Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tattoo You

One of my recent discoveries is Danzig Baldaev, a graphic artist from the Soviet Union who became famous for his illustrations of tattoos he copied while serving as a prison guard in Leningrad.  Fuel publishers has generously reprinted these illustrations in three volumes.  The tattoos served as an inspiration for David Cronenberg, who liberally borrowed from the tomes in illustrating Viggo Mortensen and other characters in Eastern Promises.

But, what caught my eye was a collection of Baldaev's political cartoons, simply entitled Soviets, which cover a broad range from the mid 1950s to 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed.  Baldaev is not only a fine illustrator, but has a wonderful dark humor that is obviously a product of his years as a prison guard.  Needless to say, these cartoons weren't published in their time.  Baldaev also offers a collection of cartoons in the same vein entitled Drawings from the Gulag.

Robert Crumb has nothing over Danzig, who survived the Soviet period and lived to tell his tale in pictures.  The first volume of criminal tattoos was published before his death in 2004, with the latter volumes coming post-humously.  The illustrations are accompanied by searing photographs by Sergei Vasiliev from 1989-1993.


  1. "The Mark of Cain" (2000) is a very good documentary movie on Russian prison tattoos. Worth seeing if you haven't already.

    There was an exhibit of American prison tattoos in D.C. during the 90's that was very interesting as well, very different from the Ruskie ones.