Megan Massacre: Mass Appeal

ZANA BAYNE bra and peplum belt; URANIUM jewelry (worn throughout); stylist’s own skirt.

Megan Massacre is a tattooer without borders. Thanks to her skills and the exposure she’s gotten from the television shows NY Ink and America’s Worst Tattoos, she is recognized in Japan, Australia, South America, and other spots around the globe where TLC is broadcast. In fact, it was her international fans that got her and NY Ink back on the air. “The show wasn’t going to come back, but the international affiliates loved it so we shot a mini season of five episodes for overseas,” Massacre says. “And when TLC saw a cut they were so stoked on it that they are going to put it back on American television.”

TV executives have been wrong before. Shows such as Family Guy, Arrested Development, and Star Trek were all resuscitated thanks to fans. The network’s original doubts about the show might have been a blessing in disguise, as it led the producers to cut the drama and shuffle the stools. “If you saw the first two seasons [of NY Ink] you saw how bad we got along, so we did away with the negative influences,” Massacre says. “There are some people I am sad to see go, but they left of their own accord, either because they were homesick or they were following their paths in life.”

In this new season, Tim Hendricks, Chris Torres, Robear, and Jessica Gahring are no longer at Wooster Street Social Club, but Massacre, owner Ami James, Tommy Montoya, and Billy DeCola remain. And they’re joined by Rodrigo “Hot Rod” Canteras, Lee Rodriguez, Mike Diamond, Steven Huie, Jes Leppard, and Diego Miranda. “I think this new, positive environment definitely breeds more creativity, and whenever you bring new, good artists into any tattoo shop they inspire the other tattooers,” Massacre says. Critics from within the tattoo community (yes, including some of you, as well as some of INKED’s Facebook commenters) have long thought the problem with these “Ink” series is too much drama and not enough craft. Certainly tattoo shops are crucibles of ego and attitude, but the shops shown on TV have fostered a feeling of contrived conflict that distracted not only the artists, but also viewers.

The new season of NY Ink promises to offer viewers a moving image of a good piece rather than inject Killer Karaoke–like gimmicks while an artist is trying to finish a sleeve. “I think that this time, I had so much more fun shooting because it was so stress-free,” Massacre says. “We have the negative drama that any work environment has, but this time around it feels way more real.”

Don’t get Massacre wrong: Tattooing while being filmed is hard work. “It is not glamorous,” Massacre says. “You have really long days of cameras following you around and watching every drop of ink you put into someone. You have to be tough, and you need to deal with the rest of the world judging every piece. People who will never see your tattoo in real life will tell you that you suck. I am not only putting myself out there, I am hanging my art and my livelihood out there.”

JOVANI dress; COSABELLA underwear; LIE SANG BONG shoes.

Luckily, Massacre has been killing it. Last year she showed her talent on a vaunted special about cover-up tattoos that was so successful, TLC decided to turn it into a series. On America’s Worst Tattoos there is no shop—and in turn, no shop drama—just three tattoo artists working to cover up a tattoo mistake. Massacre, Tim Pangburn, and Jeremy Swan will inherit gnarly work, former flame’s names, and blown-out lines and attempt to make it the wearer’s little secret.

In one episode, Massacre meets a couple who need cover-ups for their upcoming wedding. The man wants to get rid of a big straight edge back piece he got on someone’s couch, and his fiance?e needs help with french fries in a cowboy boot on one breast and a hot dog wearing an Indian headdress on the other. Massacre says she overlaid the woman’s chest with a space motif that incorporated stars, planets, and blacks and blues so the bride would have something new and something blue.

In addition to people with straight edge ink who have acquired a taste for alcohol, there were other surprisingly frequent client types, says Massacre. For example, she now realizes how many penis tattoos there are walking around. And the number one cover-up is not the straight edge X but that of an ex. “I’ve worked in seven tattoo shops and there has always been this curse we talk about: getting the name of someone on you,” Massacre says. “People tend to get their lover’s name on them as a last-ditch effort to save a relationship, as in, ‘Now we have to stay together because we have this permanent tattoo.’ Within six months they are always back for a cover-up.” Her suggestion? If you want a couple’s tattoo, get a symbol, not a name. That way, if you ever break up you might not have to explain to your next paramour what the symbol means.

Massacre herself has had three tattoos lasered off and one covered up. “People will come up to me and say that they would do anything to have their tattoo covered up,” she says. “Sometimes you just can’t cover up the tattoo because it is too fresh or too dark and I tell them that they should get it lasered. They then look at me like I have 10 heads. But they said they’d do anything! You don’t have to do all of the sessions, but if you have it broken up a little, the ink lightens and you can do a good cover-up.”

Of her own cover-up: “Oh—,” she says, and pauses. “It was one of my first tattoos. I was really green, and the opportunity to tattoo was presented to me and I jumped into it headfirst. I thought this guy had the best intentions, but it turns out that he didn’t want to teach me how to tattoo. He wanted to date. But back then I was so impressed because I was 18 and he was sooo cooool. He gave me some of my first tattoos, and I think it was a something-month anniversary and I wanted my first visible tattoo on my forearm.

ZANA BAYNE harness and peplum belt; COSABELLA underwear; LIE SANG BONG shoes; stylist’s own bra.

He was going to do a pretty koi fish … but he couldn’t have cared less about it. He left me with just an outline, and within a week I could see that he hacked it. It sucked because he was a good tattooer, but a bad person. Needless to say, our relationship ended shortly after that, and I was stuck with a couple of tattoos from him. I would look down and I would think, This guy really screwed me over. I got it lasered off over two years, in four sessions that hurt like hell.” David Tevenal recently put a vibrant hand with flames coming out of a rose over some of the real estate. “Now I don’t even think about it anymore.”

It’s widely known that tattoo artists have some of the best and worst ink, and Massacre is proof. “We get into tattoos really young and are excited to just be a part of the community,” she says. “We let other apprentices practice on us, and if somebody in a shop feels like doing a particular tattoo you get it, because it is free. We warn people against bad tattoos because through our learning process we are covered in crappy ink.”

After nine years with a tattoo machine in her hand, Massacre knows what she is doing but keeps improving her art. “I felt accomplished before the shows—but I also feel like my apprenticeship will never end, in that I’m always going to try new things creatively,” she says.

When she’s not filming, she keeps regular hours at Wooster Street, where her waiting list is filled with a different type of clientele than she had before stepping in front of the cameras. “I used to just work on big custom pieces on collectors, but now I also have a new wave of international clients who can only fly in for a weekend, so they have to get one-session pieces.”

Those clients have kept her waiting list long, but is there any chance we might see one of them on America’s Worst Tattoos? “I hope not,” Massacre says. “At least not because of the art.”

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