In the August issue of Inked Magazine, on newsstands now, I interview the tattooer's tattooer, Mike Rubendall of Kings Avenue. In our Q&A, we discuss the new Kings Ave on the legendary Bowery in NYC (also posted here), his grueling apprenticeship when he was 17, and what it's like tattooing a dead body. Here's a taste:
What is the tattoo that you've done that sticks out most in your memory?
I had a crazy experience that I've never spoken of before. It happened about two years ago. Over the years, I've tattooed a funeral director. When I first started tattooing, I wanted to get good as fast as possible so, as an apprentice, I would do free tattoos on him. Since he worked at a funeral home, we always talked about tattooing dead people. "Was it possible" and this and that. We never did it but flirted with the idea. Then he calls me out of nowhere and says, "Listen to this: Unfortunately, this gentleman passed away. He's got four children and he's only got three tattooed on his arm, so his wife wants him to be buried with [the name of] the fourth child, who is only about 20-months old. Will you do it?" I said I'd do it. I felt it would be a good experience, and I'd be helping the family out and give the wife some closure.
It was creepy when I got into the funeral home. The guy was all prepped on the table, naked. It was a creepy, quiet feeling almost like the movie The Shining where everything is really silent. I was really freaked out at first. I didn't know how the skin would react and if the ink would take, but after a few minutes, it just felt like I was doing a regular tattoo. By the end, I was so comfortable that I helped with his other tattoos. He had gotten into an accident and had road rash where some of his tattoos had scraped off. They were putting make-up on the tattoos but they were doing it all wrong so I offered to help. It was an amazing experience. That's what stands out as one of the moments that, in a million years, you'd never imagine you'd be doing.
What was the skin like on a dead body?
It was super rubbery. He was half embalmed already, and I didn't know if fluid would come out since he didn't have any blood in him. I had no idea what was going to happen. I asked [the director] if I would tear this guy open and he just said, "I don't know." So I took the legal route and had releases signed. I guess I couldn't make him any worse than he already was, but it went in fine. The skin was tougher than normal, and you couldn't go over and over; you had to make one pass and that was it, and whatever was there, it had to be.
Read more in the "Icon" section of Inked. You can also follow Brian's own experience getting tattooed by Mike here on N+S.