Titan Books emailed us last week asking if we would review their new book about tattoos and body modification. I guess they must have known I used to have my lip pierced.

I was pretty stoked last week when the guys at Titan Books emailed us and asked us if we would be interested in a free promotional copy of their new book Body Art to review for the site. I mean, I love free stuff and I love reading so it seemed to be a winning combination, right? I’m not really sure why they thought Sick Chirpse would be interested in featuring a book about Body Art/Modification (I don’t think we’ve run anything related to any of these topics before?) but what the hell, right? I mean it was free, and I have delved into the subject a couple of times myself. However, I think having one tattoo and my lip pierced until recently (and even then I had only really got my lip pierced to impress a girl and my tattoo because it was a tour tattoo) wasn’t really the ideal preparation for the veritable gallery of freaks I would be subjected to in this book.

Maybe freaks is a bit of a harsh line though, as admittedly one guy who is profiled – the 76 year old Prince Albert who has over 500 piercings, many of which are on his face – states that ‘he wants to reclaim the word freak so that it’s used in a positive way,’ but there are certainly some characters in this book that I wasn’t really expecting to encounter. I figured it would just be a book about tattoos and piercings – not scarification, stretching, metal implants and branding! However, having said that it’s an enjoyable and informative read, if not a little freaky.

Body Art is the brainchild of Bizarre magazine and the articles featured in it were probably featured in the magazine at some point and collected here with some new material for the release of the book, as it reads a lot like I imagine an article in Bizarre magazine would read like. It also heavily consists of photographs, which is appropriate to the subject matter and also how I would expect an issue of Bizarre magazine to look. I think maybe I stole a copy of Bizarre magazine for a scout camp when I was 10 or something, so that’s probably what I’m basing this on, I’m not really sure though. It does look like that kind of magazine though, right?

Anyway, the book itself is the kind of coffee table book you might find at your weird mate’s house, or perhaps even at one of the studios where you can get one of these kind of procedure performed. The kind of book that you would probably leaf through and look at the pictures – there are a lot of pictures – and maybe read a couple of the articles that caught your eye. I can’t really imagine anyone buying it themselves to read for their own pleasure though – it seems too simplistic for people who are already into this stuff and I can’t imagine that people who aren’t into it would ever be interested enough to buy it and read it all the way through.

Having said that, the book is very approachable and friendly, whilst being colloquial and easy to read in its language and presentation, as well as being interesting and informative. The book does pretty much what you would expect it to – although it is a little more extreme than I first expected – by describing the history of tattooing and body modification from its early days until the present and also featuring profiles of body modification celebrities such a Sammpa Von Cyborg and Lincoln –  a gay attorney with breast implants – as well as explanations and profiles of a variety of upcoming body modification techniques like branding, scarification and the flesh corset, which is fvcking rank by the way.

A lot of these profiles and new body modification techniques I found particularly freaky and gross – I mean why do people want to have metal mohawks? Why does a dude want a pair of DD breasts? Why does a guy want to be able to stick his hand through his ear lobe? Why does a guy want nostrils as big as his fist? etc etc but, despite the questionable subject matter, the pictures were great and definitely gave me something to look at/laugh at and question, and the articles, like I already said, were informative, well written and entertaining. One interviewee discussing the branding process relates how 14 years ago getting your tongue pierced would probably be seen as the most painful and unnatural process possible, but now it’s fairly common – so with that in mind perhaps my view of those participating in these practices is skewed and in 20 years they will all be commonplace in society. I guess this is what Body Art is trying to help promote. Either that or it’s just a book for mainstream society to laugh at pictures of all these weirdoes. Unsure.

However, despite the fact that – other than the specific appeal of the content – I am generally full of praise for Body Art in terms of its writing, presentation, design and structure, there are a couple of criticisms I can level at it. Although I am not a connoisseur of tattoos by any means, I have to say that I thought a bunch of the featured tattoos submitted by reader of Bizarre magazine were really, really bad. I don’t have a scan of any but one of Elvish writing as a tribute to the Lord of The Rings was especially cringeworthy whereas a couple – like one of a badass skull by a self confessed guy who ‘couldn’t draw for shit’ – just LOOK really bad, regardless of their meaning. Also an interview with Kat Von D seemed rather unnecessary and a tad too ‘hip,’ and a feature at the end of the book on ‘tattoos in smut’ – i.e. an excuse to profile a bunch of topless babes – seemed a bit crass but I guess that’s the kind of thing that is probably associated with and expected of Bizarre magazine, so i should probably just let it slide.

Those slight criticisms aside though I have to say that the book was an enjoyable and informative read and if you ever spot it on your weird freaky friends coffee table you should pick it up and leaf through it – although be prepared for some fairly gross photographs. I wouldn’t really recommend buying it though, unless you are experiencing a desperate urge for a general overview of the current state of the body modification industry. Or unless you want to BE that weird freaky friend.

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