My first tattoo was an eagle done in black and grey, just bare bones shading. It’s a bit militaristic, in the old screaming eagle style. I was 19 and had been contemplating getting something for a couple years, but can’t say I really had the life experience to have any tangible reason to be getting work done. I just wanted to be tattooed. It’s not very horror and wasn’t meant to be. I’d kicked around a lot of ideas before finally just walking into a shop, talking to a guy and perusing the books. My eye kept going back to this bird. At the time, I was planning a cross-country trip and fancied it to symbolise the journey. Looking at it now, it sort of signifies all those late teenage days when I didn’t know anything, but anything was possible. It held up great over the years, I’ve never had it retouched.
There’s a lot of crossover between horror and ink fans, what do you think the connection is?
I think horror imagery and the art of tattooing just complement each other very well. There are some iconic touchstones, particularly in the film world, that are practically tailor-made to be carved into the skin. And of course, it’s a particular type of individual who can go there and really pull it off.
Of all your tattoos which do you think is most synonymous with horror?
I’d say Kyra Schon’s zombie girl from Night of the Living Dead on my forearm is the most obvious genre nod. I’d talked about getting it for years before I finally sat for it in 1998. These days it’s almost passé to have that character, everyone and their mom seems to have gotten it, but this was before it really invaded pop culture the way it has in the last decade or so. And of course it had been around for decades before that, but I think the internet played a big part in immortalising that face for new generations, many of whom hadn’t even seen the movie. I was doing the Fangoria conventions in ’04 and ran into Russ (Johnny) Streiner in New York. As we were chatting, he noticed it and flipped out, like “hey, that’s Kyra!” He called John Russo over to look at it and it was turning into this big thing. I thought, “hell guys, there are 150 more of these on bodies all through this room, look around.”
Do you have any tattoos that relate to your fiction? If not, would you consider this?
No and no. That would be too much, I think. Like getting your own name over your heart. I tend to crank ’em out and move on to the next when I’m working. I don’t keep souvenirs or even own a lot of things I’ve done. But I’d be honoured – and maybe a bit creeped out – if someone else got an image of mine emblazoned on themselves for all time. I imagine you’d really know you struck a nerve with that one.
Who are your favourite horror tattooists?
There are a lot of great talents out there with mind-boggling horror portfolios, but I haven’t really sought out artists strictly based on horror. Most of my work was done by Mark Mahoney at Shamrock Social Club in L.A. Since I’ve been back east, Tattoo Noir in Pittsburgh is my go-to parlour. Kate Burgess, Mike Galone & Josh Suchoza do incredible horror portraits and scenes over there. And though I’ve never met him, Dan Henk’s horror work looks amazing.
As much or as little as they want them to. I’ve found the visuals don’t really correlate with the quality, or lack thereof, of the person in question. So if they’ve got quite a few, it usually just tells me they can handle some pain.
Is it ok to get a tattoo because it just looks fucking cool or do you believe there should be a deep message behind each tattoo?
I currently have 12 or 13, depending on how you tally them. As time goes by, I find that regardless of the original intention, the pieces recall the periods in my life when I got them. The images hold onto everything that was going on that day, how it went in the chair, who was with you, what you talked about, a lot of minute details that would likely be lost in the sands of time on any other day. So the tattoo ends up symbolising much more than you think at first, and it’s not really anything you can tell someone, it’s more personal than that. I think there’s always a message behind a tattoo, but I think it rarely means much to anyone except the one who wears it. I don’t feel the need to pick anyone’s brain about their tats and appreciate the same courtesy. A waitress physically grabbed my arm recently to get a better look at mine. Generally, the person who’s got a big explanation for their work is the last motherfucker I want to be stuck talking to at the party. Another cocktail, please…
What advice do you have for people considering their first tattoos?
If you want my advice, you shouldn’t be getting in the chair. Save your money and buy books.
Any words of warning regarding tattooing and things to avoid?
Don’t let your friend with a mail order kit give you a tattoo, don’t patronise parlours located in shopping malls, don’t give your business to any artist who says their wait list is over two months long because it’s bullshit, don’t tattoo a lover’s name ‘cause those lovers don’t last, and don’t ask an artist to work beyond what’s displayed in their portfolio. Just having a gun-in-hand and ink-in-cup does not an artist make.
About a half-hour of novelty before you come to your senses, find the nearest exit, and relax in a nearby coffee shop. Or, if you enjoy thousands of inked bodies under bright fluorescent lights mingling, taking photos and milling about for hours on end, a sensory-overload good time.
If, for whatever reason, you were told that you could only have one more tattoo, what would it be and why?
I’d probably hold off forever, just to keep the possibility alive.
There are still a lot of people who discriminate against tattoos in the work place, why do you think that is? Do you think this trend is reversing?
It better! Judging from the looks of things, the next wave of grandmas are gonna be sporting some gnarly chest pieces. Work place discrimination? Is there? I honestly didn’t know that. Maybe I’ve been on the fringes too long. The trick is to be the boss. Nobody says shit to you then.