Deviant facial ink still taboo to some
When Countess Coitus Carcass was a young girl living near Carseland, Alta., she had reoccurring nightmares about sharp, menacing needles stabbing her face.
As a child, the only tattoos she had ever seen were her grandfather's aging war tattoos, which were sloppily done and faded beyond recognition. She says the idea of getting a tattoo never crossed her mind. At least, not until she was 14 years old.
"I almost wonder if (the dreams) were a premonition about my face tattoo," says Carcass, now 34.
"I always drew on my legs and I was kind of impulsive," Carcass says. "It definitely wasn't something I put a lot of thought in to. I was willing to be talked into it."
After moving to Victoria, B.C. two years previous, a friend of Carcass's built his own tattoo machine and, without much forethought, Carcass acquired her first ever tattoo. To this day — camouflaged against the other skulls, vaginas and gnarly flesh tattoos that adorn her body — the outline of a 20-year-old faded skull is still visible on her left shoulder.
Since then, Carcass estimates she's spent more than $7,000 on tattoos, which, considering the amount of ink she sports, sounds like a real bargain. The savings probably comes from doing some of her own tattoos in the comforts of her own home.
Despite her initial fear of tattoos and needles, Carcass displays tattoos that both frighten and fascinate. Her facial tattoos especially. The exposed jawline shows broken and missing teeth and rotting flesh. She has half a dozen flies crawling around her eyes and a slashed neck that's so real you could almost swear her tendons and arteries are gruesomely exposed to world.
She's the kind of woman you never forget — one way or another.
A walking piece of art
Carcass says one of the main motivations for getting her tattoos is stress.
After her brother died form autoerotic asphyxiation, after her best friend died of an overdose and after she endured two marital breakups, Carcass headed to a tattoo parlor to feel a different kind of pain.
"My second husband made me want to cut my throat just to get away from him, and when I finally did get rid of him, I often thought of getting myself tattooed to represent the end of that period of my life," she says.
To Carcass, her wounded throat represents not only the misery she felt during that sorrowful time in her life, but also being set free from the shackles of a crippling relationship.
"To change my appearance as drastically as possible was to change who I was," she says.
Countess says she's now happily married to her third husband, Nickolai Splinters Carcass, who supports her hobbies, tattoos and lifestyle. He even paid for her facial tattoo as an "I love you" gift — showing that stress isn't the only motivator for her tattoos.
"I always wanted to be a walking work of art as a person, a character, inside and out," she says. "Why do you want to be forgotten? That's part of the reasoning (for my) face and neck tattoos — you're going to remember me whether you like it or not."
Carcass has even gone one step further to make an equally permanent change to her self-image. She legally changed her name, from the "bland" Michelle Jones to Countess Coitus Carcass, two years ago to separate herself from the pack.
"I just wanted to be whoever I wanted to be," she says.
Standing out from the pack
Carcass says she has always had to deal with being an outsider, even within her own "group." Her main inspiration has been metal and punk music, but both factions tell her she's not quite there.
"I was always this way. I don't fit in. People in the metal scene would say I'm not metal, people in the punk scene would say I'm not punk, yet I had a bigger mohawk than any of them," she says. "I developed independently and I have my own likings and dislikings."
Though she wears her rough, garish nature on her sleeve –– and everywhere else for that matter –– people often mistake her for a rogue without a soul.
"A lot of people are really scared of me, especially younger men. If you came up to me and talked to me I'm really friendly and warm," she says, with a grin that turned her exposed jaw upward towards the flies around her eye.
Brandoh Boyko, one of Carcass's many tattoo artists, says she's a positive, enlightened gal with a fantastic, positive attitude.
"She has up and down sessions. Some are better than others based on how she's feeling. All that stuff contributes to a tattoo. She's a champ," he says.
Employment not an issue
Countess started her face piece with the flies, easing her employer at a Calgary medical lab into her dramatic tattoo plan. "Next thing you know," she says, "I'm coming into work with zombie teeth on my face."
Despite her wayward persona, Countess is a well-spoken, career-driven woman who's in high demand in her field.
She works as a lab assistant in a medical lab and was hired there before she got her face tattoos.
"I absolutely love my job, especially microbiology," she says. "I get to grind brain tissue. I like puzzles and I like math and science for that reason. It's a precise kind of work."
Because she works the night shift, she doesn't see the public and only sometimes converses with medical doctors during the early morning hours. She often leaves her tattoos fully exposed — or haphazardly cakes on makeup to blur the lines.
"I've never actually been asked to cover them ever, including the face," she says. "I do that voluntarily."
Her true guilty pleasure is shocking those who haven't seen her tattoos before.
"I love it when someone from outside the lab, like an maintenance guy, comes in because they're not used to seeing me," she says. "They just whip their heads around with their eyes bugging out, it's hilarious."
Carcass says her employer accepts her but she knows that facial tattoos can be a deal-breaker for those seeking a job. She suggests people should never commit to a facial tattoo unless they are comfortable in their career, like she is.
"I'm going to be at the lab forever," she says.
On the off chance that working at the lab forever doesn't pan out, Carcass says she'll find a waitressing job at the metal bars she frequents. She's made a lot of friends there.
"It wouldn't pay very well, but I don't need a ton of money."
If anything, she says it would give her more time to work on her hobbies: burlesque dancing, creating comic books and designing band art for local metal bands.
Boyko says he cautions those who want facial tattoos. "I'll say no if someone comes in looking young and doesn't have a career established," he says.
"I insist if they don't have any tattoos, they should get it done somewhere else (on their body) so they know what it's all about, how it feels and what comes with having a tattoo," he adds.
Carcass went to six tattoo artists before she found one at the Calgary Tattoo Company willing to put ink to face.
"I'm willing to take what they're willing to give at this point," she says. "It's a personal preference or an employer thing for artists. I signed a whole lot of paperwork before I got my face done."
Abuse and labels
Carcass is no stranger to verbal abuse. She says her tattoos spark curiosity as well as dissent from those who don't understand her.
"I've had a lot of people try and label me, but I'm just me. If you need to label me to be comfortable, that's fine, but you're wrong. Everyone looks the same and they're so forgettable. (People) are afraid to be unique and I have no respect for that."
She says she has found a pattern among her dissenters, one that doesn't surprise her much.
"The older the people they are, the meaner they are. Especially old men, they hate me on sight.
"I think it's because they don't have the balls to get it themselves and it makes them look less masculine," she says. "They're (often) redneck-y and used to being the toughest one in the room."
Despite all the stares and gasped mumblings, Carcass says she ignores comments thrown her way.
"Some guy insulted me all through a lunch and I didn't hear it or notice it. My husband was like, 'you should have heard (what) that guy was saying about you, you didn't even notice and it was making him angrier!'" she says. "He was actually getting up out of his chair and insulting me loudly in a crowded restaurant. I tuned him out so well I didn't even have any memory of that guy."
Boyko says that although tattoos are becoming more popular, neck and facial tattoos are still taboo for many employers and onlookers.
"I definitely feel like they change your life," he says. "I know I've been thrown out of bars and singled out in a crowd by police (because of my tattoos)."
Carcass says she's extremely happy with her life at the moment, adding that it's difficult to finish her ongoing tattoo projects because she's too happy to deal with the pain.
- By JODI EGAN and LISA TAYLOR