All You Need Is a Spark

Why suburbia really is Manic

Photo by Mark SavageThe man who edits and publishes Manic magazine turns out to be a well-mannered neat freak with no visible tattoos who works diligently out of the well-lit backroom of a modern house in a quiet old neighborhood in Huntington Beach.

We're not surprised. Over the past year, we've become quite familiar with Manic magazine. Nothing much shocks us anymore. We were fully prepared for Dave Pedroza to be this extreme.

Pedroza has just met us, however, and from time to time, he tries to soften the edginess that pervades the place as ominously as the hair trigger on the central air. We appreciate the sentiment, the consideration, but we don't need it. We know better. When Pedroza tells us he has just spent two hours cleaning and organizing his office, we don't believe him. Nobody could get an office so clean, so organized, in two hours. Pedroza lives that way EVERY DAMN DAY! He is just that extreme.

We don't like to think about it, but we can deal with it. Manic magazine has taught us well.

It's been a little more than a year since Manic emerged—the aptly titled Anniversary Issue is just out—to chronicle and stoke and offer bro-to-bra observation on all things extreme. "We're exposing a scene that most publications were not tapping into," explains Pedroza. "A lot of people in Orange County were going unrecognized for their talent and craziness." Manic is intended to fill that void for thousands of skaters, surfers, snowboarders and bike riders. These people are both peers and heroes to Pedroza, 34, who surfs and snowboards and recently took up longboard skating.

Their self-imposed perils are his passions, too. Pedroza speaks of skateboarders who risk their lives by soaring over the lanes of a freeway with a quiet, focused, otherworldly admiration. He describes snowboarders who endanger the lives of others by trying to clear a line of friends as though he's referencing one of the Beatitudes. "There's an infection of craziness that's reaching into more and more things," Pedroza acknowledges. "For the first time in history, there is a connection among the board sports, the motocross and bicycle sports, along with the music and the fashion. It's all colliding to create an interactive culture of its own. It's great. And it seems like the center of it is right here in Orange County."

That would figure. It's hard to imagine a youthful pressure more extreme than wall-to-wall suburbia. Locked amid the grids of housing tracts, strapped down by arbitrary rationality, injected with the double-edged values of competition, supplied with disposable income—it's only a matter of time before a kid picks up a skateboard and goes 50-50-to-frontside-grab.

"I can see where Orange County life does create a situation where all you need is a spark," says Pedroza, who was born in Santa Ana and graduated from Cal State Fullerton as a graphic artist. "Whether it's rebellion or just plain energy, people don't want to be associated with conformity. That's why it's funny that, with our reputation for being so boring and stale, Orange County has really always been a place with a cutting edge, whether you're talking about surfing or garage bands. Think about it: we've got a lot of surf, and we've got a lot of garages."

Nonetheless, Pedroza left home for eight years to pursue a music career in Los Angeles, where he dabbled in small-time publishing by distributing little info booklets about his bands that he produced on copy machines. When he came back to Orange County, he found the place had changed. Dirt bikers were surfing, snowboarders were skating offroad, speedway racers were wearing baggies, and everybody was doing all of it to a punk-rap soundtrack.

"Whatever the reasons, there was definitely an extreme buzz," Pedroza says. "And lots of talent."

Remembering how he first realized the possibilities, Pedroza cracks the slight smile of a dreamy guru. "I thought, 'Wow, what a great little market,'" he says. "I thought, 'I'd like to capture this in a publication and maybe even capitalize a little.'" Crazy!

Manicwas born, sized to fit into back pants pockets, printed on paper slick and thick enough to endure hyperactivity, and designed with full-color graphics and slang-filled stories perfect for jolting short attention spans. Four times per year, Pedroza produces between 10,000 and 20,000 copies of Manic and distributes them free at shops, competitions and concerts. "At first, we were shooting to come out every other month," Pedroza says, "but things got too crazy."

Pedroza figured Manic magazine would be a big-money, international operation by this time. "I thought I'd put out a couple of issues, then sell the idea and get some major publisher to step in," he says. "I thought I'd be working on Manic-Canada or Manic-UK or Manic-Australia by now. I guess I was a little overambitious."

Actually, Pedroza made a foray into international distribution, allowing a sports-gear distributor to include copies of Manic in its shipments, but the move didn't work out. "We didn't really have the staff to cover the bigger scene," he says, "and by sending so many copies of the magazine overseas, we didn't have enough for the people who wanted them in Orange County."

As he sets forth into Manic's second year, Pedroza has re-examined the magazine's roots and recommitted himself to them. "If this thing is going to get big," he says, "it's going to happen organically."

The anniversary issue is testament to that. There are reports from the finals of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, the Quiksilver Winter Snowboard and Surf Classic, and the Speedway Cycle races, where the motorbikes "accelerate fast enough to pull the riders' arms out of their sockets." There is a story about how to keep your boyfriend, which compares the days when getting pregnant would get you married with this comment from a modern-day dude: "I want a woman who loves me, allows me to be myself, and if she has nymphomaniac tendencies, that certainly sweetens the deal." There is a how-to-be-a-Chicano car-show review that concludes, "Chicanos have great cars, hefty attitudes and white girlfriends named Debbie. If you wanna know more about Chicanos, see Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke." There are CD and concert reviews. There is a fashion spread. And there is an editorial in favor of more skate parks.

"I like that we're still underground," Pedroza says. "It keeps us cool. As much as I would like to have a big publisher for Manic, I know there would be a lot of restrictions. I know I'd have to fight to keep it edgy."

As he speaks, Pedroza surveys the cradle of talent and insanity that produces Manic magazine—an office landscape of spotless white carpet, dustless walls and tables, a pair of solemn computer screens, and a crisply ordered filing cabinet. And then he answers the telephone. "You're coming?" Pedroza asks the caller, who turns out to be one of Manic's ad salesmen. "Good. I hope you're bringing money because we've still got to pay the printer."

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