Wax the Coping: Ben McQueen’s “Let It Kill You” Book
Let It Kill You is a book by Ben McQueen which explores the intersection of skateboarding and tattooing. Volume I includes interviews with Andrew Allen, Jamie Thomas, Tyler Bledsoe and Nathan Kostechko, among others. With a release party popping off tonight in LA, the time seemed right to hit up Ben to talk about the publication and find out why he decided to go analog in this digital age. —Michael Sieben
Print’s not dead—it’s red
Why a book? Why not an Instagram account or a YouTube series?
Books are tangible and they’re timeless. So many things these days just feel unstable and fleeting. Also, books have always played a huge role in how I tattoo, so they’re familiar. I like that this book won’t live in a cloud somewhere—it will be on a shelf to revisit over and over. I’m open to the idea of rolling this project into something different down the road, but it’s books for now.
Were there any inspirations for the publication?
Reading Thrasher played a big role. It’s been a huge source of inspiration for how I wanted this book to read and feel. I also had a few crucial people insert some ideas and opinions that really helped along the way. We started picking up books that we really loved and flipping through them trying to pull inspiration from anywhere and everywhere.
JT in the hot seat. Peep those KOTR trophies Photo: Andy Eclov
Who were some of those crucial people?
I met with Andy Pitts from DLX early on and he had some really valuable advice that helped me actually visualize a finished product. For so long, the whole thing just felt like an idea that was floating around and, prior to meeting with Andy, I had a hard time picturing it as a completed project. I cold called Andrew Fingerhut, who co-founded Raking Light Projects which is a fine art publisher that handles loads of bigger tattoo projects. I talked to him in the very early stages and he really helped put the project into more of a box, so to speak, because I was all over the place. He asked me all the right questions and poked holes in a lot of my ideas.
Is the book self-published or did you get some corporate cash injections?
Honestly, I didn’t even know where to begin when it came to asking for help, so I just sunk everything I had into it. I believe in the project, so it wasn’t a tough decision to make.
Ben’s interests coming full circle
What was your first skate deck? How about first tattoo?
The first board I bought was the Erik Ellington Baker board that had the shelf of booze bottles on it. I was probably 13, so I’m not sure what drew me to that graphic. My first tattoo was the Crailtap board logo. I went to the tattoo shop the day I turned 18, but didn’t really have a plan for what I wanted to get before I got there. I figured I would just pick something off the wall. When I got inside, the guy asked what I wanted. I couldn’t see many designs hanging around so I just had to blurt something out. I had just come from school and had a Crailtap sticker on one of my folders, so I just pointed at that and we did it right on my forearm—upside down and everything.
Do you have any other skate-inspired tattoos?
I got the word “skateboarding” tattooed across my forearm. Underneath it is the logo for RISE skateshop—my local shop growing up—which is just an outline of the state of Indiana with a heart over Indianapolis.
What’s a skate graphic you’d be hyped to tattoo on somebody?
I’d really love to tattoo the Santa Cruz Screaming Hand that Jim Phillips drew. That design is great. Any of that VCJ Powell Peralta stuff would be super fun, too. Those designs would actually translate into tattoos perfectly. I recently got to do the Powell Ripper design and it was such a blast.
Dressen probably has Jim Phillips’ number—jus’ sayin’ Photo: Brandon Burdine
What’s your most regrettable tattoo?
That’s a tough one. Tattooers are always interested in quantity over quality, you could say. People always assume that we are ultra picky and only get tattooed by the best of the best, but I would argue tattooers sometimes have the worst tattoos. I wish that I wouldn’t have covered my biggest and most visible spots before I decided what I liked or who I wanted to be tattooed by. I just wanted as much coverage as I could get as quickly as I could get it. I meet a lot of younger tattooers with the best tattoos ever. It’s crazy what social media did for the scope of collecting tattoos. But to answer your question, I have a pretty big, unfinished Darth Vader on my thigh that I don’t love.
When conducting interviews for this book, what’s the most common story about the intersection of skateboarding and tattooing? Like, what shared theme kept popping up most frequently?
It has to just be comparing the experiences. No matter what anyone’s level of involvement in skating or their list of accomplishments, it meant the same thing to all of us. It was direction and something to navigate us through those tough and confusing parts of growing up. We all ended up talking about the psychology of skating and those obsessive qualities that we developed and how that eventually led us to pick up tattoo machines. It’s always tough explaining to people why we kill ourselves over these two things, but finding out that you’re not alone in feeling like that was huge.
Hey, hey, it's AA Photo: Brandon Burdine
In your own words, what do skateboarding and tattooing have in common?
The irony is that I set out to do this project in hopes that through all of these conversations with people who do both of these things we would figure it out. But after all of this work, I still don’t know that it’s something I can nail down or put into words. I almost feel further from having a direct answer to that question. There are quick and easy answers, naturally—for example, I’ve never experienced that feeling that skateboarding gives me and continues to give me until I found tattooing. Rolling away from a trick that you had to battle for a long time is so similar to finishing a tattoo that you’re really proud of. There’s just a connection through tattooing that tattooers share with one another, just like in skateboarding. The communities are so similar in so many ways. Neither of these things have a ceiling, which I believe is integral in our obsessions. You can always be working on something or improving. Not too many things can offer that.
Who is your favorite skater? How about favorite tattoo artist? How about favorite tattoo artist who also skates?
I grew up idolizing Ed Templeton. I loved how much of his personality he was able to get through to people just through his skating, his brand and his artwork. I used to try and draw in that iconic Ed style—I’d stare at Toy Machine graphics and try to recreate them. My favorite tattooer is tough. Ed Hardy is an easy answer. His influence over tattooing is absolutely unparalleled. I guess I just like the name Ed! But I’ve always tried to pull from the people that I get to work alongside. I’ve been so lucky to get to work with some of the best tattooers in the world over the years. I was fortunate to get to work with Jef Whitehead a few times early on in my career, who is an absolute ripper of a tattooer and skateboarder. I tried to sponge up as many things as I could from being around him.
Chatting with Chad Koeplinger at Adventure Tattoo in Nashville, TN. That Crailtap logo wouldn’t have stood a chance in this shop Photo: Brandon Burdine
Have you tattooed any well known skaters?
I tattoo tons of skaters, which I love. I recently tattooed Kevin Braun, who I think is absolutely crushing it—best style ever. That Pier 7 part he put out is so insane.
Is there anybody you really wanted to get in this first volume that you couldn’t convince to sit down for an interview?
It was almost the opposite, which was crazy. I had so many people reach out and it was really humbling. I think that was part of what gave me so much confidence early on to make this thing as big as I could. I’ve been super fortunate that everyone has been into the idea and has been on board.
What about a bucket-list for skaters or tattoo artists for future volumes?
I’ve got a few people confirmed for the upcoming volumes that I’m really excited about. I’ve been so fortunate to have access to so many of my favorite tattooers and skateboarders. These communities aren’t necessarily as big as we make them out to be and I’m reminded of that when doing projects like this. Having said that, I’d love to open this up to more than just tattooing, but to look at the overlap between skaters and their artwork—have a discussion about where people pull influence and how much skateboarding dictates that type of thing. I’d love to talk to Mark Gonzales, Jason Lee, Greg Hunt, Ed Templeton—I’ve always been so fascinated with those people. And the list goes on and on. I’d love to sit down with Grime here in San Francisco. He’s an insanely-talented tattooer and lifelong skater.
The Chief speaks!
Random question: did Scott Bourne’s tattoos freak you out as a kid or did you think they were cool? I thought they were rad but also kinda scary.
I loved them. They were some of the first tattoos I had seen that were more artsy and less visual imagery. I think he was really ahead of his time for the tattoos that he was seeking out.
What do you consider to be the golden age of skateboarding? How about tattooing?
I’ve always felt like I just missed the best era in both skating and tattooing—at least that’s what I’ve always been told. I would have loved to experience more of the late ’90s era of skating and tattooing in real time. So many important things were happening for both things during that time period.
What do you hope for people to get out of Let It Kill You?
I hope people can feel these conversations as if they were sitting there with us while we’re talking. Doing all of these interviews in person was really intentional. If this book can inspire a tattooer to revisit skateboarding, or get a skateboarder to seek one of these people out for a tattoo, that would be incredible. As a tattooer and skater, if I’m able to nerd out with a skater about our favorite video parts or lifelong favorite skaters while I’m tattooing them, it’s just such a full-circle moment for me. I hope that if that’s the case for someone else and this book could become a topic of conversation, that would be amazing. Ultimately, I just worked really hard on this and I hope that comes through and that people love it as much as I do.
Congrats on the book, Ben! Hope you keep it rollin’ into Volume II Photo: Andy Eclov
How can people get a copy of the book?
We have four release parties lined up across the States—the first one is at Marriage skateshop in Los Angeles on October 14. Ronnie Campone is the best dude, and I’m so stoked to have the initial party at his beautiful new shop in Echo Park. After that, we have one lined up for my hometown skateshop—Minus Skateshop in Indianapolis on October 22. Huge thanks to my dear friend Nick Holub for hosting. Then we’ll be in Brooklyn at Labor Skateshop on October 28th, which is a favorite shop of mine. Thanks to James Rewolinski for having us. Lastly, Cal’s Pharmacy in Portland on November 12th. Thanks to Kyle Reynolds for opening up his space. There will be some exclusive merch available in each city for that night only, so I hope everyone can make it out. The books will go live online following the Brooklyn release at resolute-press.com or people can find a link on Instagram through @letitkillyoubook or @benmcqueentattoo.
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