“I’m tattooed rather heavily, and I’m also an educator, so I was kind of stuck between the two worlds,” says Boehne, who currently teaches high school students at Lighthouse Youth & Family Services.
“I was seeing that (those worlds) didn’t interact very much, and if they did, tattooed people in children’s books are usually the bully, or the main guy in the alleyway or something,” he continues, laughing. “So I wanted to portray people with tattoos and body piercings in a good light.”
The 24-page board book includes 10 colorful drawings by Boehne that depict a wide variety of body art, from gauges and septum piercings to face and knuckle tattoos. Each copy of Two Long Ears also includes a colorable wall poster that encourages kids to make their own modifications to the book’s characters.
Although Boehne sports tattoos on his arms, legs, chest and feet — a number you couldn’t count, he says — the body art depicted in the book is entirely unique. None are exact representations of Boehne’s or those of people that he knows.
Instead, he drew inspiration from diverse pieces and combined them in new and interesting ways. He also intentionally used common images like roses and anchors — tattoos his young readers are likely to frequently see.
One character, for example — an elderly woman — sports bright-red skin, purple-gray hair and seven star tattoos running along her hairline. Elsewhere, a bright-blue young man sports three elaborate rose tattoos across his scalp.
“You kind of see a little bit of tattoos and piercings in books, but I wanted to go with the heavier culture,” he says. “I wanted things to be more than just a couple ear piercings or a little heart tattoo. That’s why I did tattoos on the face and head and a lot of facial piercings.”
He also strived to make the book accessible to families who might not read very often, or who don’t make strong connections with the characters they typically see in literature.
“Early literacy is very important to me, and I think this book is palatable to young parents and sub-culture people,” he says. “I wanted it to stand out to those who are judging by the cover” — emblazoned with a bearded and mustachioed bright-yellow man with the titular two gauged ears — “but also enlighten those who actually take a look inside.”
Boehne began sketching out ideas for the book about five years ago. Passionate about art since he was a teenager, Boehne learned drawing techniques from a tattoo artist at Covington’s Mothers Tattoo and Piercing, but says he switched roles to become an educator around the same time.
Boehne self-published the book in 2015; he says that Richie Bibee, head piercer and owner of Hybrid Image Tattoo and Body Piercing near the University of Cincinnati, helped get the book off the ground by selling it at the shop; it was picked up by Pennsylvania-based Schiffer Publishing.
Boehne recently led a Thursday Art Play workshop at the CAC in which he read Two Long Ears to kids and taught them how to make jewelry. His passion for early child literacy is not only driven by his position as an educator; he is also the father of two young children.
He encourages the book to be used as a tool to begin talking with preschoolers about accepting differences, asking questions like, “Have you seen people like this?” and “Would you stretch your ears?”
“My philosophy behind (body art) is you’re already beautiful and you’re already perfect, so why not decorate perfection with a nose ring or a tattoo?” he says. “So it’s not a means to cover something or change — it’s just a means to celebrate what’s already great.”
TWO LONG EARS is available in the Contemporary Arts Center gift shop, local tattoo shops and through online retailers. More info: schifferbooks.com.