It’s wild to think that every tattoo style had to start somewhere. Style innovations are usually motivated by an intrepid artist deciding to flout the established rules and do things their own way. Kimberly Graziano, a.k.a. Bunny Machine, is one of those rebels. When she got her start in tattooing there weren’t many other anime artists around. But instead of listening to her mentors telling her that style wasn’t tattooable, she used her training in traditional tattooing to build anime tattooing from the ground up. Spoiler alert: It worked. And today, there’s hardly an anime character she hasn’t tattooed.
Take us through the start of your tattoo career and what the industry was like at that time.
I started seeking out an apprenticeship in 2007. I had just dropped out of college and was getting heavily tattooed. I got really lucky landing an apprenticeship about a year later and was given a really traditional introduction to the tattoo industry—scrubbing tubes, cleaning the shop, tracing and drawing roses and daggers and learning how to draw script. Back then, it wasn’t, “What style do you want to do?” it was more like, “You’re gonna learn the traditions and that’s that.” I’d been an anime artist my whole life, but in 2008, that wasn’t something anyone was tattooing. To be a young woman in a male-dominated industry was hard enough, but adding to that, I made art all of my mentors said “wasn’t tattooable.” So I dedicated myself to finding clients who would let me tattoo anime and I’m so thankful to those folks to this day.
When did you start creating anime tattoos and how were they received by the industry at that time?
I did as many as I possibly could by working in a street shop and trying to use Instagram to find people who also wanted anime tattoos. There were no other tattooers doing them and I had no reference to work off of, so I spent all my time trying to adapt what I’d learned in traditional applications to suit anime. Bold lines, bright color, trying not to make things too small, etc. After a year or two pushing that style, I started seeing other tattooers making anime pieces and now we have a huge community.
Which anime have made the biggest impression on your art?
"Sailor Moon" taught me how to draw as a kid. I became obsessed with the art style and it was the first true anime I was exposed to. I spent hours locked up in my room just staring at any references I could get my hands on and trying to draw all those characters.
How do you feel about the way the anime tattoo community has grown over the years?
It brings a (happy) tear to my eye. Every year I’ve been tattooing, it grows and grows, and I’m so proud of all of these people for being true to themselves. Anime is special, it has an effect on folks. It makes you feel something that’s hard to express, a kind of passion for the stories and the animation that really is hard to match. I’ll always be proud of it.
If you could illustrate your own anime, what would it be about?
It’s funny, I wrote a story about a magical girl tattooer whose power supply is a robotic bunny. The bunny supply turns out to be an entity from the future who goes back in time to find a warrior, but she finds my main character instead. I can’t animate, but at some point someone is going to make an anime about a tattooer and I hope they let me voice act for the dub.
What advice would you give to clients with darker skin who want to get anime tattoos?
Please expect the same respect, expertise and attention to detail as any other client. Anime tattoos are capable of being done on all skin tones—there are options for everyone. I cannot express how important it is that tattooers are held to this standard. If anyone tells you that you cannot have a color tattoo or refuses to work on you based on your skin tone, they are inexperienced and ignorant. Please don’t feel discouraged to get work done somewhere else, there are many tattooers who do beautiful, colorful tattoos on all skin types.
If you could no longer tattoo anime anymore, what would you tattoo?
If I can’t tattoo anime anymore, put me in the ground. It’s my heart and soul!