Oct 132005

Ninj designed the best zine logo ever.Almost ten years ago, at the Imperial Pub at Dundas and Yonge, Jeff told me about his plans for a new zine. Quite different than Yip, his humor zine, it would be about exploring off-limits places. I was concerned about having such a narrow focus for a whole zine. I suggested he give it a broader theme, relegating the exploring to a column or subsection. “You could call it Sneak,” I said, brainstorming other sections for scams and other naughtiness.

Out of spite, Jeff (AKA Ninjalicious) published twenty-five issues of Infiltration, a zine about going places you weren’t supposed to go. And next week, his definitive book on the subject — Access All Areas: A User’s Guide to the Art of Urban Exploration — is being launched in Toronto, to the dismay of lazy security guards everywhere.

For those who don’t know Infiltration, it’s one of the most popular and well-regarded zines in the world. And for excellent reason: it’s filled with great real-life adventure stories, homegrown yarns peculiarly native to our era. Instead of seeking excitement travelling abroad as I did, Jeff found it in his own city. He would knock off work at his day job and check on how the Sheppard Subway dig was going; pop by an interesting looking church he’d heard about at Yonge and Lawrence; see if there were any unlocked doors today at Union Station. It was part of his life and how he saw the world.

Photo by NinjaliciousHe referred to urban exploration as a “hobby,” even when it grew to the point (take a look around infiltration.org to get a sense of the massive size) where it could have easily been called a movement. But in his modest and unassuming way, he managed to communicate and spread his mildly illicit desire to access all areas.

On the surface, Access All Areas is a well-written and thorough how-to guide for those new to the subculture, spiked with hilarious asides and tales of forbidden forays: but at its heart, it’s Jeff Chapman passing on his love for an unusual pasttime in a way that manages to be fascinating yet responsible.

Access All Areas is a fitting — and final — testament to his passion. Having been diagnosed with cancer last year, Jeff spent much of his time finishing and publishing this book. He died about a month after seeing it in print and debuting advance copies at the annual gathering of urban explorers in Montreal. The official launch, a week today, will feature refreshments and adventures told by his fellow urban explorers and is a celebration put on by his co-editor and wife, Liz Clayton.

I found what he did and how he did it hugely inspiring. As well as getting to tag along with him on his explorations (a trip to Lower Bay station spawned this story) I interviewed him a bunch of times: among them, about the weirdness of public attention, and about how the videogame Thief II compared with real-life infiltrating. Interviews that were just excuses, really, contexts to continue chatting about our mutual interests.

Despite my skepticism at the bar, in the acknowledgements of the book Jeff mentions me as an early believer of the zine. I’m really glad he remembered it that way.

  3 Responses to “The Artist of Urban Exploration”

  1. New urban exploration book

    Jim Munroe says: “The editor of the zine Infiltration (the zine about going places you’re not supposed to go) and the guy who coined the term “urban exploration” has self-published a how-to book being launched next week. Like his zine, it’s a very wel…

  2. I’ve got this book and love it. I may never actually be brave enough to risk life, limb and incarceration to go urban exploring, but it’s a great informational resource for the unabashedly curious.

    (Also, while leaving this comment, I noticed that you’re responsible for Therefore, Repent, which is the most brilliant graphic novel I’ve seen in ages! Well done! Keep up the great work!)

  3. Thanks! What a weird coincidence.

    Y’know, though Ninj’s riskier adventures get a lot of attention, I was always more interested in the way that he approached it as a discipline rather than a sport… he was always on the lookout for places to explore, just as interested in a intriguing unlocked door in a church basement as he was a rooftop ladder.

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