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Posted: December 3, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Interesting ink

Tattoo art sub-culture to be featured in documentary

By Gabriel Khouli/

Extraordinary art: Local tattoo artist Beth Rockmore creates a family-themed tattoo for Conyers resident Michael Mills, a treasure chest with jewels. Each jewel matches the gemstone of one of Mills family members. Though he's heavily tattooed, M...

Michael Mills is a paraplegic, wheelchair marathoner and racer, but when most people pass him on the street, all they see is a heavily tattooed man. That attention is both a blessing and a curse.

"Growing up in small town, it was very (homogenous), everyone was the same, and I always wanted to be different," Mills, a Conyers resident, said Thursday. "I think it gives you a little edge, knowing someone is looking at you, whether negative or positive. People say ‘Oh my God! Does he have that many tattoos?’ It’s a little bit of an ego boost."

At the same time, not everyone welcomes the presence of heavily tattooed people in their community. Most people are simply curious, but Mills has been asked whether he got his tattoos in jail and he’s been told he’s going to hell. He’s also been turned away from a church in Marietta and is trying to find a local church that will accept him.

"That’s one of the hardest things, looking for church," Mills said. "So many people are afraid of getting tattooed because of how people perceive us. Part of the biggest satisfaction is getting to the point where you don’t care how they see you, because (the tattoos) make me happy."

His story is one of a handful that will be included in a documentary being produced by Nick Cangeme of Florida-based Red Pineapple Entertainment. The privately-funded documentary, "Color Me Equal" (colormeequal.com), is not about the tattoos themselves, but about what happens to a person after they become heavily tattooed.

"Your entire life is changed because of tattoos. I’m doing this documentary for the community that I’m a part of, our subculture is getting so much national attention," Cangeme said. "Even if I wasn’t a film student, I would make this documentary."

Cangeme’s production partner used to tattoo Mills and felt he’d be an interesting subject for the documentary, because he’s heavily tattooed and paraplegic.

Mills works for the federal government and knows firsthand the difficulty of having tattoos one can’t cover up. Luckily for Mills, his boss understands his passion, and believes in Mills the person, not the mythical person others believe him to be.

Tiki Tattoo owner Beth Rockmore, who will be featured in the documentary working on a tattoo on Mills, said this area is welcoming, but that doesn’t prevent her from getting plenty of stares and questions — and new customers.

"It’s not just the younger generation, which you’d imagine it would be. People in their 40s and older, who once were put off by tattoos, come and get their first tattoo, and then say ‘Oh, I want a sleeve or a back piece,’" Rockmore said.

Rockmore contends the tattoo subculture will continue to grow. Her first tattoo was a small butterfly and that got her hooked. She’s lost count of how many she has.

For Mills, tattoos will always be a part of his life, because they remind of him who he is and who he wants to be. His first tattoo was on the inside of his lip.

"It was a symbol to be drug and alcohol free for the rest of my life," said Mills, who was paralyzed because of a wreck involving a drunk driver. "It’s my emotion, just for me. Only I knew it was there."

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