The folks who stock magazine racks aren't quite sure where to stash Inked. In recent weeks I've seen the tattoo mag variously displayed under categories as disparate as Men and Art and Lifestyles. Yet the cover tagline says it all: CULTURE. STYLE. ART.

Some of us can remember when nothing was hip about ink on epidermis, since it conjured up the creepy wiry guy perched on a stool near the men's room, drinking his supper and tugging on an unfiltered Chesterfield, his skinny left bicep adorned with the USS Something-or-Other of Korean War vintage, while his right forearm displayed the moniker of his second ex-wife. Wow, have times changed.

An entire generation has embraced the very ancient art of tattooing, and a new crop of periodicals has sprung up to meet their editorial needs. There's no doubt, however, that Inked is the slickest of the breed. In fact, the mag is slick in every sense of the word, on both sides of the editorial/sales wall. The layout and photography are first-rate, and colorful spreads for even well-known advertisers such as Toyota's Scion and Ubisoft video games are imbedded seamlessly into the mix.

That said, Inked's features have surprisingly broad appeal. January's cover story is a profile of the singer Pink, who is aptly described as a "gorgeous tomboy" and whose arms and lower abdomen sport discreet "work." But this is no commonplace celebrity sit-down that could be wedged into Us or People; it focuses on Pink's split with Carey Hart, owner of a chain of tattoo parlors, and details the singer's feud with famed tattoo artist Kat Von D. There's also an interesting Q&A with Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead and another with the always-captivating Janeane Garofalo (who knew she's now made nearly 50 movies and has "14 or 15" tats splattered across her arms, stomach, and legs?).

But no style magazine would be complete without a dozen or so up-front pages devoted to glossy photos of what editors now term gear (aka, blatant product placement). In Inked, some of these sections have a tattoo connection while others do not. For example, there's nothing particularly inkish about the gear described in Groom (a $245 leather travel shaving kit), Listen (camcorders), and Drive (the Volvo C30 T5). As for Wear, ties and cardigans and shoes could be showcased anywhere, but down vests undoubtedly have a special appeal for artists who've used their own arms as canvases.

Then there's Drink, with a tribute to cheap American beers, clearly a subject that's near and dear to a healthy percentage of the readership base (though apparently not to those paying $245 for shaving kits). Other sections strike a resonant chord:

• Play: An update on skateboard art

• View: The lowdown on exhibits by famed tattoo artist Vincent Castiglia

• Go: Travel advice for those attending January's Singapore Tattoo Show (which, not for nothing, seems to be the unlikeliest pairing of event and venue this side of an American Civil Liberties Union Convention in Guantánamo Bay).

To be sure, these pages contain some awkward prose, up to and including the truncated and cryptic letters that clearly arrive not only via email and IM, but even via MySpace. There's also evidence of a vacancy in the pub's fact-checking department: An unintentionally humorous retraction asserts that a previous profile of an artist wrongly asserted she DOESN'T like to do "nice, clean tattoos or realistic stuff," which for this crowd is the equivalent of a Time magazine mea culpa along the lines of "Sarah Palin is NOT in favor of palling around with terrorists."

But focusing only on the written word misses the central point of Inked, since that 9"x10.5" heavy glossy paper is meant for displaying. And displaying is what the mag does best. People is one of the most fascinating sections in the January issue, with excellent photography highlighting an eclectic mix comprised of Canadian punk performer Sebastien Grainger; Chateau Marmont chef Carolyn Spence; Brooklyn furniture designer Ted Nemeth; and Parisian tattoo artist Laura Satana. All, of course, expose parts of their own skin.

Then there's the Inked Girls section, which in this issue focuses on the greater New York area, with 12 pages of local women clad in skimpy black bathing suits, all putting their best art forward. The portraits range from intriguing to haunting to downright stunning. In fact, nearly every one of the magazine's sections -- even those detailing tattoo conventions in Denver and London -- offer dazzling photos.

A novice reader is left with the sense that tattooing now transcends just skin and ink. It truly has become a deeper form of expression and has evolved into not just an art form but nothing less than a subculture as well. My vote? Inkedshould be displayed under Lifestyles.



Published by: Pinchazo Publishing Group

Frequency: 10 times per year

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