art and tattoo design. Any young person seeking to find an identity in the Varrio was inevitably going to gravitate towards Teen Angels magazine. Chain stores, finding its offerings vulgar and limited in appeal, refused to carry the title, so Teen Angels was forced to find space in the places regular people actually congregated—in liquor stores and bodegas. Teen Angels gave young Chicanos an way to connect to other Chicanos using a catch-as-catch-can variety of strategies, including poems, doodles, photos, art, and a forum for pen pals.
Designer Christian Acker believes that the name of the magazine is “a reference to the 1950s doo-wop and early rock ‘n’ roll song by Mark Dinning. 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.” He adds, “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.”
Teen Angel went on to create over 200 issues, which today fetch high prices among collectors (especially tattoo artists). In 2005 a passionate fan of the publication named David De Baca stumbled upon some of Teen Angel’s art at an art fair, and realized, after spotting a signature on some of the art, that Teen Angel’s real name was actually Dave Holland—somewhat surprisingly, not himself a Chicano! De Baca and Holland struck up a friendship, but unfortunately Holland passed away in 2015.
This weekend, there will be a special exhibition focusing on the prolific output of Teen Angel, which will be held at the LA Art Book Fair at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Kill Your Idols will also be publishing a limited edition book on Teen Angels magazine (500 copies).
Note: Text slightly changed to reflect the fact that Holland was not Chicano.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Jesus, low riders, Unicorns & Mickey Mouse: the fascinating world of Chicano prison handkerchief art