Who Did Your Ink? is the Straight’s weekly feature, where we ask badass Vancouverites about the talented artists, indelible stories, and, at times, questionable antics behind their most treasured tattoos.
What’s your name? Chris Walter.
What do you do? I’m an author, former drug addict, high school dropout, father, and general no-goodnik.
Who did your ink? The question should be, “Who didn’t do my ink?” Somewhere on my left arm, buried under tons of newer ink, I still have the stone wheel tattoo put there by one of the first tattooists who ever existed. His name was Og, and he operated out of a cave under a waterfall somewhere on the North Shore, using carbon from burnt dinosaur bones for ink. His style, shall we say, was very primitive…
But seriously, I got my first tattoo from a biker in Winnipeg in 1983. Back then, tattoos were still for outlaws and criminals, and few other people had them. This biker was the only guy in town with a licenced shop and he didn’t even know who the Ramones were when he tattooed the famous Ramones crest on my right biceps.
Of all my old tattoos, this is the only one I haven’t covered up, even though it is quite faded now. Surrounded by newer tattoos, it reminds me of the old days and the Ramones, who would obviously live forever.
Why did you choose these artists to do your tattoos? The list of tattooists who worked on me is too lengthy to recount in detail, but they include a tweaker who spent dozens of hours turning my left arm into a jumbled mess of smashed cars, burning buildings, and total chaos. I told him to make it bright, but he used mostly black ink to match his mood, which shifted dramatically from one session to the next.
Kids: don’t give tweakers a flat rate to do full sleeves unless you’re prepared to live with that decision for the rest of your life. I do like some elements of it, however, even if I know it could be better.
For my right sleeve, I paid a friend a flat rate for a panoramic view of Godzilla trashing a city as UFOs fire lasers at him from above. This tattoo came out better and is much brighter, even if it also fails to meet certain expectations. Remember: you get what you pay for in Tattoo Land, and cheap does not usually mean great. Even your friend is going to work harder if he’s getting an hourly rate.
Nowadays, I’d rather slather my arm with ink and have a pit bull chew on it rather than let friends practice on me, but live and learn, right?
Is there any meaning behind them? The same friend tattooed a big, burning typewriter on the right side of my chest. He did a great job on that one, and the image became the logo for my independent publishing house—the GFY Press logo I still use today.
Books, skulls, the East Van cross, and more fire cover my left chest, tattooed by the talented and charming Teresa Johnson of Electro-Ladylux on Venables Street. I was learning by then not to employ friends as tattooists, and while Teresa is indeed a friend, tattoo work does not enter into that aspect of our relationship.
I still had plenty of skin left. For my legs, I hired Mikel Johnson—no relation to Teresa—who specializes in black work and tribal. I wanted full-size tire tracks on the backs of my calves to commemorate the eternal battle between man and machine. But the tattoos looked so cool when they were done that I hired Mikel to cover the rest of my legs with a South Pacific tribal design that fit quite well with the earlier tattoos.
Mikel isn’t cheap, but he’s the best in town for solid black ink and tribal work. His many customers include Bif Naked, who speaks highly of him. Of all my tattoos, these are my favourites. Mikel also did the large, old school typewriter on my back. Above and below the image are the words, live to write, write to live, a take-off on the tired biker cliché that I adapted to fit my own needs.
Next, I hired Geoff Funk for a variety of tattoos, including three winged demons down my left side and another in my armpit. If you think the armpit is a nasty place to be tattooed, you’d be surprised to learn that the ribcage hurts even more. The ribs even hurt even more than my head, which I’d covered by them with, you guessed it, more burning buildings. Along with a bottle of whisky and a couple porn magazines, my girlfriend paid the tattooist for part of that job as a birthday present. We’re still together today.
I was acquiring a lot of destroyed cities and firestorms at this point, and the fire wasn’t out yet. Are you noticing a theme? Maybe I subconsciously yearn for the apocalypse—maybe not even so subconsciously.
Who’s your favourite local tattoo artist? Geoff Funk, who moved to Electro Ladylux after bouncing around East Van for a while, is my guy these days. He did the burning city on my stomach, and the inferno that wraps around my lower back, and I think he did some other stuff as well.
Unfortunately, I’m running out of real estate, and all I really have left is my upper thighs. My face and bum will remain untouched by the tattoo needle—at least for now.
What’s next on your ink list? Tattoos are trendy nowadays and I see people who clearly shouldn’t have them, but I don’t regret mine. I always felt so naked before, but now I feel dressed at all times. Sometimes, I even forget to put my clothes on before I leave the house.
I ran into Og last week, and he just shook his head. Yeah, like he’s so cool just because he remembered to wrap a filthy goatskin around his waist. What do you expect from a fucking caveman?