Wearing an "Of course it hurts!" cut-off tee shirt, the 70-something Exton, a former executive with the Hustler magazine empire who says he was best man at Larry Flynt's wedding, explained recently why he works in Hoboken."I like it here," said the millionaire last week in such a soft tone a reporter had to move closer to hear him. "I live in Cherry Hill, but now I spend a lot of my time here. We used to have our offices in Manhattan in what is now Hillary Clinton's campaign headquarters. Could you imagine us all having to go through a Secret Service shakedown each time we wanted to enter the building?" Exton gestured to his employees, most of which were sporting some sort of metal protrusion, spiked and matted hair, or profusely tattooed skin.
"It's a lot cheaper," Exton added, "and also, there are a heck of a lot of talented tattoo artists in Northern Jersey."
Exton has been spending so much time here that he has installed a bed and bathroom in his office. Pictures of his beloved horses adorn his walls. But there are also shots of Exton with celebrities from Larry King to Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor adorned an early cover of Outlaw Biker.
Exton said he sometimes hangs out in Hoboken. "I like Kelly's Bar," he said. "I'm too old for a lot of
the bars around here. I'm sure you've noticed the average age here."
Born Harvey Shapiro in Camden, N.J., the soft-spoken Exton was former circulation director for ARA, the magazine distributor, and Allied News. He claims he was the one who convinced supermarkets to put The National Enquirer on their checkout racks.
"I was out selling cemetery plots, of all things," Exton said. "You can imagine why I got fed up with that. So I totally made up a resume, got an interview, and thankfully my wife was there and got along with wife of the interviewer, and I got the job."
Exton got the idea for a biker magazine "on a whim" in 1985 while working at ARA. And it was at a biker convention that he saw how much business the tattoo artists were doing. He came up with the special issue called the Tattoo Review Special. The issue sold out, and then he did four more that year.
Now he puts out a prodigious amount of tattoo art magazines: Dark Skin Art, Taboo Tattoo, Skin and Ink, and ThInk for beginners getting their first tattoos.
Exton said he thinks that young people should think a long time before getting a tattoo. "Come in with your parents, period," he admonished. "People, and especially young people, gotta understand that a tattoo is for the rest of your life."
Even with all his success, he hasn't been able to attract national advertisers like cigarette or beer companies, which would seem to be a good audience for his magazine.
"I don't think the ad reps can sell that upstairs," Exton said matter-of-factly. "They just don't want to be on that part of the rack that I'm on. But we are fully booked with ads now, we can't accept any more, or we would have to expand our page count, and that's a whole other headache."
You'll just feel a pinch
And what about the other "tribal" trends, like scarification and piercing?
"Tattoos are considered art," Exton said. "My piercing and scarification magazines issues haven't done so well. There are only so many ways you can show a piercing."
Exton said that tattoo enthusiasts come from all walks of life. "We have schoolteachers, good mothers
and fathers," he said. "They're legitimate and hard-working and they have tattoos. I estimate that one out of every third person has a tattoo. It's just so common nowadays."
But Exton himself said he's no longer an outlaw biker.
"I'm slowing down and relaxing a bit," Exton laughed. "Slowing down because I'm tired of getting hurt. Forbes was a real biker though, and he would go over 70, and I couldn't keep up, so I realized it wasn't for me anymore."
Forbes, of course, is publisher Malcolm Forbes, with whom Exton used to go biking.
Exton is also a close friend of Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler and the subject of the award-winning film, "The People vs. Larry Flynt."
"I would say Larry is a very good friend, maybe even my best friend," Exton said. "I was best man at his wedding." He brandished a picture of himself Flynt's wedding, with more and darker hair, and both men in the white polyester tuxedos that were common in the '70s.
Curiously, Exton's arms are devoid of any tattoos.
Asked about this, he grinned and pointed to his rear.
"Of course," Exton said. "Yeah, I got one on there years ago in the Navy. It's a picture of a panther. Come on, everybody gets one in the Navy."
Exton has six full-timers working for him. His office, located at 5 Marine View Plaza, is the only one with an unmarked door.