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Tattoo Chronicle #6 ~ THE ANSWER'S UPSTAIRS

By Bob Baxter
Every so often, I like to climb up to the attic and pull out the boxes marked “Past Issues/Skin&Ink.” So often, the stories that I read, especially the histories and the editor’s comments, sound like they were written yesterday, instead of a dozen years ago.

May 1997 Skin&Ink - Bob Baxter's first issue as editor.
May 1997 Skin&Ink - My first issue as editor.

The tattoo industry has undergone many changes since the late ’90s. High-powered marketing has come into play and, for good for worse, has made enormous celebrities of people like Kat Von D and Don Ed Hardy. In Hardy’s case, here is a man that virtually united Western tattoo culture with Japanese design motifs, and now his line of of everything from women’s purses to autograph bedspreads inhabit the screens of the television shopping network. Von D, on the other hand, has been handed enormous power and, among her young, impressionable fans, has, in my opinion, made some rather stupid and outrageous statements such as, “I never get tattooed unless I’m drunk.” At times, I think her lifestyle is modeled more on Lindsay Lohan than Betty Broadbent or Vyvyn Lazonga. At times, I can almost hear the past legends that built this industry, artists like Charlie Wagner, Bert Grimm and Paul Rogers, spinning in their graves.

Yes, there have been many changes, my becoming editor of Skin&Ink magazine, for example; an event that caught the attention of the tattoo elite. Up until I came along, most of the existing tattoo magazines featured advertising directed toward untrained “scratchers,” plus page after page of mediocre artwork. On the newsstand, only Hardy’s short-lived TattooTime and Henk Schiffmacher’s Tattoo World presented something substantially different. Hardy put out a few classic issues and moved on to other pursuits. Schiffmacher (a.k.a. “Hanky Panky”) ran out of capital. Both were excellent and well worth reading, that is, if you can find any dog-eared copies.

In my case, I started from scratch and developed an entirely new editorial slant. It was all about enlightening the readers, helping them realize that tattooing was not only timeless, it was fine art. The “Editor’s Comment” was my bully pulpit. I had to come up with a new one every month for nearly fifteen years. Here’s a gentle reworking of one of the first:

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Changes are difficult. I didn’t like it when Pamela Sue Anderson left Baywatch. I hated it when Roseanne Barr got cheek implants, and, when they took Pee-wee Herman off the air, I was livid. I hated it when the L.A. Times restructured their sports section, when New Yorker changed its typeface and Rolling Stone shrunk its page size. Bummer. You welcome a magazine into your life—it’s an old friend. You expect a certain, predictable relationship. You don’t like alterations. So, when I gave well-known but faltering tattoo magazine a complete facelift back in 1997, I expected to rattle a few cages.

When Larry Flynt asked me to head Skin&Ink back in ’97, it had a limited readership. It wasn’t fun to read. It had lots of photos and not much text. To me, it was an uninspiring picture book. But certain readers liked it. I found a pile of letters with comments like, “Absolutely love it,” “Great chicks” and “You’re my favorite rag.” So, how would they take to my changing everything? If threatening to break my arms and legs is any example, not so well. I got lots of hate mail.

Now don’t get me wrong, the tattoo community isn’t entirely angry, tire-iron-wielding bikers, but, at the same time, it isn’t a bunch of quiche-eating pacifists either. It’s both. It’s an international family linked by ink. It’s people who cheer you on and those who don’t. Sometimes the family is mature and understanding. Sometimes it’s just plain dysfunctional.

During the ’60s, the statement of defiance was to grow your hair long. But, once the protest was over, you could always visit the barber. When chaining yourself to a nuclear power plant was all the rage, there was always a key to unlock the shackles. But tattoos, they’re a different matter. They’re there forever, and so is the statement that each and every one of them makes. Even if that single rose on your ankle or the koi fish on your shoulder is purely decoration, it makes a statement. It captures a specific moment in time. Yes, that tattoo of a ghoul with eyes falling out of its sockets was cool when you were fifteen, but is it now that you’re older? You bet. It’s a signpost of your life. It tells people who you are and also who you were. For some, tattooing is mere decoration, a passing fancy. For others, it’s an incurable addiction. In either case, it’s living, breathing art. It’s permanently you.

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I worked for Larry Flynt for nearly eight years and about the same with the Perretta family. The experience was life changing. I have made many friends in the business. God willing, my relationship with the artists, collectors and historians will continue and I can share with you the stories, the legends and, yes, the fabulous fabrications that make this the most intriguing and colorful of all the world’s art forms, now and forever.


As editor in chief of Skin&Ink magazine for over fourteen years, Bob Baxter guided the publication to a Folio Magazine Editorial Excellence Award, making it America’s most respected and educational body art publication. He currently edits and writes a Daily Blog at www.tattooroadtrip.com, the ultimate E-zine and resource site for international tattoo artists and collectors. He also has his Tattoo Chronicles series and the 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing right here @ Vanishing Tattoo. To ask questions, make comments or demand an apology, you can email Bob at baxter@tattooroadtrip.com.

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The Tattoo Chronicles >> Archives >> Chronicle #6