Bob Baxter’s 101 Most Influential People in Tattoo (No. 19)—Larry Flynt
Not all of the those on my list, men and women who are deemed “important” and “influential,” are tattoo artists. In fact, some, while being outside the industry, have had a tremendous positive effect on the public’s perception and acceptance of the ancient art form. Whether the majority of these “outsiders” are good for tattooing or bad is debatable, but there is no doubt that one in particular had an enormous effect on me personally and, I would hope, the tattoo world as a whole. It is with great respect and admiration that I submit the next entry.
19. When I was hired by Larry Flynt to be Editor-in-Chief of his only tattoo magazine, Skin&Ink, he published thirty-five or so other titles, including, of course, Hustler, Barely Legal and a host of adult titles featuring various fetishes that catered to an enormous worldwide readership. Legs, derrieres, breasts; in Flynt’s empire they all had a place. But not all of Flynt’s publications were girlie magazines. Hot Boats, for example, was an excellent magazine, with lots of advertisers. It was a favorite of the power boat set. He had one called Rap Pages, Big Brother, (a skateboard magazine), Code: The Style Magazine for Men of Color, Camera & Darkroom and Maternity Fashion and Beauty. Then along came Skin&Ink. Whether true or not, I had heard that this title began as a small, insignificant feature in a motorcycle magazine, which, at the advent of tattooing’s popularity of, demanded its own presence. In any case, when I received a phone call to visit the Larry Flynt Publications office in Beverly Hills, the magazine was in trouble and it was my job to put things right. It was a phone call that, literally, changed my life.
I was, at the time, the owner of a professional writing service called Career Pro, in Glendale, California. I also wrote weekly columns to the Pasadena Weekly newspaper and had been a monthly columnist for Sing Out! and Guitar Player magazines, back in my music days. In 1997, however, it seems that the, then, current editor was doing some hanky-panky, and Flynt and his staff wanted a replacement. The popularity of the magazine, too, was not what it could be, so they began a search for someone to do a complete facelift. After a few attempts at finding the right person (including, I was told, Gill “The Drill” Montie), the LFP headhunter began calling tattoo shops, to see if they knew a logical candidate. Fortunately for me, they called Pote Seylor’s Body Electric in West Hollywood, where Joe Vegas and my son Jesse were working. Joe picked up the phone and, as the story goes, after some words with the caller, shouted across the room, “Hey, Jesse, doesn’t your father edit or something?” Next day, I was in the top-floor offices talking with three Flynt vice-presidents. I got hired, and immediately changed everything from the logo to the content. In fact, when I asked Flynt if I could meet with my copy editor, he responded with, “Why do you need one of those?” Clearly, my concept of a tattoo publication was quite different from his current manifestation.
There is a long list of anecdotes I could relate about my relationship with Larry Flynt, but suffice to say, he always responded to my numerous queries within twenty-four hours, let me have free rein in running the day-to-day activities, and, most important of all, agreed with me that we should not accept advertising from tattoo supply companies that sold “starter kits” and other related paraphernalia to non-professionals. The fact that starter kits did not include any equipment for proper sterilization hit a note with him, and he immediately removed these ads from our back page and, consequently, lost a great deal of advertising revenue, which, up until that point, was keeping the magazine afloat. I might also mention that this policy led to a major decrease in starter kit ads throughout the tattoo magazine industry. Almost every tattoo publication had starter kit ads on their back page. No more, thanks to Larry.
Whether or not you agree that Skin&Ink was a major, positive force within the tattoo community, I know for a fact that it shook things up. Before Larry worked with us, tattoo magazines, in general, had a bad reputation. Skin&Ink did a lot to change that perception. With Flynt backing up our decisions and helping us promote ourselves at conventions by giving us box-loads of free magazines to hand out, we were able to introduce our new philosophy to a public eager for a representative publication,We became a magazine that not only featured photos of art and artists, but we wrote in-depth commentary about them, too. We enlisted a staff of exceptional writers and columnists that wrote truthfully and candidly about the body art scene. We brought in world-class illustrators (Bruce Litz, The Pizz and David Nestler, for example) and published a veritable who’s who of tattooists from New York to New Zealand. After establishing ourselves, we even won the prestigious Folio Magazine Editorial Excellence Award, essentially the Oscars of the magazine business. This was the first-ever for a tattoo magazine and the first Folio Award for LFP. All because Larry Flynt supported the cause. Without his genius, his trust in me and his excellent staff of seasoned professionals, Skin&Ink would never have had the great run that it did. I have great respect for the man and I know that many, many people in the tattoo community feel the same way that I do. I am proud to include him on my list of “Most Influential People in Tattoo.”