Based on interviews at the Houston Tattoo Convention
(Jan. 18, 1996) and at Northern Ink Xposure, Toronto (June 21,
Transcribed and edited by Steve Gilbert.
My career as a performer actually began when I was
six years old. That was when my mom asked me if I wanted to take
piano lessons. My brother, who is sixteen and a half months older
than me, was taking lessons, and of course I wanted to do what
he was doing. So I started taking lessons and I've been playing
ever since. In addition to the piano, my mother kept my brother
and me busy with all kinds of other lessons: singing, flute, tap
dancing, ballet. The full spectrum. In grade school I was quite
an outsider, but treated to talent. I got picked on pretty severely
by the other kids. I was also always interested in magic. I was
in a local magic club. And then when I was sixteen a friend of
mine who was also a magician introduced me to a book called Thrilling
Magic which had instructions for doing all kinds of strange
things. And one of them was swallowing a sword. I said: "That's
cool. I gotta do that." And so I taught myself how to swallow
swords and eat fire just by reading the book.
At the same time I was playing in bands. So I figured
I'd do the sword swallowing and fire eating in between songs and
that would be the gimmick that would hook people to listen to
my music. I didn't think it would be the other way around. In
Seattle, where I grew up, they had these little festivals near
the Space Needle, where I would perform for free. I also did street
fairs on University Avenue. This was in 1991. One day I was doing
a show and a friend said "Have you ever heard of Jim Rose? He
does weird stuff like that. You might think he's kind of cool.
He's performing at a place called Ali Baba's."
I went up the street to Ali Baba's and there he was, doing his
bed of nails. And he was doing the razor blade trick that Harry
Houdini always used to do with needles. You put the razor blades
in your mouth and pull them out on a string. It's an old magic
trick. I laughed, of course, because having a background in magic,
I understood the trick. Everybody was falling for it. But I swallow
swords. This is the real thing
One of the people with Jim Rose was The Amazing Mister Lifto.
He had just hooked up with Jim at the Ali Baba show a week earlier.
He was able to hold a crowd. So when I met Jim and asked him if
I could swallow a sword in his show. And he said yes. The next
thing you know, I was billed as the greatest sword swallower in
the world. Then we did a show at the Cafe Sophie where this other
gentleman whom Jim had met earlier shows up. He's The Human Pincushion
who does a pincushion routine that is really amazing. And then
we did another show the next day with The Tube, who did a small
tube up the nose with an egg and a plunger and a syringe. And
so that whole weekend, everybody from the old original Jim Rose
troupe just happened to converge at the same place. It was new
and fast and right away we had many engagements.
We just did these shows for nothing. And then we did more shows,
and got bigger. After one of these shows, Jim Rose handed each
of us $20 and said: "I'm going to Venice Beach. Don't do anything
till I get back. I'll be back in a month or two." So he left,
and we were all trading phone numbers during this time. Asking
a performer not to perform is like telling someone "don't masturbate."
So we did our show together anyway. We called ourselves "The Mannix
Depressives." Dan Mannix was a guy who wrote a book called Step
Right Up. It also appeared under the title Memoirs of a
Sword Swallower. It's a very important book.
But as soon as Jim Rose got back to town he was
furious. He was going to throttle everybody because we were doing
stuff without him. He was the guy who got us all together. He
was the guy who was going to take us to Japan. He made all these
phone calls to us from California with promises like that to keep
us from doing anything without him. We didn't want to work with
Jim because he was such a businessman and we didn't want someone
who was going to beat us up on doing this stuff. And so we did
another show on our own. But it just ended up on Jim's plate anyway,
because no one was strong enough to say "No, I'm not going to
work for you." Everyone kind of wanted to go and do things and
see Japan. Jim was good at dangling carrots.
And so we did Lollapalooza '92. Jim Rose had a video of the show
and that made its way into the hands of Perry Farrell who also
came up to Seattle every now and then himself, and so we did the
cover of Spin magazine together. In fact, before
that, in the winter of '91, during the time that Jim was gone,
I had improved my act to include lifting weights with my eyeballs
and eating insects. Slugs in particular. To lift weights with
my eyeballs I would drill holes in quarters and then, with a string
attached to glass balls, I would put the quarters in my eyeballs,
close my eyes really tight, so that the quarters would actually
go underneath my eyeballs inside the skull, and then I would pull
up on the weights. Totally original.
Everybody had a stage name: The Torture King, The Tube, Lifto.
I decided to call myself Slug, since I ate slugs. It was a very
Northwest kind of thing. I told the Torture King I was going to
eat a slug and he said, "No way! That's gross!" And so then of
course I had to do it.
I even called the Poison Control Center and said,
"My son ate a slug. What should I do?"
They said, "Oh, don't worry about it. He'll be okay."
So based on that information, which was next to none, I started
eating slugs. During the winter of 1991 I thought of another way
to improve my act. Here I had a job pressing shirts at a dry cleaner's!
I thought: I guess I could be a different color. That's a good
idea. Or maybe even like a pattern. I could be all plaid, or....I
know! Spiderman battles this guy called "The Jigsaw," but he doesn't
even look like a jigsaw. If I had a jigsaw pattern, that would
really be cool. I could fill it in piece by piece. And so I approached
a few tattoo artists who just laughed in my face. I didn't have
any money for doing any tattoo work. Anyway, I wanted my entire
body done, but it wasn't very practical because I had to be on
I met Katzen at Lollapalooza '92 and she had done a few tattoos
by hand. I told her about my idea and she said she would be willing
to do it, and so in December of 92 I sent her money to buy machines
and a plane ticket. She flew up from Georgia and during January
of 93 she did all the lines. It was a hard month. There were a
lot of intense feelings. I had to move out of my mom's house because,
you know, mom probably wouldn't have approved of what was going
on. My mom actually found out about it when she saw a newspaper
in which there was an ad for "The Enigma Man, tattooed from head
to toe like a jigsaw puzzle." She read it and thought, "That's
got to be what my son is up to."
Only Katzen had worked on me. I was kind of afraid
to have anyone else do the rest. When we were on our European
tour in 93 we were in Amsterdam. Hanky Panky said "All five of
us are going to tattoo you at once. It's going to be like five
people beating you up." I thought, "What am I getting myself
into?" Because nobody had tattooed me except Katzen. So they laid
me down and all five of them - there was Hank, and Theo Jack and
Permanent Mark and Hollywood Mark and George - they all tattooed
me at the same time. And then, of course, later I had other people
tattoo me. In Seattle I had a 15 person session. That was a big
event and that was fun. And then later for the press in Los Angeles
I had 12 people work on me. Usually they would just fill in a
piece blue. But sometimes they would do a little bit of art. At
the Amsterdam Tattoo Convention in '95 I had 23 tattooists working
on me at the same time. It's like kicking a beehive and saying
"Go for it."I've been tattooed by over 180 artists around the
world, everywhere from South Africa to Switzerland. I try to keep
a record of it all. I want to publish something like a yearbook
where I have pictures of the artists who created me.
I feel an affinity with the great tattooed circus performers of
the past. The Great Omi probably felt the same way I do. He was
a performer who rode horses in sideshows and circuses, and then
he decided to get tattooed to improve his act. It's the same with
me. I just decided to be blue. I don't consider it a tattoo as
much as just the color of my skin. Eventually I'll be all blue.
This is the back side of the puzzle. The art is on the inside.
Although obviously the art is definitely on the outside as well.
The Great Omi got hooked up with the right people at the right
time. It's the same with me. I hooked up with Jim Rose, who allowed
me to carry on my work and not have to worry about business. I
did everything I could to do the best I could, and Jim did the
best he could, and we both benefited.
I was with the Jim Rose show for eight years. I
quit last summer. I felt that I had learned everything I could
learn, and the only way I could learn more would be to actually
do it myself. Also I'm 30 now (my birthday was last December)
and it's time to be independent and not just work for somebody
else. I've always been an aspiring musician. I hope that some
day someone will say, "I want you to do a sound track for my movie."
I'm a composer. I wrote and produced all the music on the CD which
accompanies my show, which I call: "The Enigma's Puzzillion."
Here's the pitch: The zest of musicals, the history
of vaudeville and the impact of circus all rolled into one. Laugh
at the comedy, cry at the sarcasmy. It's 22 stunts and 7 musical
numbers on stage. Acts like jousting, martial arts, prize fighting,
Indians, aliens, Katzen the Tiger Lady, the Neon Cowboy, the Black
Knight. And don't forget the largest rubber band snap in the world.
It's Animaniacs, Spike Jones and Monty Python. The worst show
ever. Definitely a musical comedy, I guess, of sorts. Basically
I do my own show to prove that you can be a nice person and still
do a show. I want to be a good ambassador for the world of tattooing
and I try to keep a big bright smile on my face for everybody,
whether they are tattooed or not. I feel that it is definitely
a responsibility of mine to let everybody know that we tattooed
people are cool.
I had an encouraging background. My mother was always
very supportive. Her attitude was that it doesn't matter what
I want to do in my life, if I'm happy, I'm doing the right thing.
And so, coming from that background, I made up my mind to find
exactly what was right for me. I think that having that supportive
family allowed me to let my mind wander as a child into different
realms. My dreams at the very beginning were a source of inspiration.
I saw myself in dreams with markings on my body. It started really
young - before I was five years old. I can't exactly place it.
I just saw myself with markings. I didn't know about tattooing
then. It is something whimsical when I see myself in the dreams.
In the dreams I felt strong, independent and happy. I wanted to
recapture that feeling, and later on in life I thought the best
way to do that would be with tattooing.
When I started out I was actually a street performer
for two years in Key West, Florida, before I even got into tattooing.
I was a contortionist and fire eater and juggler. I really love
doing contortionism, like putting myself in a box, the human pretzel,
or putting my body through the head of a tennis racket. Rhythm
and dance influenced my show as well. I was only fourteen when
I began the street shows. Before that time, I had been in some
trouble with the law. The shows were an outlet for my anger and
fuel for my creativity.
My friends, when I was young, were using drugs
of all shapes and sizes.But you know, I have to be straight when
I do all this work. To me, the best high is a natural high, endorphin
highs. Throughout time people have been taking drugs to induce
inspiring visions but I know there are other ways to achieve inspiration.
For instance, I think that tattooing is one of the ways people
can get to self-knowledge. I think that there are several ways
to get to spiritual knowledge and pain and pleasure are definitely
keys to it.
I started tattooing The Enigma on the 20th of December
1992. I did all of the lines working six hours a day and I worked
on him every day for a month. Then as far as all the blue goes
we've been filling it in slowly over the past three years. Other
than myself,almost 200 artists inked in the blue. At least half
of the blue fill-in is by me. When it's done we want it to be
all blue. Every single puzzle piece will be blue all the way up
to the eyelids and when that's done I want to go back and touch
up all the black lines. I was just starting out with the machine
when I did the black lines. We did it, one tough mother of a month,
and that was the only month we had to finish it. He was already
putting out publicity about being fully tattooed.
It's show business. You hype it up as much as you
can and then you have to fill the bill. It was a total freehand
frenzy. I really prefer to work by hand and previously I had done
a lot of tattooing by hand, but when I outlined the puzzle pieces
I used a machine just because of the time factor. At that time
I saw him maybe six months out of the year if I was lucky. He
traveled all over the world doing shows with the Jim Rose Circus
Side Show and so I only had a limited amount of time to tattoo
him. So the only areas that are tattooed by hand are the areas
around the eyes, the ears and the genitals because these areas
are very sensitive. It's generated a lot of publicity. He was
in National Geographic magazine. They did an article on
the brain and they featured him as a sword swallower, because
the brain is controlling the gag reflex. And also the X-Files,
which is really big. On the X-Files they actually talked
about the Fiji mermaid (tattooed on The Enigma's leg , below).
And then he's been on several talk shows.
I started getting tattooed on my legs about eight
months after I finished doing the outlines of the puzzle pieces
on the Enigma. While his tattoo was conceived, our baby was conceived.
Our tattoo love child. Her name is Caitlin. Now she is 6 years
old. I didn't have any tattoos before that. I also hope to get
finished with all the tattoo work on me in at least another year
and a half. I don't have that much left to go. Most of it's filling
in. I've had 77 different artists work on me.As of June 99 the
artist number is 150. I'm the first woman in history to ever have
a full body theme tattoo. So I'm really excited to finish that
just for posterity. I own a tattoo shop in Austin, Texas. It's
called "Incredible Ink." I have two partners there. It's a custom
shop where we draw whatever the customer requests. We have a lot
I've encountered a few people who want to get facial tattoos and
some people have approached me about doing the work. I have done
some facial tattooing in my shop. Once, I worked on a guy named
Larry. We call him "Leopard Larry." He has colorless leopard spots.
I worked on his face after another artist tattooed his neck up
to the ears.I told him there was no turning back once his entire
neck was covered.I could see that he was totally committed to
the tattooing.So I designed and inked his entire face.
There is the first man who is covered with leopard
spots. He's the Leopard Man on the Isle of Skye. He's tattooed
from head to toe with leopard spots. The work is rather colorful.
I failed to meet him - we keep missing him. We heard stories like:
he lives in a cave, and trains big cats. I don't know how social
he is. There a re very few pictures of him.
When I was first getting tattooed, I never thought
I would own a shop. I was looking forward to getting tattooed
and being a performer. I have a lot of creative energy and the
ambition to make it happen. I think the real turning point was
meeting The Enigma, because then I found someone else who was
in the same mental frame I was. Art is one percent inspiration
and 99 percent perspicuition.No, that is not a misprint. Ours
is a very simple idea. It is the amount of force we put behind
it that sets us apart. You make your skin a different color or
pattern. But it is all of the perseverance and the perspiration
that really makes it happen. I try to step up to the plate, put
passion and integrity into my life, to perform without bounds.
In The Enigma I found a person who had the same
goals in life and the same ambition behind those goals to make
something amazing happen. It was the right timing - becoming the
tattooed couple. Many doors have opened up as a result of tattooing.
We have met so many grand tattoo artists, musicians, and those
who are not like other folk. I look forward to seeing more interesting
characters as our work takes us around the world. I rarely meet
someone with such a bad attitude that it makes me wish I wasn't
doing this. I want to concentrate more on our show , putting more
practice and musical energy into it.
This is my first time getting to perform music on
stage. I had a musical talent, but I never got to exploit it.
I never got to be on stage. Performing on the street was a very
different atmosphere. On the street, I had to be quick and loud.
This has been my first really good stage experience, and I want
more. A person who goes in for a lot of tattooing, and especially
facial tattooing, has to have a strong sense of self . I have
to be stubborn in a way, stubborn enough to know that I can accomplish
painful goals I set out for myself . I can't walk outside without
people asking me "who are you?" I walk with confidence and approachability.
The tattooing never stopped me in any way, because I know the
route I want to go for. I never once had doubts about it, only
obstacles to tackle. It's opened so many doors for me. Good things
happen in time. My tattoos have taught me patience.Great things
bloom sometimes late, for those with patience to wait. A new pitch:
A tumult of creative juices are erupting in the inner sanctum
of The Enigma & Katzen's heads. Monsters,comics,and TV fed kids
are growing up,they're turning pro! Performing in a town or TV
near you soon! Pop culture seems to be bending and swaying in
the gentle breezes of modern media. Now, the dark waters of taboo
tattoo arts have become a teeming, bulging stream that is nourishing
Pop culture.Where will it take us?