Skin Deep is the latest zine in William P. Tandy’s excellent Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore! series. As befits a Baltimore-based outfit, Smile, Hon zines can lead to cringing or contemplation with themed issues on crime, vermin, and scars. Skin Deep is no exception: It treats tattoos in ink-inspired personal essays, poetry, and sidebars of tattooer interviews that are sometimes amusing, sometimes stomach-turning.
The zine is full of instructive tidbits about tattoo enthusiasts, including perspectives from a number of tattooed men and women who write about the spiritual significance of their designs. (I always took the Bible’s “your body is a temple” to mean no epidermal ink injections. Not a universal interpretation, apparently.) One tattooed gentleman sports angels and “iconic hands clasped in prayer.” Ian Andrew Erdman went for a bear tattoo, to remind him of strength and helpfulness. “Having been a part of several mission trips,” Erdman writes, “I have witnessed firsthand the good that people can do when they band together to help toward a common goal.”
Not everyone who gets a tattoo chooses a saintly image, of course. For those seeking a more controversial design, the right tattooer is key. Josh Griffin, a Baltimore Tattoo Museum employee, refuses to do certain designs, like “rebel flags. I don’t care if it’s for the Confederacy or whatever—I don’t mess with that.” Other tattooers are less rigid. “In the end, you have to meet three points,” says tattooer Bill Stevenson. “You have to be over 18, you have to have some money, and you have to want to get tattooed.”
Most of the tattooers want to be seen as craftsmen, not as moral enforcers or even as artists. “They’ll be like, ‘I’m a tattooer, not an artist,’” says Dave Drell of the Baltimore Tattoo Museum. “‘I don’t go home and listen to Vivaldi and drink wine and paint things,’ you know?”