Tattoo artists are receiving an influx of requests for Kobe-inspired ink
For many fans, Bryant’s legacy is living on their skin
Mister Cartoon has tattooed the likes of CC Sabathia, Amar’e Stoudemire, Eminem, Beyoncé and Kobe Bryant. Since Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash Jan. 26, Cartoon has had clients ask about tattoos to honor Bryant.
Fans even want to immortalize Bryant through ink, but it’s difficult to reach Cartoon because his studio is secluded in Los Angeles and is client-based. In 2010, Bryant and his wife Vanessa met Cartoon when she was considering the artist’s services to create a logo for her clothing line. Three years later, Bryant decided to allow Cartoon to ink his skin.
“When Kobe was young, he got a bunch of tattoos. Our goal that first day was to put them together and kind of remix his arm. I put some light rays and clouds on his shoulder. We did an angelic theme going through his arm,” Cartoon said.
Bryant was scheduled to have his youngest daughter’s name – Capri Kobe – tattooed on his right forearm on Feb. 5. “He wanted the baby’s name on his arm. I was really looking forward to it,” said Cartoon, who was born Mark Machado.
Years ago, he tattooed in fine line script each of the Bryant daughters’ names: Natalia Diamante, Bianka Bella and Gianna Maria Onore. The same tattoo pattern was prepared for Bryant’s next session with Cartoon.
While Cartoon inks mostly high-profile clients, other tattoo businesses have worked with grieving fans.
For example, Nikko Hurtado, the owner of Black Anchor Collective in Hesperia, California, and Black Anchor Gallery in Hollywood, California, is backed up with requests. Known for his lifelike portraiture and his appearances on L.A. Ink, Tattoo Wars and Ink Master, Hurtado is in demand. “I’ve had a lot of people ask, diehards that don’t even have tattoos,” he explained. “I think everyone is dealing with their grief. I have people getting portraits of him. I set up five appointments already. They want his face more than anything.”
Over the course of 18 years, Hurtado has permanently painted on celebrity clients including The Rock, Drake, Diddy, Rick Ross, Monica, Carlos Boozer and others. He won’t boast about his Rolodex or talk about tattoos that haven’t been started. But he did mention that the rapper Game reached out to him after finding out about Bryant’s death, and several other NBA players have contacted him about possibly getting a Bryant tattoo.
“I’ve had an influx of Kobe tattoos and people asking for black mambas since it’s happened. There are people going to dedicate big parts of their body, like forearms and lower legs, to portraits of Kobe,” Hurtado said. “It’s pretty crazy to see how many people he really inspired. These people are dropping a lot to fly all the way over here to get tattoos just to get something they want to be proud of.”
A tattoo at Hurtado’s shop can cost a customer anywhere from $150 to a few thousand dollars, depending on the design and artist who does it. However, at Pushing Ink Tattoo Studio in El Monte, California, co-owners Pete “Perfecto” Reyes and Rob Robles are charging symbolic amounts for Bryant-inspired tattoos. The Monday after Bryant’s untimely death, Reyes introduced a special for customers online.
“That’s when we came up with the $24 plus $8 tip,” Reyes said. “Our line was out the door. It’s just been kind of up and down as far as emotional, we have been doing a lot of tattoos on our customers and we’ve been hearing their stories.”
Reyes and Robles have been trying to accommodate as many patrons as possible. “We’re just trying to help with the healing process,” Reyes added.
Robles said he has a couple of hundred unread messages from customers who want to get Bryant tattoos done. He’s already tattooed a mural of Bryant tugging on his jersey after a big win on his friend Lucianno’s hip. But most of the tattoos he’s done on fans are the Los Angeles Lakers logo, Bryant’s logo, a mamba snake head, a silhouette of Bryant and the numbers 24 and 8, which have been the styles included in the promotion. For instance, a woman who said she was a huge Bryant fan and that she attended the game when he scored 81 points in 2006, picked the numbers 8 and 24.
“She hadn’t gotten a tat in 15 years,” Robles said. “This was something that she really wanted to get, just to remember Kobe. The whole time she was there, she just kept saying, ‘I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it. It just doesn’t seem real.’ ”