When Ray Bradbury was 12, he went to a carnival where Mr. Electrico, whose act involved zapping himself with electricity, touched a flaming electric sword to Bradbury’s nose. The following day, returning from a family funeral, Bradbury spotted the carnival from the road and begged to stop again. This time, Mr. Electrico introduced him to the Fat Lady, the Strong Man, and the Tattooed Man.
Bradbury later said the encounters forever marked him—he began writing soon after.
He went on to fictionalize one of those carnies in “The Illustrated Man,” a short story about someone in a difficult marriage who overeats to cope, gets fired because of his weight, and finds a tattoo artist who inks him into a new future. “Illustrated” from head to toe, the man rouses carnival audiences but faces a troubled fate because of the images on his flesh.
The story gave its title to Bradbury’s 1951 collection, The Illustrated Man. Ask anyone who has a tattoo and they’ll probably tell you how getting it helped them redefine their body or step a little differently into the future.
One could say the same of science fiction.
Bradbury died in 2012. He would have been 100 this August. To celebrate his legacy, the film director, book publisher, and former photojournalist Lawrence Schiller conceived All of Me Is Illustrated, a pictorial homage of full-body tattoos, in the spirit of Bradbury’s character.
“We really tried to get a broad spectrum of styles and people from all walks of life, not just one body style or one particular type of tattoo,” says Don Hellinger, the publisher of Inked magazine, who helped connect Schiller with the tattoo world.
Tattoo aficionados are not unlike writers, Hellinger continues. “Just like a writer can struggle, trying to choose the right word, tattoo collectors will spend years sometimes struggling with what to put on a piece of their body.”
The tattoo artist in Bradbury’s story is an old woman who lives in a shack. “Her eyes were stitched with red resin-thread,” he wrote. “Her nose was sealed with black wax-twine. Her ears were sewn, too, as if a darning-needle dragonfly had stitched all her senses shut.”
Sami Hajar, the creative director of Inked, worked with Hellinger on All of Me Is Illustrated. “Everybody,” he observes, “has a different reason they get tattoos.”
On his body, he has Gian Lorenzo Bernini statues, all 12 zodiac signs, a portrait of his mother, and a pair of sneakers. “I remember every tattoo,” he says, “and everything that led up to it. It’s all a story.”
Bradbury might agree.
And while most of the collectors photographed for All of Me Is Illustrated weren’t familiar with “The Illustrated Man,” Schiller says, after the project “they all went out and read Bradbury.”
Kimi Eisele is the author of the novel The Lightest Object in the Universe. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, and has no tattoos.