Jeff Johnson on Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life In Ink

One of the best books I've read so far this year--recommended to me by my wife Ann, who has published the author in Weird Tales--is Tattoo Machine by Portland resident Jeff Johnson. A tattoo artist for over 18 years, Johnson has written an eye-opening, compassionate, and sometimes disturbing account of what it's like to work in an industry that requires close contact with people and that has recently begun to be given its due as a form of art. As the dust jacket says, Johnson has "inked gangbangers, age-defying moms, and sociopaths; he's defused brawls, tended delicate egos, learned to spot and avoid bunnies, and made it his mission to perpetrate ingenious and awful practical jokes."

What makes the book so good is Johnson's willingness to be open and honest about everything associated with being a tattoo artist. That means he's not shy about giving readers candid glimpses into his personal life. But just being honest isn't enough, really, to make a book a classic--for something like this, you also need a knack for telling anecdotes and for good writing. Johnson's adept at both--I mean, really adept. That kind of synergy makes for a reading experience that transcends the subject matter. Even if you don't care about tattoo art at all, you'll love this book. (The NY Post even did a feature recently.)

Recently, I interviewed Johnson about Tattoo Machine, via email.

   Tattoo machine

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Comments (2)

Portland artist Jeff Johnson gives readers an unvarnished look behind the tip wall in his first book, Tattoo Machine. As part owner of the Sea Tramp, one of the oldest tattoo parlors in town, he sees enough crazy shit on any given night to curl the hair of the uninitiated and grizzled veteran alike; however, it is Johnson’s gift for language, metaphor, and unflinching introspection that gives the book its heart. Of course it’s a flaming heart with barbed wire and maybe some wings—but it’s a heart. You don’t have to care about tattooing to take something worthwhile away from this entertaining look at human nature and the art of self-expression.

Posted by: jeux ds | Wednesday September 23, 2009 at 3:35 AM

A genuinely funny and insightful inside look at the craft. A good book to read though on a rainy Sunday. Funny and informative. After think about it for 30 years, I think I'm ready to get my tattoo!!!

Posted by: Tony Kure | Saturday January 9, 2010 at 12:01 PM

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