The Austin Chronicle

From the Vaults: Rollo Banks' Dragon Tattoo

By Marjorie Baumgarten, December 23, 2011, 6:00pm, Picture in Picture

All this chatter everywhere about end-of-the-year movies, Top-10 lists, Oscar predictions, etc. becomes a din of yadda yadda after a point. But amid it all, there’s a word that keeps popping out at me, a word that rises above the white noise. That’s the word “tattoo,” as in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Tattoos always make me think about Rollo Banks, the great tattoo pioneer and godfather of the Austin tattoo boom, the peerless Chronicle artist and “cover master,” the former husband of my dear pal Margaret Moser, and a very, very dear friend to me. And the words “dragon tattoo” combined make me think of Rollo’s dragon-tattoo cover that was part of his Chinese New Year’s series. (Rooney Mara, I wish you well. I think your performance killed in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. And David Fincher, I’m in your corner, too. But, honestly, when I hear your film’s title, I flash back to Rollo.)

I use the past tense because Rollo died in 2007, a suicide. It shocked no one that this might be his response to serious illness, but the abruptness of his action and its finality shocked his friends nevertheless. He was one of a kind, and I loved his company and knowing that he always had my back. He was a good friend to me and many others whom I love. And his abiding love for The Austin Chronicle felt like an article of faith. All this repetition of dragon tattoos has put Rollo Banks in the forefront of my brain the last several days.

In addition to those covers that Rollo drew or commissioned for us in the Eighties, the Chronicle has probably printed more words about the man than any non-tattoo publication around. I’d like to share some of those links here. The first is a package of pieces published soon after his death. The first is “Page Two: All in the Family” by Louis Black. The next is a gallery of some of Rollo’s best covers: the Day of the Dead image and the Chinese New Year’s series. Stephen MacMillan Moser remembers his “husband-in-law” in “After a Fashion,” and Chris Gray (whose own health alarm has made him another prominent guy in our current thoughts) devotes "TCB” column ink to Rollo. Also recommended are Margaret Moser’s discussion of the 2002 book of his fine art in “The Image-Maker” and her 2009 blog post, “Homeward Bound,” about returning to Hawaii to scatter his ashes.

Look for the Chronicle’s Top 10 issue on January 6, as we kick off 2012 – the year of the dragon tattoo. I was born in the Chinese year of the dragon, and in a few weeks a new year of the dragon will be upon us. Here’s to Rooney Mara, David Fincher, and to … the great Rollo Banks.

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