At the Body Art Expo: Ink-Stained Wretches and Tattooed Babes With Prickly Piercings

Shaun Kama tattoos a man's mother on his chest.
Gendy Alimurung

View more tattoos and piercings in the Body Art Expo slideshow.

 

Your mother. That’s who you get slapped onto your shoulder if you have a spare patch of skin and are at a loss for how to fill it. And that’s what one older gentleman at the Body Art Expo at Pomona’s Fairplex asks artist Shaun Kama of Halloween Tattoos to put on his chest, directly over his heart in black ink. Kama has just started. The guy under the needle looks pained. His mom’s face is bleeding.

Did you know that tattoos have their own convention? Over at the Fairplex bunker next door, the Reptile Super Show (“over 300 tables of rare & unique animals!”) is shutting down for the night. Frogs are being packed gently into crates. Crickets, given their stay of execution ’til morning. But the tattoo convention, the world’s largest, is only getting started.

An overwhelming tableau of illustrated flesh walks through the doors of the Body Art Expo. At Rube’s Tattoos, there is the guy with the heads of inventors on his pectorals — Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin ... and Mom and Dad. Awesome! But wait: He’s got the faces of mobsters down his right leg, Frankenstein on his left and dogs playing poker across his back. “I’m covering my whole body,” he says. “When there’s no more skin left, then I’ll be done.”

Other people are less sanguine about their past choices. Like the girl who, having abandoned her wanton ways, is having her tramp stamp removed. Well, not so much removed, as covered. “It’s superexpensive to have tattoos lasered off,” she says as her delicate little fairy disappears under the black top hat of a leering skeleton magician. “This is much cheaper, so I figured, why not?”

First law of tattoo physics: For every “why don’t I?” there is an equal and opposite number of “why did I?” Consequently, some parlors specialize in the transmogrification of a regrettable “before” into an acceptable, often incongruous “after.” Like the guy who had his very scary swastika tattoo deftly redrawn into a very scary grinning devil skull. The tattoo parlor won an award for that one: No. 1 Cover-up in Las Vegas.

Speaking of skulls, what’s with the cute girls and evil skulls? Schools of these girls roam the floor, hooked onto the arms of yakuza types, cholo types, gangbanger types, emo-rocker types and vaguely undefinable make-your-dermatologist-father-cry no-goodnik types. They recline like lovers, like the Grim Reaper’s odalisques on folding tables. Honestly, you can’t get out of the place without being tempted by the prospect of an exquisite Chinese dragon crawling up your back, or a koi fish or butterfly or a dagger or two.

Oh well. At least the sound of the buzzing tattoo needles is soothing.

Those who are getting into the piercing side of things will surely need a bit of soothing. “Dermal anchors are the No. 1 piercing right now,” says the lady at the Texas Ink Tattoo booth, as she flips through some photos from Pain magazine. FYI, microdermal anchors are subtle pimple-sized studs that screw into your skin. Chris Saint of Hollywood’s Ink Kandy can implant them in your wrist, sternum, fingertips, in between your shoulder blades — wherever — in the arrangement of star constellations, or squiggly worms and such. “Creatively, you can really go crazy with these,” he says as he affixes a single diamond pinpoint smack-dab into a girl’s thigh, much to her onlookers’ discomfort.

Looks great. Sounds painful. And isn’t that always the story. But not nearly as painful as permanent subdermal corsets laced with ribbon. Who comes up with this stuff? Satan?


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