The Only Canvas That Bleeds

You talk about industries that have come a long way, and after the offshore oil drillers, the coal miners and Fluor, you must come to the tattoo people—and to the Orange County Board of Supervisors, which recently decided after much palaver notto require tattoo parlors to install security cameras that would monitor everything going on.

Times have changed, the supervisors realized with the speed of paint drying. Tattoo parlors are not the dens of iniquity of days of yore; not since the '90s, when tribal arm bands and back pieces and dolphin anklets sanitized the industry for everyone over 18.

And especially not since tattooists started making nice with the laser tattoo-removal industry, which you'd think would spell the end of them—but is in fact helping keep tattooing alive. Another laser tattoo removal office comes to town—Irvine, in the Tustin Irvine Medical Center—June 9, when Dr. Tattoff opens its doors, and despite the laser's other dermatological uses, the doctor would not be in without the likes of, say, Costa Mesa Tattoo.

"We get 10 to 20 percent of our clients from tattoo places," says James Morel, CEO of Dr. Tattoff, which is a contraction of tattooand off: not Russian, not an actual person. They are highly skilled medical professionals—with lasers, which unlike those from a few years back, can actually erase both black and blue lines andcolors from your skin after a series of treatments. It's not cheap, and your shoulder blade won't always look the way it did before your friend tattooed your name there in the 10th grade, Morel says—but there is a much greater chance of that than in years previous. Lasers have definitely improved.

Much the same—without lasers—can be said for tattooing, where today the colors are brighter, the room is usually sterile, and since Bert Grimm's closed, probably no one smokes Kools while etching a skull into your bicep. Not that there's anything wrong with that, the smoking.

"It's the only canvas that bleeds," says Kyle Crowell of Costa Mesa Tattoo. "There's a lot of artistic integrity that goes into it. You really have to know what you're working with. Everybody has different skin." And sooner or later, everyone runs out of blank skin or tires of the tattoos they have. Enter the laser removalists, who once were dermatologists until business improved and they went solo.

"There's usually at least one or two of them at a convention. I don't think it's so much that they're going to be like Christian conservatives at the adult porno convention," says Crowell, who routinely refers certain clients to get their tattoos lasered before they see him.

"A lot of people have old shitty tattoos, and a lot of people want to cover them up with different things," Crowell says. "But a lot of them are too difficult to cover up and look nice, so we'll recommend they go and get one to two laser treatments to lighten it up and make the new tattoo look better." That number also includes tattoo artists, who want to keep getting tattoos but eventually run out of space.

Enter Morel and his minions, whose initial Beverly Hills office has done so well since its opening about a year ago that they're planning offices in Houston, Tampa and San Diego. Morel, a former television producer who gave the world three seasons of StarDateson E! Entertainment, has lined up a starring role for his business in a New Line Television reality TV show pilot about people getting tattoos erased. It's slated to air this fall. And if that isn't enough, he and his staff will spend much of the summer at local tattoo conventions.

"When we first started doing this, people would walk by and laugh and point," Morel says. "And then a good 50 percent of them would turn around and come back and talk to us." Now, tattoo conventions are a major source of business—though still a slightly unsettling place to work.

"Sometimes when I'm working a show, I'll look up," Morel says, "and sense the irony."



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