Meet Marcus “The Creature” Boykin from AMC’s Freakshow Reality TV Show

Tonight (February 14, 2013) AMC will be airing a new reality TV show called “Freakshow”, all about the Venice Beach Freakshow. The cast member who may be of most interest to ModBlog readers is Marcus “The Creature” Boykin, tattooed head to toe and wearing a face-full of self-pierced metal. The name “Creature” comes with a double meaning — he’s not just a creature in the monstrous sense, but also “create-ure” in the sense of creating himself as an artistic invention, a body that is “all original, unlike anyone else’s”, in the hope that he’d be able to not just entertain, but inspire and let people know that no matter how impossible something seems, you can do it.

Here’s the official video profile of Creature from AMC. Following that is a brief chat that we had yesterday letting you know a little bit more about what makes Creature tick — but if you really want to see what he and the rest of Venice Beach Freakshow are all about, don’t miss the show, which begins tonight on AMC at 9:30, 8:30 CST.

** What made you want to move from being a kid into piercings to someone at the “freak end of the scale” — and how did your family react?

My family are hard core Christians, and my mom is still in disbelief, but my dad supports me to the fullest in the craze of body art and piercings. My inspiration came from historical pictures like the Great Omi… warriors receiving scarification, like the great Shaka Zulu, and slaves chastisement as they got whipped and scarred and burned — also Jesus Christ himself suffered out of this world piercings and was scarred beyond any recognition — it goes reallly deeeep…


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Erl Van Aken, RIP (1939 – Jan 17, 2013)

I’m sorry for waiting longer than I should have to write this; after the recent deaths of other body modification figures like ManWoman and Stalking Cat it’s difficult to have to follow those up with the loss of another significant body modification pioneer. Unfortunately I must write that Erl Douglas Van Aken II (see Erl on the BME wiki and his web page) passed away at his home after a richer life than anyone could ask for.

Erl was born in Brewer, Maine, and then moved to California at age four where he grew up in Orange County, a region he characterized as having “a very narrow band of perception, and being a person of ‘different’ thinking, not subject to peer pressure, I was not well… tolerated.” Always forward thinking, in the early sixties he worked in the space program at NASA, Bell Labs, JPL, and similar institutions where he worked on some of the first satellite programs, as well as Mercury, Gemini, and the Apollo program where he contributed significantly to the rover (moon buggy) — “in that sense I’m on the moon,” he said.

Wanting to explore a wider range of expression and not really fitting in to an increasingly “professional” environment, Erl left to become a multi-media artist, working in nearly every medium — as well as doing a lot of “motorcycle riding and hell raising during this period as well — you know, sex, drugs and rock’n'roll”, a dangerous lifestyle that would nearly cost him his life “on more than one occasion”. In the mid-90s (by which point he was a well-established body modification icon already) he began modelling for fine art, which lead to him joining the Screen Actors Guild (usually credited as Erl Van Douglas, although many of his non-speaking roles are uncredited, such as his 1996 appearance in The Cable Guy, the first movie I remember seeing him in — and my favorite thing about that movie). Lance Richlin, an artist who recently painted a series of portraits of Erl wrote me saying,

“Erl was no ordinary man. He was a Mystic. He had deep insight. The body modification was literally only the surface of the man. I didn’t even notice it after the first few encounters. When he was younger, he was a dangerous fellow. But he became a very gentle and compassionate man in old age.”

Although body modification was only a small part of a much more complex personality, Erl’s role in the world of body modification was significant. While the name has fallen out of fashion in favor of the anatomical moniker “bridge piercing”, for a long time “Erl” was what the piercing was called (as in “I’d like to get an Erl piercing”), as Erl was the first person known to wear it (done for him by The Gauntlet). Erl wasn’t only an early piercing and tattoo fan and innovator — he was also one of the first heavy body modification enthusiasts whose focus was significantly aesthetic. There have always been heavy mod practitioners, but the vast majority until the mid-nineties were doing it in private, almost exclusively in a sexual realm. Erl on the other hand was not only one of the first people in the West to explore surgical body mods on an artistic level, but also to do it “out”, sharing his love for it with those around him — for example, his radical and way, way, ahead of its time bipedical flap procedure was documented in Body Art magazine. Thereby he influenced many of the early body modification artists, as well as inspiring other serious enthusiasts, and changed culture more than he probably realized.

On the left, a recent painting of Erl by artist Lance Richlin (visit him at, and on the right, a pre-firing sculpture of Erl by Nicholas Mestanas (visit him on Facebook) — note that the piece includes Erl’s chest implants and bipedical flap (the artist was planning on adding the piercings post-firing).

erl1t erl2t

Finally a few photoshoot images from Erl’s webpage — visit to explore more.

erlphoto1t erlphoto2t erlphoto3t

Whether the name “Erl piercing” returns or falls out of our language, Erl’s pioneering exploration of body modification and the impact it had on popular culture lives on in hundreds of thousands of people’s lives — to say nothing of the myriad of other positive ways he touched those around him.

RIP ManWoman

This morning at 4:38AM, the beautiful artist and [best] friend of the swastika ManWoman passed away peacefully after a battle with cancer. He lived a passionate and revolutionary life, and his impact on this community continues to grow. Thankfully after seeing his life’s work vindicated and bringing joy and open eyes to more than he ever could have imagined when it first began, he found himself in the terrible position of having a painful and debilitating disease with no cure, and he made the decision to stop treatment knowing it would mean the end of his suffering within days. If you see a swastika, that symbol of light and love, tattooed on someone, you can thank Manny. All of the spiritual and geometric tattooing that is exploding today owes his efforts a great deal of credit and thanks. Although he was often unknown by those he helped transform both physically and spiritually, like some benevolent and hopeful puppetmaster bard, he touched almost all of us in one way or another, and was one of the most influential guides in this community.

Manny was one of the few universally respected wisemen of this community, and his passing will hit a lot of people very hard and he will be deeply missed.

“I like to think that God is dreaming and we are the dream. I wake up in the morning and I say, gee, that was an interesting dream, but you know what? I’m gonna wake up from this life when I die and go, boy, that was an interesting dream! And I’ve had a really interesting life.”

But even though Manny has passed, he lives forever in not just his art and the retelling of his own story by others, but he lives forever in the millions of tattoos that carry his message and a small part of his soul. Manny cannot die, because his passion and his ability to inspire others to make the light he rediscovered a part of their lives as well gave him immortality.

In the video above are some of Manny’s final thoughts, recorded at the start of November, and below is a picture of my family with Manny’s family, taken in 2004. In the picture are Manny and his daughter Serena, myself, Rachel, and our daughter as well. He was just a wonderful, wonderful person. This post feels shamefully sparse, but in some ways I don’t even need to say a thing, because I don’t know anyone who met ManWoman that wasn’t completely captured by his warmth and charm.

RIP Stalking Cat

This morning’s post comes with heavy news, and I’m in the terrible position of reporting the death of body modification icon Dennis Avner, often better known as Stalking Cat or just Tiger. A US Navy vet more recently working as a programmer and technician, Dennis identified strongly with his feline totem animals and in what he told me was a Huron traditional of actually adopting the physical form of ones totem, he transformed himself not just into a tiger, but a female tiger at that, blurring and exploring the gender line as much as the species line. Much of his work had been done by body modification pioneer Steve Haworth, who rebuilt Dennis’s ears, lip, nose, and face to resemble a tiger, including a multitude of transdermals that held artificial whiskers. In addition to being almost completely covered in tattoos, he’d also sculpted his face and body with extensive silicone work, had custom teeth built to emulate his inner nature, and regularly wore contact lenses and an artificial robotic tail.

Dennis’s boundary-breaking life was never an easy one, and as he was fond of saying, he “found fame, but never fortune”. A wonderful and complex person, he was at times as troubled as he was remarkable, and he recently took his own life at the age of 54 (August 27, 1958 – November 5, 2012). You can download an interview that Dennis and I did for BMEradio about ten years ago at this link: BMEradio/Cat.mp3. The photos below were taken at ModCon III by Philip Barbosa when Cat visited us here in Toronto. In the bottom photo he appears with fellow concept transformation artist, Erik “The Lizardman” Sprague.

Rolf and Stelarc at the Oslo Suspension Symposium

I met and interviewed Stelarc back in 2004 at the Transvision transhumanist convention here in Toronto, but while he was already planning it, he had not yet implanted the ear in his arm. He’s in Oslo right now, as part of the amazing 2012 Oslo Suspension Symposium (these events just keep getting more and more amazing), and Rolf Buchholz — and incredible artist in his own right — just posted a nice picture of the two of them together showing off their amazing transformation. Zoom in and get a nice big look.

In addition to collecting an incredible number of piercings, Rolf also takes an incredible number of just wonderful images from suspension events around the world — he is the best traveled suspension enthusiasts I can think of, perhaps by a wide margin, and it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that he holds a world record in suspension as well as piercing. In any case, here are two photos he took at the happening-right-now 2012 Oslo Suspension Symposium. Stunning artistry, as I had expected. The first photo can be zoomed in.

Early news coverage of The Great Omi

One of the most famous “tattooed freaks” of the classic sideshow era — heck, of ANY ERA! — was Horace Riddler, better known as The Great Omi (read more on the BME wiki). I thought it might be interesting to share with you some of the very early news clippings about him — the very first I could discover was dated October 20th, 1934, and was printed in the Lethbridge Herald of Alberta, Canada. Since it’s more than a little hard to read (scanned from old microfiche archives), let me transcribe it:

MIRACLE OF TATTOOING GETS FINISH:The Great Omi, called the ninth wonder of the world, being completely tattooed head to foot. He designed the tattoo patterns himself and the work on his head alone took nine weeks to perfect. Prof. Burchett, shown completing this part of the job, considers it a masterpiece.


A slightly later AP story expanded on those comments and was widely reprinted in papers across the nation (I happened to find it in the Galveston Daily News of April 7th, 1935). It reads:

TOTALLY TATTOOED: The Great Omi, who believes himself to be the only man in the world who is “tattooed all over,” explains it by saying, “I was penniless after the war and–well, I had to do something, so I decided it should be something never done before. It has taken me three years to be tattooed from head to foot–a dreadfully painful process. I suffered agonies. Moreover, it was meant sacrificing every social asset I had. Some people would say I look pretty terrible, but my wife has been wonderful about it. She assures me it is only a matter of getting used to it.” The Great Omi served during the world war as a major in the British army.

He quickly became the most famous sideshow performer of the time and people clamored to see him all over the world. For a time — especially in late 1934 and 1935 when his tattoo transformation was complete and his popularity exploded — his name became synonymous with tattooing, and if you were a journalist assigned to write about tattoos, odds were good you’d fill some column inches with The Great Omi’s story. For example, I was reading an interesting article about the 1934 Tokyo tattoo convention in The San Antonio Light‘s December 2nd, 1934 edition, and they actually spent more time talking about Omi than the convention itself!

Convention of Tattooed People, But the Champion Didn’t Attend

Despite the fact that it is a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment and fine, for a Japanese to have his person indelibly inscribed with the tattooer’s needle, a convention of tattooed people recently was staged in the city. The alert police did not molest the delegates to the conclave because every one of them was able to prove that he, or she, had not been tattooed within the past few years, since the ban has been in force.

As the photograph of some of the delegates shows, when an Oriental makes up his mind to get himself tattooed, he does a thorough job of it and covers himself with the sort of red and blue skin pictures that seamen carry around on their arms and chests.

But the convention was not all that it might have been because the grand champion of all tattooed men–a fellow who calls himself the Great Omi–either was unable to attend or just passed up the event as unworthy of his notice.

While the convention was in session and the human art galleries were getting their pictures in the newspapers of the Japanese capital, the Great Omi was touring the British Isles and astounding people who did not envy him in the least. Not for a million dollars would the average human being let himself be so “ornamented.”

The Great Omi is one of the few tattooed men in the world who has permitted the artists with the needle to work on his face as well as his body. As two of the photographs show, there is hardly a square inch of Omi’s head that isn’t covered with a design that makes him look stranger and more savage than the wildest of African medicine men, who go in for that sort of disfigurement.

Prof. Burchett, said to be the world’s outstanding expert in the art of tattooing, supports Omi’s claim that he is the most tattooed man in the world.


I have corrected Their Annoying Capitalization, but underneath the first photo of Omi it says, “The ‘Great Omi,’ most thoroughly tattooed of humans, who holds forth in London. He has spent most of his life decorating his skin with weird designs.” The rightmost picture of Omi reads, “The ‘Great Omi’ submitting himself to the needle to put the finishing touches to the bewildering decorations of head and face.” Finally, the central picture which is of the convention attendees reads, “Six of the many delegates to the convention of tattooed people recently held in Tokyo. These animated Japanese prints are covered with designs from their necks to their thighs but the ‘Great Omi,’ now traveling through the British Isles, found it inconvenient to attend the conclave and told spectators that he is the grand champion of all tattooed people, including the human picture galleries of the orient.”

In addition to being called “The Great Omi” proper, he was often colloquially referred to as “The Zebra Man”, and then as in now, when you become a pop culture icon, you can expect yourself to be referenced in the most unexpected places. For example, the September 17th, 1938 edition of the syndicated serial pulp comic strip “Ella Cinders” (running from 1925 through 1961), which I think is as good a place as any to end this entry. Zoom in so you can read the words clearly.


Unblacking the Blackest Man

I assume everyone knows who Lucky Diamond Rich is, but if not, let me pop up a picture from one of his very first appearances on ModBlog, back in 2006, when he was already widely recognized as the world’s most tattooed man — and easily history’s most tattooed man as well.

Not only is Rick tattooed black-head-to-toe, but he’s been fully tattooed something like seven or eight times over. The white lines in the picture above are not untattooed areas. They are white ink tattoos done over top of the field of black. As these would fade slightly over time and Rick set his sights on new a body, changes would be made, sometimes with piercing or scarification, but usually with tattoos. I have made some recent posts about tattooing white ink over black and even tattooing full color over solid blackwork, and I think the time has come to update Rick’s latest stage of evolution.

Tattooist Brad Bako has been covering up Rich’s many layers of blackwork (and more) with a new field of biomech, starting with his arm. The progress has been quite remarkable, to such an extent that many people would think it wasn’t even possible. I really want to emphasize that this is not just being done over black, but over a mottled skin filled with many layers of black, some colour, some white, and probably some residual scarring as well. What Brad Bako has achieved is quite remarkable.



In addition to the bright sleeve work, they are also working on his head, transforming his full-black zen demon sort of appearance into a more traditional biomechanical tattoo icon.


So when people ask you the question, “what will you do when you run out of skin”, now you know that you’ll never run out of skin because you can recycle your tattoos. On a side note, I have to admit that it’s rather amazing that 10,000+ years into tattooing that we’re still figuring new stuff out every year.

Jane says…I know that chic!

Who’s that chic hanging behind Perry Farrell as he performs with Janes Addiction? It’s no other than Miss Crash! You probably remember her as the girl I featured just a few days ago who I said uses a combination of shock and sexiness to captivate audiences? Well apparently, Jane’s Addiction found her captivating enough to want to include her in a recent performance. Suspension artist performing with nationally touring bands is nothing new, hell even I have done it a few times. However, this is the first time I have seen it done with such a hugely popular band, not to mention a band with a fairly mainstream audience.  If anyone else has any celebrity suspension or body mod performance tales to tell, feel free to do so in the comments.


I apologize for the double feature on Crash, I normally try to not include too much of one person or group in a short period of time. This was just too cool not to post though! For more pictures of this and to check out the man behind the hooks, go to her  boyfriend’s IAM page.

Full Coverage: Links From All Over (Aug. 6, 2009)

[YouTube] Ha ha, so, you guys are all familiar with vampiric fashionista Christian Audigier and his fancy line of premium Ed Hardy T-shirts/underpants/bed sheets/catheters/crack pipes/etc., yes? These tattoo-culture-appropriating items haven’t been particularly popular among some of the, shall we say, more thoughtful fans of body modification, but finally, there is a trio of men brave enough to stand up to this corporate nightmare, via an old-fashioned rap diss track. Hooray! Andy Milonakis, Dirt Nasty and Rich Hill have joined forces to craft this masterpiece of the modern age, succinctly titled, “Fuck Ed Hardy.” We were kind of hoping this would have been the straw to break the camel’s back and sent Audigier on trip inside his psyche, questioning his motives and finally renouncing the dumb clothes he’s been making a mint off of, but apparently he just chuckled and then went about his day, unfortunately. Oh well. Even still, this is worth it just for the line, “It looks like a dragon threw up on your dick.” Oh yeah, NSFW, etc.

[WSMV] Look, we don’t know how many times we have to tell you that, above all else, BME is for the children—we are saying it constantly, in auditoriums and bodegas around the country, basically to anybody who will listen, and still our advice goes ignored, time and time again. So let us just say this one more time: temporary tattoos are trying to kill your children. Remember? Remember? This has happened at least three times now: Some innocent kid gets some low-grade henna at the mall or something and it ends up burning the shit out of them, permanently, and only once did the kid’s parents have the foresight to give him the bad-ass name “Cannon Cribb.” These other youngsters? Shit outta luck. Here’s the latest tale, straight out of Nashville:

An 11-year-old girl who recently received a temporary tattoo at an Opry Mills mall kiosk was left with painful and permanent scars.

The child’s mother said it was meant to be a simple symbol of softball team spirit, but her daughter was left scarred and burned.


“Each time a blister would bust, another one would form,” said the child’s mother, Tammy.


[The family's attorney] believes the girl’s injuries point to a type of henna known as black henna. It’s a chemical the FDA won’t allow for the temporary tattoos because it can cause this type of reaction.


“She has a lot of kids that’ll ask her, ‘Oh, you got a tattoo.’ And she has to go and explain, ‘No, I don’t. This is what happened to me,’” said Tammy. “I don’t want any more kids to get hurt.”

How many more children will automatically become the coolest kids in their school before this menace is stopped? Seriously though, whoever the mutants are who are just painting kids with this poison willy-nilly, you are worse than Mecha-Hitler.

[Twitter] And finally, the Meghan McCain Reality Tour keeps on truckin’! The almost-first-daughter of yesteryear has been known to display something of an “independence streak,” often talking about how much she loves the ol’ counter-culture, which is probably very troubling to her poor family. Below is a recent “tweet” missive of hers, in which she does nothing to dissuade us of the theory that her Twitter account is ghost-written by Marisa from Needles and Sins. (Kidding! Kidding! Love you, Marisa!)

Tattoo Hollywood, BME’s first tattoo convention, is coming to Los Angeles from August 21-23, featuring contests, prizes and some of the best artists from around the world! Click here for more information.

Full Coverage: Links From All Over (Aug. 4, 2009)

[HeraldNet] Oh boy, here come the waterworks. We realize there can be a tendency to be overly jaded at times when it comes to body modification and the ways in which it’s covered in the media, and that cynicism can bleed over into the ways in which we think about body modification in general—a quickness to criticize someone for being too impulsive or any number of other middling concerns aren’t uncommon. But sometimes, and probably pretty often, body modification is still an intensely meaningful act for many people, and something as simple as a tattoo can provide a person with motivation they might otherwise be lacking. Well, Debra Smith has written a truly touching piece here about a young man, Patrick Conley, who, knowing he was dying of cancer in his mid-twenties, made a concerted effort to, for lack of a much better term, start crossing things off his bucket list. Skydiving, off-road trucking, attending every sporting event and recital of his kids’ that he possibly could—he made all that happen. But because of his weakened immune system, the one wish he wasn’t able to fulfill was getting a tattoo.

By the start of this summer, Conley’s health had deteriorated so much, it didn’t matter. He made an appointment with a Seattle tattoo artist.

He kept the design a secret. A few days before his appointment, he climbed in his truck and made the drive to downtown Seattle to pick up a rendering of the design.

A few hours later, Conley arrived home gasping for breath. He staggered up the stairs of their townhome and planted the design facedown on his bedroom dresser, and headed straight for bed. Charity called the hospice nurse.

Patrick Conley died the next morning on July 16. His wife sat by his side through the night, heard his last words, held his head as he drew his last breath.

In the emotional tumult, no one gave much thought to Conley’s only unfulfilled wish.

Except the hospice nurse. And she knew just who to call.

I’d rather not spoil the end, but you may be able to see where this is going. Either way, this is something we actually like and well worth the read.

[Metro] Ha ha, this is more like it! Who needs “feelings” and junk when you can have headlines like, “Tattooed Gangster Forced to Look Like Tom Selleck”? Classic, right? So, the story goes, some alleged hoodlum had a gang tattoo on his upper lip and, after being chased by police, just got booted right in the kisser by a cop, apparently because this tattoo identified him as some sort of undesirable. He is now suing for $5 million, and his lawyer has made some excellent suggestions:

Pachecho has filed a $5 million legal claim against the city on behalf of the 24-year-old for alleged assault.

He claims that his client now suffers from headaches and blurred vision among other symptoms. Pacheco feared jurors would judge Rodriguez on his ‘Flores’ gang tattoo, inked on his lip.

So he has issued a digitally altered picture of his client “looking like [actor] Tom Selleck”, complete with bushy moustache – which he has positioned next to Rodriguez’s original police mugshot.

He will also grow hair to cover the tattoos on his shaved head. And he’ll wear a smart suit.

“People get past looks when you put on a suit and your hair is grown,” Pacheco said.

Honestly, they could have just said, “Grow a mustache,” but for some reason—to make the jobs of people me easier, I suppose—they went full-tilt with the Tom Selleck comparisons, and you know what? I thank them for that.

[Post Chronicle] And finally, the Chris Brown Public Image Rehabilitation Campaign continues with him, huh, trying to one-up the ex-girlfriend he beat the holy shit out of? Sounds like a solid plan. As I’m sure you all remember, last month, Rihanna made headlines everywhere with her daring attempts at becoming a tattoo artist, or something, and then caused some controversy because she was not licensed and therefore got tattooing banned in the state of New York. Well, her erstwhile shit-bag romantic consort is trying his hand at the ol’ needle and ink, too! Very exciting.

The ‘Run It’ singer has decided to mimic his ex-girlfriend – who he pleaded guilty
to assaulting earlier this year – by inking a design on celebrity tattoo artist Bang Bang.

‘Umbrella’ hitmaker Rihanna recently left a lasting impression on the artist – real name Keith McCurdy – by drawing an umbrella with an ‘R’ underneath it on his leg.

However, Chris, 20, has outdone his former girlfriend by creating his own design – a cartoon face with the word ‘Bang’ above it.


“He did a great job too. He’s a natural, which is funny because I said the same thing about Rihanna. She was really good the first time, but he was better.”

Without a hint of hyperbole or sarcasm, this is probably the most important news story of the last ten years.

Tattoo Hollywood, BME’s first tattoo convention, is coming to Los Angeles from August 21-23, featuring contests, prizes and some of the best artists from around the world! Click here for more information.