What does ‘Nickel Slick’ mean?

Golden Age Science Fiction
Photo by Marxchivist

The term “Nickel Slick” has a personal meaning to me. I created this brand and website in 2007 to handle the commercial videography side of my business. But, coming from a punk rock background, I always wanted to use it as the name for a ‘zine. I was writing a lot of short stories back then, so I fancied a sort of 1930s Golden Age of Science Fiction inspired format to collect my own writing.

In the early decades of the 20th century, science fiction magazines were cheap, usually printed on pulp paper and serving niche audiences. Young writers like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke sharpened their teeth on those pulpy pages, developing into the monster talents they would eventually become. They cost maybe a nickel.

The best writers eventually made the leap to some of of the more expensive publications, like Harper’s Bazaar. These magazines were called “slicks,” because of the higher quality paper and full color production process.

So, my idea was that an audience might find the material in my portfolio highly imaginative and risk-taking, like the kind of stuff you’d read in the cheap pulp magazines, but produced with a sleek, professional sheen. In other words, a slick magazine found on the nickel shelves — a “nickel slick.”

Sounded reasonable to me.

You think you are nickel slick?

I’ve since learned from hip-hop music that ‘nickel slick’ is a way to describe a smooth operator who is not made of the best stuff. Shiny on the outside, cheap in the middle, maybe not the best look for a human being.

On the other hand, this is exactly what you want in music and video production — you want it to look as expensive and to cost as little as possible.

So, there you have it. Nickel Slick. What does it mean to you?

Wallace J. Kelly
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1 thought on “What does ‘Nickel Slick’ mean?”

  1. Nope. Pretty sure the hip-hopers are wrong on this one. The meaning I know goes back to early 70’s hippy era and days of Motown.
    I was pretty good friends with a guy.. friends, actually with the whole family. They were black and all of them were very cool but he was ‘other worldly’ cool, prolly more so than anyone else I ever met and quite the philosopher. He was also a pretty heavy drug user and I never was. So I think I liked him more than he liked me.
    Speaking about his drug use he once told me that he was nickel-slick and, of course, then he had to tell me what that meant. He told me he could shoot up heroin in small amounts (nickel bag) and only just often enough to never get addicted to it. He was a casual heroin user who wasn’t dependent so he was ‘nickel-slick’.
    Thanks for reading. -Carson


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