Meet the Tattooer at the Center of 'Outlaw Country'

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When you watch the previews for Outlaw Country, a new docudrama airing on WGN Americathe show appears to be about a lot of different things—small town cops, the tattooed outlaws they chase, life on both sides of the law and the dynamics that go on in rural America. All of those themes appear in the show, but at its heart the theme is far more simple. Outlaw Country is a show about brothers. Family bonds are strong and Outlaw Country shows how the alliances between two sets of brothers can be strained and strengthened by conflict.

On one side you have Steve and Mike Cook of the Buckner, Ks., police department. On the outlaw side of things you have John and Josh Monk. John is the owner of Revelation Tattoo and was kind enough to take some time to talk to us about the show, tattooing, the stereotypes tattooed people face and how he hopes to break down some of those misconceptions through Outlaw Country.

Inked: What exactly is Outlaw Country all about? 
John Monk: The show is a docudrama about two brothers that have a very personal beef with two other brothers. From my point of view, it's about what cops do when they single out somebody and stereotype them.

Do you feel that being tattooed has played a factor in you being stereotyped by the law?
Absolutely. The police like to stereotype people. They figure that if you are running a certain type of business or that if you do a certain type of work you couldn't be doing good for yourself [legally] because you have that certain type of profession.

Did the added scrutiny on you cause you to consider not appearing on the TV show? If the cops were watching you before they're certainly going to look at you a heck of a lot harder now.
Not really. I think [being on the show] puts it all on the limelight, it puts it out there. This is what happens in real life.

You weren't afraid that the producers would edit things to paint you in a negative light regardless of whether or not you were actually up to anything?
No, no, not at all. I think that they are putting it out there in a way that people will realize what is going on. Viewers will see that you can't judge a book by its cover and that you can't judge a person based on how they look.

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I know there have only been two episodes so far but what sort of feedback have you been hearing?
Even though it is only two episodes in I feel like people are starting to get the picture.

Let's talk about the main conflict of the show—how long have you been beefing with the Cooks? And how did this go from a simple beef between two sets of brothers to a nationally televised show?
Ten years at least. They were doing a docudrama on that town and I caught wind of it. I was like, if guys want to know the truth about this whole story holler back at me. They got back to me and then once I started telling stories they were blown away. They were like, "Woah. We need the other side of the story here."

Would you mind telling us some of these stories?
You mean things like getting pulled over every time you leave work? Or raiding your tattoo shop and your house with no probable cause? They were making up reasons to get a search warrant so they can search us. All this with never finding anything.

With the way the show is structured were you ever afraid of being made to look villainous? 
No, not really. I am already covered in tattoos. People are either going to look at you and judge you or they're not going to. It doesn't matter to me what people think, the only people who matter to me are my family and friends. I'm just doing what I would normally do. I mean, is there some fighting and violence involved? Well, sure. If you're going to come and talk smack I'm not going to do nothing about it. If you put me in a situation that I don't like you're going to be accountable for it.

Was it difficult to maintain your normal personality with all of the cameras around at all times?
At first, yeah. When you have cameras all around you, you're like woah. But as the season goes on you get used to it.

It's a small, small town. How obvious was the production?
Oh it was. They had a lot of camera people. They've done a great job, the filming of it is off the chain.

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You're the owner of Revelation Tattoo, tell us about your background in the industry.
I've been tattooing for 24, 25 years. I opened up my first business when I was 19-years-old. Back then it was really hard to just go into a tattoo shop and get a job. So I ended up driving to Dallas when my friend set something up for me. I was 18, just out of high school, I ended up working there for a little bit. I came back to visit and everybody I knew wanted tattoos. So I ended up staying and just setting up shop. I've only worked for someone else twice in my whole life.

What style of tattoos are you into?
I like Americana traditional and I like the Japanese stuff. That's pretty much what I do. At first I was doing American Traditional, that's what I did and I loved it. Then one of my good friends got me to start really studying [Japanese tattoos]. Wow man. Over here, like with Americana Traditional, you would pick a part of the body to put a tattoo on. With the Japanese style they pick a body part and then figure out what to put on it. It's crazy to me how the whole sections of the body are done.

It's a whole different way of thinking about tattoos.
Yep. It really drew me in. It seems so powerful to me when you are looking at all this black, the subject is bright colored subject matter but the background is heavy. It really makes a statement.

Your shop is in Kansas City, what's the tattoo scene like there?
I read somewhere that Kansas City is the fifth most highly tattooed city in the country. They go off per capita, so it helps that while LA has all of these tattoos going on they also have an enormous population. We have a smaller population but it is heavily tattooed. The art scene here is off the chain. There's a bunch of great artists and a great tattoo scene here.

Have you gotten any brushback from the tattoo industry for appearing on the show?
Nah. Most tattooers don't like people going on the tattoo shows, but this isn't a tattoo show. They aren't in my shop filming me do tattoos and asking people why they got it. Oh, because my neighbor's uncle's dog died... it's not like that. All of my friends that are tattooers are pretty stoked that I'm doing a show that's not a tattoo show. Those tattoo shows have kind of taking the magic out of it. Magicians don't go on TV and reveal all their tricks.

How does the shop factor into the show?
It's just like, yeah, I own a shop. I work every day. I'm a tattooer so we sometimes have get togethers here after hours and do whatever we do at the shop. It's just my place of business.

Check out some of Monk's work and more photos in the gallery below. 

Episode 104 –“AWOL”
Tune in: Outlaw Country airs on Tuesday, March 17th at 10:00 pm ET/9:00 pm CT on WGN America.
In this episode John Monk and the Alliance try to reign in a brother gone AWOL, and the Task Force attempts an intercept.