Illustration (detail) © Lisa Jane Persky
LET ME SAY IT RIGHT UP FRONT: I've got a tattoo. I never show it off and if anyone happens to notice, they point and say, "Hey, did you write on yourself?"
I did, in 1970, draw an arrow that got tattooed there in all its spreading bluish glory, on the outside of my right foot, curving around the heel and pointing up toward my head. It couldn't be less attractive.
A young guy I knew from the street who'd been named after a motorcycle and was "into leather" was about to try home-tattoo as his new career. I agreed to let him "sock it to me." The idea seemed romantic, and I wanted to see firsthand the actual operation and its accoutrements, to have the adventure I'd been privately mulling. More curious than cautious, I booked the fifth and last appointment of Harley's first all-tatting day hoping that by then he'd had enough practice.
I was 15. I still knew pretty much everything.
I grew up in the 60's and 70's in Greenwich Village, when it wasn't unusual for some man at a party to "offer" to literally paint your nude female form. (Yes, even my underage one.) At least two of my parents would have been okay with it but I wasn't. I was made to feel "uptight" for not wanting some stranger to "Goldfinger" me. Getting a single tattoo from someone I was familiar with was harder to resist. My inspiration wasn't the bohemian culture I saw all around me, but a quieter, more bookish one that started when I discovered Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man. I found the book on top of one of the garbage cans behind our building. I dumped our trash and began reading on my way back up the stairs.
The book begins with a prologue that casts the wandering tattooed man on a hill at dusk with another traveler and ends with an epilogue that finds that traveler running away from the Illustrated Man at dawn. These two pieces are the frame for the 18 classic stories of science fiction that follow. The prologue draws the narrator (and reader) into the artwork on the skin of the Illustrated Man; art made by a female tattoo artist (a rare phenomenon at the time) who is possibly a witch from the future, and who has marked our man with her choice of "Illustrations." This art comes to life, tells tales of the future, and finally threatens the narrator. In no other part of any of the stories in-between do these two men or our woman from the framing device appear.
Prior to becoming Illustrated, our Man was a carnival worker made unemployable by a broken leg. On a walk (presumably on crutches) he spots a sign. He tells the narrator that he was drawn in by one word:
"SKIN ILLUSTRATION! Illustration instead of tattoo! Artistic!"
"Illustration" is also the provocative promise of his story. It hangs on that word and throughout the "I" in "Illustration" is capitalized. The Illustrated Man is Bradbury's symbolic embodiment of the lure and connection of story and picture.
The stories that take place between the prologue and epilogue are widely taught and well known. Though there are no actual pictures of any kind, Bradbury's word paintin...