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Green Bay, Wisconsin

Rick Harnowski's 13th International Tattoo Convention

By Bob Baxter with photographs by Bernard Clark

Like they say, "Getting there is half the fun." With Rick Harnowski's International Tattoo Convention, getting there is all the fun. Especially when, last time, we were snowbound at Chicago O'Hare and had to endure through sixteen hours and three flight cancellations. Rick, bless his heart, offered to send a staffer to drive through the snow and pick us up—four hours each way. On icy roads. We were grateful for the offer, but couldn't ask that of anyone. So, two years ago, we simply tossed in the towel and headed home.

So, it's been four years ago January since we visited Rick at the Oneida Casino/Radisson Hotel complex in the frozen vegetable section of the Midwest called Green Bay, Wisconsin. This was Harnowski's thirteenth event, but not in a row. There was a gap or two along the way, but now it happens every other year. Rick celebrated with Oliver Peck by offering twenty-dollar tattoos of the number thirteen (thirteen dollars with a seven dollar tip for good luck) to everyone in what seemed like a mile-long line. It depends on who you ask, but on that day the two of them inked either one hundred and eleven (according to the website) or one hundred and thirty-four (according to Rick at dinner) lucky thirteens on a whole lot of very happy inksters.

And then there was the impromptu celebration of Rick's fortieth year in the tattoo business, the venerable Chris Longo presiding. Sharing the stage were Rick's wife Barbara and hardworking sons Josh and Dan, C.W. Eldridge, Lyle Tuttle, Ray Youngman, Ray's son Jeremy, Mike Skiver and yours truly. Each one of us was handed the microphone to humbly mutter a few words to our dear friend. Unfortunately, we were all blubbering so hard that anything we said was practically unintelligible. Yay, Rick. What an accomplishment. Four decades. What a guy! more...

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago Freedom Expo

By Bob Baxter with photographs by Bernard Clark

Dan Collins and I go back several years, so, even though it was a "first-ever" event and I never do "first-ever" events, when Dan called to say he was producing a new Freedom Expo in Chicago, I said, "Yes." Hey, I consider Dan and Sage's Valley of the Sun Tattoo expos in Mesa, Arizona some of the best organized and most enjoyable tattoo events that I have ever attended. But, alas, Dan's Chicago Freedom Expo was not all that we hoped for. Fraught with problems from the beginning, this Windy City celebration of body art was supposed to be a foot back in the door of the ever-burgeoning tattoo convention scene in a city that, historically, had nothing but fizzles at the hands of other less illustrious entrepreneurs. No such luck.

As life would have it, Dan had a rash of personal problems, ended his relationship with Sage and, from what I gathered from his emails over the years, Collins relocated to the Midwest, had gotten his life together and was on the straight and narrow, ready to return to the tattoo convention business. This was good news, because we always liked Dan and had some marvelous experiences at his past events. Ever accommodating, Dan was responsible for allowing The Playboy Channel to do a video story on my photographing tattoo attendees at his popular Mesa event. While I was shooting models, Playboy was videotaping me at work. It all ended up being a fifteen-minute television segment, but it never would have happened without Dan's help and support. He was a very good organizer and knew how to bring lots of attractive young women with great tattoos to his shows. Because of the way tattoo magazines are structured (pretty girls on the cover, pretty girls featured in the articles), it was always great to go to Dan's shows. But times have changed and, what with the plethora of tattoo events around the country siphoning off the crowds, you don't see a lot of women showing off their ink on the convention floor, like you used to five or ten years ago. Valley of the Sun was one of the last conventions to attract a significant number of appropriate subjects to photograph, which is why it was perfect for the Playboy shoot. more...

Columbus, Ohio

Hell City Tattoo Fest

By Bob Baxter with photographs by Bernard Clark

When I get overly hyped, my guard goes up. If someone tells me how terrific something is going to be, rather than just sitting back and letting it happen, I'm apprehensive. Words, especially from folks who market and promote for a living, come easy. Positive results, they're harder to come by.

My favorite tattoo events are the ones where the promoters have it so under control that they sit back and get tattooed, while the show runs itself. Like the ones Steve Peace produces in Canada. Or when Bert Rodriguez masterminded Tattoos & Blues in Santa Rosa.

So when the emails started flooding in about the seventh-annual Hell City "Let it Bleed" Tattoo Expo in Columbus—no, make that Killumbus—Ohio, I had my doubts. Too many plays on words, I thought. Too many self-congratulatory press notices. Nary a day went by that an email didn't brag about various forums, book signings, websites, official clothing, special guest appearances and even a first-ever roast of a tattoo celebrity. Add the joke-telling of "Satan's Comic," a play area for kids ("bring the little devils") and plenty of cartoony, devil logos with dripping blood and swords and you have some idea what was in store during this "much anticipated"" and absolutely hellacious, three-day weekend. Nothing, not one devilish little thing, would be spared to ensure everyone had "one hell of a good time." more...

 

Detroit, Michigan

The 14th Annual Motor City Tattoo Expo

By Bob Baxter with photographs by Bernard Clark

With an enormous storm brewing on the East Coast and another time-tested promoter holding a competing event on the same weekend in Philadelphia ("There were no other dates available," he claims), the 14th Annual Motor City Tattoo Expo had a tough weekend ahead. But the weather held and, most importantly, longtime tattoo impresarios Tramp Welker and Brian Everett were at the helm. With these two icons in charge, nothing was going to get in the way. But even though the mercury peaked at fourteen degrees Fahrenheit, the prodigious Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center with its seventy-two floors, one thousand two hundred and forty-six rooms, fifty-two suites and one hundred thousand square feet of meeting space was toasty warm. Designed like a scene from Blade Runner, the enormous silo of a building (the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere) houses the world headquarters for General Motors, various shops and hair salons, three major restaurants and a spacious food court, all interconnected by a complex network of super-fast elevators, escalators by the dozen and super-courteous staffers that not only know what they are doing but are glad to do it. Even the security cops smile and say, "Good morning." more...