Occupation: Hair stylist
Preoccupations: Japanese style tattoos, Israeli style martial arts
When you say someone has Japanese style tattoos, you don’t usually mean Hello Kitty — unless you’re talking about Venice, California’s Malina Huang.
“Hello Kitty, Little Twin Stars, My Melody, Chococat, Keroppi, Monkichi and Sailor Moon,” says Huang, pointing out brightly colored cartoon creatures — pop cats, bunnies, frogs, monkeys and space girls — tattooed up and down her left arm. “They’re all characters I loved growing up.”
The Japanese cute culture characters, almost all creations of Japan’s Sanrio Company, usually turn up as children’s toys and merchandise, anime series and video games. On Huang’s arm, they appear amid the sweep of a traditional Japanese tattoo.
“We integrated them all with the wind,” Huang says. Flowing depictions of the elements are a mainstay of traditional Japanese tattoo art, a tradition many believe goes back more than 10,000 years. On Huang’s arm, it appears as fresh as ever.
“My whole body is very Japanese-influenced,” Huang says, of tattoos that cover her arms, upper chest, back, bum and the backs of her legs to her knees. “I wish i was Japanese sometimes.”
Like many young Americans, Huang — whose ethnic heritage is Chinese — has a thing for Japanese culture, for “Japan cool.” She’s just taken the love affair a little further.
Japanime stars aren’t the only cartoon characters gracing her physique, however. Huang’s upper right arm features toon terriblés from Tim Burton’s outré animated musical, The Nightmare Before Christmas. On her right forearm, a tattoo of Lenore, artist and magician Roman Dirge’s darkly comic “cute little dead girl”, cuts up with a bloody pair of scissors.
“I got into Lenore around nine years ago,” Huang, 33, explains. “She’s really cute, yet pretty mean and evil. We all have two sides, a happy side and an evil one.”
In Huang’s case, her back side is given over to the light: A tattoo of a beatific Chinese angel, wings outstretched, floats between her shoulder blades.
Begun nearly ten years ago by an artist she won’t name, the angel was initially in need of its own salvation. Around that time, Huang was introduced to Chris Brand of Good Time Charlie’s Tattooland in Anaheim, California. Brand stepped in, and his masterful redemption (read: salvage job) of Huang’s botched angel earned him a friend — and customer — for life. It also earned him a chance to expand on the angel.
“Chris had never done a full back before, and I wanted to be his first,” Huang says. Brand surrounded the angel in a sea of peacock feathers and Japanese flowers that stretch “from the top of my neck to the backs of my knees.”
Brand went on to do both Huang’s tattoo “sleeves”, as well as her upper chest, and nearly a decade later, she remains a major fan of his handiwork. Even Huang’s mother, who’s not crazy about her daughter being covered in tattoos, appreciates them. They’re hardly alone: Total strangers routinely walk up and grab Huang to examine her animed arms. (Confession: That was my first impulse.)
“It happens, like, one-out-of-ten-times,” Huang says, of strangers crossing the line upon seeing Lenore and the rest of her unorthodox ink. “Some people are just ignorant about boundaries. I don’t mind people I know touching me, but total strangers…it’s pretty annoying.”
It’s also potentially lethal, since Huang studies Krav Maga, the storied Israeli martial art. It doesn’t strike me as a bad idea, considering her plans for more of Brand’s enticing ink.
“I plan to do a full body suit,” Huang says, at which point she’ll be completely tattooed from her neck to her feet. “I just have the rest of my legs to do, for now. After I have children, I’ll finish my stomach and chest.”
Huang’s keeping her plans for the additional art to herself, though she’s not otherwise shy about her skin art. She commissioned famed SoCal pin-up photographer, Mitzi Valenzuela, of Mitzi & Company, to shoot her in her own pin-ups. (The results can be seen in the picture that accompanies this piece.) Huang has also posed for photographer Tony Franco.
While she doesn’t seem to mind the attention, Huang insists that it wasn’t her motivation for getting the tattoos: “It wasn’t to say ‘Look at me.'” Nor did she set out with a tattoo master plan. “It’s not like I thought ‘I want to do a full body suit.'”
Huang’s motivation, it seems, was as innocent as the cartoon characters cavorting on her arms.
“I just thought it would be great to have all this artwork on me,” says Huang. “It just really makes me happy.”
Photograph of Malina Huang © Mitzi Valenzuela (all rights reserved).