INKED: Can you describe the first time you stepped into a tattoo shop?
KORE FLATMO: I was about 15. I went with an older friend of mine to a place in La Puente called Fat George’s. It’s really famous in southern California, where I grew up. It was kind of tough and a little scary. I feel lucky that it was my first place because it’s such an important part of southern California tattooing.
When did you get your first tattoo?
It was three or four years later, when I was 19. I had just moved out to Hollywood. My first tattoo was done in an apartment on the floor in a really run-down place on Cherokee. My friend was a little too ambitious and chose a design from the great fantasy artist from the ’70s and ’80s, [Patrick] Woodroffe. He had a book called Mythopoeikon. It was this lizard wrapped around a planet. It was airbrushed and multimedia—really beautiful. You should see what I got on my back. [Laughs.] He carved me up and it took, like, a month to heal. But he was a good friend of mine and tattoos are about more than just how they look. The meaning of the tattoo is important.
When did you decide to get work done at a real shop?
About two weeks later, I walked into some tourist trap on the boulevard and picked something off the wall, just like everyone does, I think. It was a design by comic book artist Bernie Wrightson. It’s this beautiful Master of Macabre cover of one of his comic books. I asked the tattoo artist where I should put it, and he said I should put it on my sternum—right in the middle of my chest. That killed me. It was the most painful experience I have ever had. Occasionally I’ll see that and it reminds me of how little we knew back then, as a group.
Do you ever think about covering them?
One is partially covered because new work went around it, but I didn’t want to forget where I started. In the course of my time, so many changes have happened and it’s easy to forget those early days, so I keep them.
It sounds like you got off to a bad start, so why did that draw you into tattooing?
The experience is what matters. I started getting involved in tattooing in 1989 or 1990. If your friends got into tattooing six months before you, you ended up being the guinea pig. I remember a friend of mine saying, “Hey, let me put this on you.” Up until then I had hardly any interest in tattooing at all. It was actually getting the first couple that really got me interested.