It’s been almost two full years since LA Ink’s run, as the tattoo world’s leading reality series, ended. For original cast member, Corey Miller, the end of LA Ink offered the artist of twenty-five years the opportunity to reflect on his decision to work on the show and to consider the impact tattoo shows have had on the business as a whole.
Miller faced a lot of heat and criticism for what many in the industry described as his “selling out,” by agreeing to sling ink on screen. The artist himself even wondered if this was the right move. However, as more and more artists—past and present— are finding themselves in TV and movie projects, most of his critics have come to recognize Miller as more of a tattoo television pioneer and an ambassador for the skin art medium.
“I did a lot of soul searching before I did that show,” Miller remembers, “and I understand the whole thing about the underground. But, you know what? I have never forgotten that we are all carnies at heart. I am, anyway. And even back in the 1920s and ’30s and all, whoever had the biggest sign on their tent got the most business. In the 1940s and ’50s, there were American tattoo artists going on radio and talking about tattooing. In the late 1970s and early ’80s they did a documentary on tattooing for television. It’s always been there. And now media is even more a part of our culture than ever.”
In 2013, Corey Miller finds himself promoting a tattoo project produced for the big screen. Tattoo Nation, a motion picture that its producers have billed as “the true story of the ink revolution.” Miller is the movie’s narrator, and the project includes many of his friends, mentors, and contemporaries.
“This major motion picture documentary opened up in May designer drum set that bears designs born from Miller’s pen and imagination.
“We designed a Ludwig drum set in 2007,” Miller explains. “Before I ever did the TV show, I saw tattooing getting popular. And I got the idea to do a ‘tattoo drum set.’ So that was one of the biggest things I ever did. It was done before LA Ink but we showed the set on the show. But, by the time the show aired, the drum set had already sold out. That was huge for me.
“Then, after four seasons on a TV show, a guy I had tattooed a long time ago approached me about a project with a liquor company. The company wanted me to draw some artwork for their label. I treated the job just like a tattoo. I sat and spoke with company members, I heard what they wanted, and I created the work. It’s been two years, and they still are sending me out to parties. That is a trip.”
Miller most recently entered into a deal with the Bell Helmet to put his designs on a line of motorcycle helmets. Miller considers these opportunities as ways to bring his art into different fields, showing his hard work as well as being one of the “perks” of his good fortune and notoriety.
“Bell Helmet recently came to me because they saw me riding a motorcycle on television. They also liked my tattoo work. So, they want me to design helmets. It’s another great opportunity. I am very blessed that people saw me on TV and seemed to like me. I feel very lucky, and I am grateful. It’s been a humbling experience.”
While grateful for the opportunities to transcend the ink business, Corey Miller still recognizes that tattooing and operating out of Six Feet Under are the centerpieces of his professional life.
“I was a young kid— fifteen-years-old—when I got into tattoos, and it was more of an ‘outcast thing.’ And while I’m not that ‘rebel without the cause’ anymore at 46,1 do love to see that same spirit in young people.
“Now I’ve been with Six feet Under for over twenty years. I have been at my present location for sixteen years. Henry Powell has worked with me for over nineteen years; Larry Garcia has been with me for sixteen years; Neil Wilson works there with me. I have a great crew. Actually, the first two episodes of LA Ink were filmed in that shop.”
Asked about the process for getting session time at his work station at Six Feet Under, Miller offered no specific protocol.
“That’s where my dysfunction serves as a good thing. If I were a good businessman, I would probably be booked up for about two years.” Corey laughs. “But what I do is sort of hand pick my clients from the requests. If people are coming from out of the country, I’ll give them a lot of priority. There are other times when I’ll just do walk-ins. That’s always fun, and it keeps me in the spirit of how I got good at tattooing in the beginning. That’s what I did. People came in and I did whatever they asked for.
That’s one of the dangers of becoming well known—that you can just pick and choose to do the easy stuff. You can fall into that trap.”
There remains a split in the body-modification community about the role of tattooing in the mainstream media. However, Corey Miller has no regrets and offers no apologies for appearing on LA Ink, as he sees the opening up the inner workings of this industry to “mainstream America” as nothing short of a win/win situation.