Tattoos for Men

Few status symbols have undergone such a change in status over the past 15 years as the tattoo. What was once a mark of the rebel has morphed into a symbol of, well, you name it. Middle-aged moms have pictures of their kids inked on their shoulder, marketing executives have Zen symbols etched into their back, and seemingly any woman who went to college in the early 1990s has a Yin Yang or dancing bear lingering somewhere. Thank God there are still fans of Insane Clown Posse to keep covering themselves with bleeding skulls and exploding snakes and stuff.

What hasn't changed so much is tattoo magazines. I know this not because I'm a subscriber, but because I shared a house about 10 years ago with an artist named Tom who ran an ersatz tattoo parlor out of our basement -- and by "ersatz" I mean "extremely unsanitary." Living with Tom taught me a lot about the culture of body art (and rubbing alcohol). I learned, for example, that it's customary to tip your artist in uncustomary ways. The best gratuities Tom ever got? A giant sack of littleneck clams, which I now realize we kept in the 'fridge for waaay too long, and a tremendous glass bong, which his girlfriend eventually knocked over with the laundry basket. Looking back, I must say the most amazing part of that story to me is that someone was doing a wash.

Tom also taught me to enjoy a good tattoo magazine. He loved flipping through the pages of International Tattoo Art or Tattoo Artist Magazine and hyper kinetically pointing out his favorite designs. (Did I mention that Tom probably should have been medicated?) At first I had trouble looking past the cheesy graphics and bad design to really appreciate the art, but Tom's passion and perseverance eventually helped me see what he saw. Also the bong probably helped. 

Ten years later, I'm sitting here looking at Tattoos for Men, and I'm seeing just what I saw in 1998, in more ways than one. The tattoos presented don't seem to have changed much -- the leering demons, the pinup girls, the samurai warriors -- and neither has the magazine template: pages upon pages of tattoos presented without comment, interrupted by the occasional profile of an artist or heavily tattooed man. Mix in 20 or so pages of ads from tattoo vendors and convention holders, and voila! Tattoo magazine!

Not that there's anything wrong with that. As a magazine snob, it's easy to look down on stuff like this. Tattoos for Men doesn't particularly care for the subtleties of smart design, and it clearly doesn't make a priority of pithy writing. But guess what? Neither do its readers. If Tom was any indication, these folks are looking for just one thing: more tattoos! They want to see what other people are doing and how they're doing it. They want ideas, inspiration, and the occasional train wreck to sneer at. In that respect, it's not really all that different from US Weekly or People. Some people want to know who looks better in a Dior dress; others want to see whose tiger really appears to be coming through his shoulder blade. Tattoo enthusiasts: They're just like us!

On that score, there's no quibbling with Tattoos for Men. It helpfully divides the galleries by genre for easy browsing. There's a section for snakes, one for skulls, another for portraits -- even one for "new school," whatever that is. It's a handy device for the compare-and-contrast fan in all of us. And for $5.99, you couldn't ask for more content.

What I don't understand is the advertising. Like I said, it's almost exclusively vendors selling needles, motors, ink, etc. But while the audience for tattoos may have expanded, the same can't be said for tattoo magazines. These things are clearly geared more toward the Insane Clown Posse crowd than the middle-aged moms out there. So where are the ads for rock tours, new albums and horror films? I'm seeing some seriously missed opportunities here. Is there a media buyer in the house?

Published by: Art & Ink Enterprises

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