Revisiting Bradbury’s ‘skin illustrations’ (review)

Excerpted from Esquire Magazine's original July 1950 spread for Bradbury's story.
Excerpted from Esquire Magazine's original July 1950 spread for Bradbury's story.

I’ve had a really hard time reading in the last month. I was tearing through books all spring and then I absolutely hit a wall. I don’t think I read anything for 3 or 4 weeks, which, for me, is a lot.

So instead of trying to open up a novel and get myself into the right headspace to stick with a story for two or three hundred pages, I thought I’d start small and go back to an old favorite, Ray Bradbury.

Some of you people who had lives in the late 80s and early 90s and weren’t glued to the USA Network on Friday nights might not know that there used to be a TV show back then called The Ray Bradbury Theater. It. Was. Glorious. It was like a PG-rated Tales From the Crypt. It was like if Unsolved Mysteries and Matlock took mushrooms together. I was obsessed with it when I was a kid.

And so, a few years later, when I started checking books out from the adult side of the library, I immediately went straight to Ray Bradbury. My favorite of his short story collections is actually “I Sing the Body Electric!” but I don’t own that one, so I’m re-reading “The Illustrated Man.”

The premise, for those of you who didn’t read it in high school, is that an unnamed narrator meets a man covered in tattoos that can foretell the future, and then we begin to go tattoo by tattoo into 18 different short stories.

Bradbury is a master of Americana and creating a familiar and nostalgic world … and then creeping you the hell out. He’s also fantastic at showing the perils of encroaching technology; all of his stories are fresh and relevant even though they’re over 70 years old.

You can read the first story in the collection, “The Veldt,” here for free. 

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Before becoming a writer Elizabeth was a waitress, a pollster, an Avon lady, and an opera singer. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Idaho Review, The LA Review of Books, The Rumpus, and elsewhere, and her stories and essays have received multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. Her first novel, MONA AT SEA, is forthcoming, Spring 2021, from Santa Fe Writers Project. Originally from South Texas, Elizabeth now lives with her family in Oakland, California. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @unefemmejames

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