Why you should care

Because there’s a good story behind every tattoo.

Everyone and their mother is getting tattooed these days. Literally. Currently one in five (21 percent) of American adults has at least one tattoo (up from 14 percent in 2008), according to a Harris Poll conducted last year; and for the first time, slightly more women than men. With suburban housewives and straight-A students, bad Jews, even diabetes patients replacing their medical bracelets, all sitting under the needle, tattoos may have permanently lost their status as the preeminent sign of rebellion — but they will always have stories to tell.

But now you can read all sorts of (really well told) tales behind all sorts of tattoos at Pen & Ink a provocative, poetic website launched last year by illustrator Wendy MacNaughton and writer Isaac Fitzgerald. Within weeks they had 14,000 followers on Tumblr and were drowning in submissions — from authors and accountants, bartenders and bakers, all willing to bare their biceps, backs (what, no bare asses?) and a bit of their souls. The kind you always want to hear, but are afraid to ask— especially a total stranger, whose torso is engulfed by, say, a screeching bald eagle.

Wendy MacNaughton and Issac Fitzgerald at Bender's Bar and Grill

Wendy MacNaughton and Issac Fitzgerald at Bender’s Bar and Grill

Scrolling around Pen & Ink, which was recently included in the 2013 Best Nonrequired Reading series, feels a bit like reading someone’s diary.The sometimes wild, sometimes sad, sometimes sort of ridiculous but always revealing snippets are scrawled in MacNaughton’s signature script and accompanied by her hand-drawn renderings. “The stories, like bodies themselves, come in all shapes and sizes, every one unique,” says Fitzgerald.

“I am going to die,” writer Tao Lin reminds himself on his wrist, which, he explains, helps motivate him to, you know, do stuff like laundry instead of masturbate. Thrift store manager Anna Schoenberger shares why she wanted Ms. Pac-Man to eat up her entire upper arm. And unemployed Alise Alicardi reveals why a bright-green T-rex bears its teeth beneath her boobs.

A year later, penandink.tumblr.com has 80,000+ followers (and counting) and is bombarded by dozens of submissions a week, from all over the world, from all walks of life. “None from babies or 95-year-olds yet, but we’re waiting,” says Fitzgerald.

And so are we: Pen & Ink, the book, will be published by Bloomsbury in August 2014.

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