Michael Malone Obituary Name Plate

The New York Times
April 30, 2007

Michael Malone, 64, Who Drew Tattoos
With Flash and Flourish, Is Dead


Michael Malone, a tattoo artist renowned among his peers for helping to popularize and standardize tattooing through the vivid images of dragons, daggers, cartoon characters and crests that he distributed to tattoo parlors around the world, died on April 17 at his home in Chicago. He was 64.

Mr. Malone committed suicide after a long illness, his business partner, Keith Underwood, said. Mr. Malone, who assumed the pen name Rollo Banks early in his career, was noted for standardizing "the flash," the 11-by-17-inch posters on tattoo parlor walls that show up to a dozen images from which clients make their choices.

"What Rollo did was produce clean yet powerful tattoo designs and circulate them across the globe," said Chris Midkiff, editor of Tattoo Artist magazine. Before Mr. Malone, Mr. Midkiff said, "most tattoo shops hand-drew their own flash. Mostly it was bad drawing by people who weren't really artists."

Mr. Malone was also known for intricately blending iconic Asian and Western images, sometimes with a dash of iconoclastic humor. In one design he combined a fiercely protective Buddhist deity, Fudo, with Bluto, the menacing thug from Popeye cartoons.

In an interview on Tuesday, Don Ed Hardy, a noted tattooist and the author of a 2002 book about Mr. Malone, "Bull's-Eyes & Black Eyes" (Hardy Marks), described a nearly full-body tattoo that Mr. Malone created for one client.

"He did a shortened kimono, open down the middle of the torso, down the back to the thighs, and just past the elbows," Mr. Hardy said. "He drew a huge multicolor Godzilla on the guy's back, and on the front and arms were other figures from Japanese monster movies." The price: "More than $5,000."

Mr. Hardy said Mr. Malone was the first tattoo artist to distribute flash sheets featuring Hawaiian designs from the time before missionaries arrived in the 1800s — arm, leg and wrist bands of interlocked triangles, diamonds and arrows.

Last October he was one of six artists featured in an exhibition, "Marked Men: Fine Art from 6 Influential Tattooists," at the Old Dominion University Gallery in Virginia.

Michael Alfred Malone was born on April 25, 1942, in San Rafael, Calif., a son of Francis and Evelyn Malone. His father was a house painter who made kites from brown paper and encouraged his son to paint images on them. Mr. Malone is survived by his brother, Steven, of Santa Rosa, Calif.

Steeping himself in California's 1960s counterculture, Mr. Malone worked in San Francisco on rock shows that had psychedelic lighting while studying ceramics and carpentry. He moved to Manhattan in the late '60s and, under the tutelage of a local tattooist, began decorating clients at his downtown apartment. In 1971 he helped organize an exhibition called "Tattoo!" at the Museum of American Folk Art in Manhattan.

A year later Mr. Malone moved to Hawaii and became a protégé of the artist known as Sailor Jerry Collins, who was famous in the industry for introducing a sophisticated style and vivid new colors to the skulls, roses, hearts, tigers and sailing ships of classic tattooing. When Mr. Collins died in 1973, Mr. Malone bought Mr. Collins's company, China Sea Tattoo, in the Chinatown district of Honolulu, and with it his mentor's designs.

With those images and his own designs, Mr. Malone started several mail-order businesses, including one called Mr. Flash. Mr. Midkiff of Tattoo Artist magazine said that under the Mr. Flash logo Mr. Malone produced approximately 300 sheets with more than 3,000 designs.

"Rollo educated the bulk of the tattooers everywhere," he said.

Mr. Malone, a 300-pound six-footer with a close-cropped beard, never made a fortune from his business and never took himself too seriously. In an interview with Mr. Midkiff last year he criticized tattooers who think they are "building a monument to themselves."

Tattooers are "outlaws," he said. "Like this tattoo I did yesterday — it said 'Scalawag.' And I like that. It's part of who we are: scalawags."