Tattoo Tales: An Interview with The Force in the Flesh Author Shane Turgeon

The brand of the Force comes in many shapes and forms.

Star Wars fans have many ways of showing their passion for a galaxy far, far away. Some create and wear costumes, some write their own fan fiction, and an increasing number have gone so far as to have their love permanently inked on their body. Star Wars tattoos have become so popular in the last decade or so that you see them on TV shows such as Epic Ink; conventions like Lucasfilm’s own Star Wars Celebration have live tattooing on sight; and now there are two books released on the subject — Force in the Flesh: Star Wars Inspired Body Art Volumes I and II.

TFITF2-COVER

Longtime fan and collector (and all-around awesome dude), Shane Turgeon, has used his fervor for Star Wars tattoos to immaculately chronicle this increasingly popular fan obsession. I’ve been fortunate enough to know Shane since before the first book’s release back in 2007 and recently had the distinct honor of having my own Star Wars body art featured in the new volume released a few months back. Knowing firsthand how much love really goes into these books, I jumped at the opportunity to talk with Shane about The Force in the Flesh, Celebration, and his own Star Wars tattoo collection.

StarWars.com: Contrary to popular belief, you’re not a tattoo artist. How did you first get involved in the tattoo community?

Shane: After getting my first tattoo, which was a Star Wars tattoo, I realized there were a number of other people out there who were also doing the same. This was back in 1998 and you have to bear in mind that the cultural landscape back then was not what it is currently for the popularity of nerdy tattoos. It was a very niche thing nestled inside two other very niche communities (Star Wars and the tattoo community). I started an online archive dedicated to Star Wars tattoos in 1999 and it grew in popularity over the years. At it’s peak it was getting 30,000 unique hits a month and featured over 500 tattoos. These days that number seems like a pittance; but back then, it was truly monumental. I started working with Lucasfilm to coordinate tattoo programming for Star Wars Celebration III in Indianapolis back in 2005 and that helped bring a lot more attention to what we were doing from both the Star Wars community and the tattoo community as well. Through all of that, I met a number of amazing tattoo artists who were hugely influenced by Star Wars and managed to build a solid reputation with them, which is difficult when you’re not an artist yourself.

Since then we’ve incorporated live tattooing at the last four Celebrations. I’ve written numerous articles and two books on the subject, been featured in several magazines, and on television and have opened my own studio, Shades of Grey, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The shop is both a tattoo studio and a vintage toy and comic store and art gallery. It’s a pretty great place to come to every day!

StarWars.com: One day I’m going to visit that shop. It sounds incredible. What was your first Star Wars tattoo?

Shane: My first Star Wars tattoo was the abbreviation for “straightedge” (a punk rock lifestyle choice based on abstinence from smoking, drugs, and alcohol) done in the Aurebesh. Shortly thereafter, I got a realistic Yoda tattoo based on a painting done by Tsuneo Sanda and the ball was rolling!

StarWars.com: How many Star Wars tattoos do you have now?

Shane: Oh jeez! That’s a hard one! My whole lower left leg is dedicated to The Empire Strikes Back, I have a vintage Power Droid action figure on the top of my left foot, a mini-Tusken Raider portrait and some other bits of Aurebesh here and there.

StarWars.com: Do you have a favorite?

Shane: I love all of them equally. That’s an acceptable answer, right? ‘Cause that’s what I’m going with.

StarWars.com: Sure, I’ll let it pass…this time. How did the first Force in the Flesh book come to be?

Shane: The original site I created was great in terms of exposure, but the best thing that came from it was all the friendships that it created. I met so many amazing people and came to know their stories. I thought it would be a really cool idea to create a coffee table book dedicated to not just the art of Star Wars tattoos, but the people as well. I was really keen to show the impact that a series of movies had on people’s lives and how they helped created communities within communities. We did some principal photography at Celebration III in Indianapolis and from there I chose the people I wanted to feature. Jeff Correll did all the design and layout for the book while I did all the interviewing, writing, and photograph chasing.

spreads159-160

StarWars.com: What lessons did you learn creating Volume I that you incorporated into the second volume?

Shane: Volume II, like Volume I, was a 100 percent do-it-yourself endeavor. So you’re always bound to make mistakes or figure out how to do things differently when you do something like that again. I think the biggest thing I learned was that having proper distribution elements is key. With Volume I, I thought I could do it all on my own. Well, let me tell you, going to the post office twice a week with huge quantities of books in tow gets old pretty quick, especially when you have a full-time job and a life to try to live. So this time we have better distribution through Amazon.com right off the bat, which is definitely helping with sales. I also realized that people love collector sets, so I took the handful of the first volumes that I had left over and created a limited edition deluxe set that includes both Volume I and II in a beautiful slipcase that comes with a set of five prints done by five of the featured artists, as well as a bookplate signed by myself, designer Jeff Correll, and cover artist Adam Hays. It’s a truly beautiful set!

TFITF Slip Cover mock-up

StarWars.com: Do you have a favorite tattoo in Volume II?

Shane: Oh man, how does one decide? There’s honestly so much cool stuff in the book! Do you go within a particular style? Or with a favorite artist? Or with some of the innovators? Because it’s all in there! The best portrait artists in the world, artists whose style is defined by Star Wars, famous musicians and guys taking genre bending into diverse ways I never thought possible — Ah! I can’t do it! Don’t make me pick just one!

StarWars.com: Fine. Fine. Are there any artists seen in Volume II that you were especially excited to include?

Shane: There are a couple of absolute legends in the tattoo industry who are featured — Guy Aitchison and Durb Morrision — so it was a huge honor to have those guys in there. I was happy to include artists like Pawel Jankowzki, Oddboy, Paul Davies, and Max Pniewski, who are pushing things in really interesting new directions, and of course, no book would be complete without the guys who really pioneered this stuff like Matt Difa and Adam Hays, the latter having graciously contributed the cover art for the book. I was also really excited to include Bill Kelliher, guitarist for metal legends Mastodon in the book as well!

StarWars.com: You helped organize the live tattooing at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, do you have any fun memories from that show?

Shane: I have a few. The first was seeing the excitement on all the artists’ faces when we unveiled the book for the first time to all of them. It was cool to see their appreciation for all the hard work that went into making the book. The next would be being interviewed by Starwars.com [during the live stream] with some of my best friends from all of this. The best moment by far though, was walking over to the Rancho Obi Wan exhibit with a copy of the deluxe set for Steve Sansweet. Steve contributed the foreword for the book, which was a huge honor for me as I cut my Star Wars collecting teeth on every book Steve ever wrote, and being able to sign a copy of my book for him left me with a few tears in my eyes. The guy truly is one of the most important figures in the history of Star Wars.

StarWars.com: Were there any people who got tattoos based on The Force Awakens despite the fact that the second teaser was just released the first day of that show?

Shane: I think we only had one The Force Awakens tattoo done at the show, which was an amazing melted Vader helmet done by Taylor Moses Heald, and previous to that, I had seen two others. Since then, however, I’ve seen a lot more pop up! Pretty crazy considering the movie is still a few months away! I keep getting reminded of the scene from Fanboys… although I’m sure with everything I’ve seen thus far, the movie is not going to disappoint!

StarWars.com: In recent years both geek culture and tattoos have become more accepted in mainstream society. Do you think this has also brought on a rise in geek-themed tattoos?

Shane: Oh absolutely! As I mentioned earlier, the landscape for this 16 years ago was very different. It simply didn’t exist. Since then an entire generation of kids have grown up online thinking nerdy tattoos are perfectly commonplace — and they’ve made them that way! Honestly, if you had told me then what we’d be seeing now, I never would have believed it. Heck, we just had an awesome TV show dedicated to geeky tattoos and artists with Epic Ink! That’s as mainstream as it gets!

spreads127-128

StarWars.com: Do you hope to do a The Force in the Flesh Volume III in the future?

Shane: I would like to, yes. I’ve always had it in mind that this would be a trilogy. I keep getting asked about it but truthfully, my focus will be on selling and promoting Volume II for the next while, and a Volume III would be at least five years away. I think most people don’t realize this project is entirely DIY. It’s self-published, self-financed, self-distributed, and self-marketed, and as a result, it takes a lot longer and requires a lot more support from the public than books put out by major publishers. So there won’t be a Volume III so long as there’s still a Volume II to sell.

StarWars.com: If you were going to do another tattoo book of any other theme, what would it be?

Shane: I have plans to do a big book of geeky tattoos within the next couple of years! And while I can’t say too much about it now, I can say that it will cover everything across the board!

StarWars.com: Where can people find Force in the Flesh and how can they follow all the other fun stuff you do?

Shane: The book is available through Amazon.com and the aforementioned limited-edition deluxe set of both volumes is available on our site at theforceintheflesh.com. The deluxe set is strictly limited to 150 and is over 50 percent sold out. You can also follow our adventures on Instagram @theforceintheflesh, on Twitter @starwarstattoos, and on Facebook.

StarWars.com: Thank you and thanks again for including me in the book!

Matt Martin is manager of digital content and community relations for Lucasfilm. He played Greedo in a video once and now wavers on the subject of who shot first. Direct complaints to @missingwords.

TAGS: ,