For those with a predilection for tattooed women, there is no person—now or ever—more important in the adult entertainment industry than Joanna Angel. Leading by example, the pink-haired powerhouse built Burning Angel, the porn empire that features our type of women. “In college, a friend and I were brainstorming what to do with our lives. I just knew I wanted to work for myself, and for some reason we decided to start a porn site,” she says. “Up until then I was pretty shy and reserved. I had never even watched porn. Once, I was at a horror convention and saw a huge line of people waiting to meet Traci Lords and I turned to my friend and asked, ‘Who is that?’ But doing a porn sounded like fun to me. It just felt like two friends working on a project—like a band or something.”
The part of her personality that derived a thrill from the outlaw world of tattooing is the same part that compelled her to immerse herself in the adult entertainment world. “Both tattoos and porn were taboo then, and to some they still are,” Angel says. “But they were subcultures that were growing and gaining acceptance, so that helped me gain success as a tattooed porn star.”
Burningangel.com swiftly became a juggernaut. Featuring photos of Angel and her friends, it was the gold standard in a newly formed genre called alt porn. “I don’t like labels, but if they had to, I would have preferred punk porn,” says Joanna, essentially the Hugh Hefner of the category.
Of the tattoos that are omnipresent on the site, she says, “Tattoos are sexy. I’ve become somewhat of a snob about them. I like the way they enhance the body and give guys and girls an edge.” When Angel talks about edge she is referring to a person’s personality, not his or her threshold for perversion. “There was a time when all porn was pushing the limits and getting pretty extreme,” she recounts. “We gave it a shot and put some hardcore stuff up. We lost members—they didn’t want to see that happening to girls they cared about.”
And that’s the magic of Burning Angel: It’s not just a website, it’s a community. Angel has created a 360-degree experience with more than clips and libraries to sift through; there are also homepages for the stars, blogs, video chats, cams, and even events. Her current obsession is the production of more thoughtful videos. “I want you to enjoy the experience and watch the whole film rather than just skipping to the juicy parts,” she says. “My mind is always working on the quality of Burning Angel, and it’s always in the gutter.”
Being the CEO as well as a star herself, Angel has the ability to connect with her girls. “I actually still get nervous before every shoot that I do,” she admits. And, like many of the Burning Angels, her involvement in front of the camera makes it difficult to date or “be a picket-fence housewife.” But when there is someone in her life, that person will reap the benefits. “I’ll learn something new on set and if I’m dating someone I can’t wait to try it on them,” she says.
That’s Angel: a pleaser and a promoter. She wants whomever she’s dating, her Burning Angels, and her fans to be satisfied. She also wants to give credit where it’s due—namely to Grant Cobb at Spotlight Tattoo in Los Angeles, who does most of her work, including the new Statue of Liberty tattoo she has. And, of course, she wants everyone to know that tattooed girls are sexier and have more depth than regular girls. As she puts it, “Who’s more interesting: Britney Spears or Marilyn Manson?” —Rocky Rakovic