Bold-lined comic book illustrations on glossy pages have shacked up with the inks and needles of corporal art at Comic Culture and Artistic Hallucinations, the 320 Main Street tattoo parlor that also offers over 1,000 comic books.
“This is the Barnes and Noble of tattooing without the coffee shop, and Barnes and Noble doesn’t have this many comic books,” said tattoo artist Salvador Vargas of the collaboration with antique collector Chris Bouchard, which they claim is the “biggest comic book operation this side of the Hudson.”
The pair had planned to set up a combination tattoo and comic booth at New York Comicon this year. While they never did visit the convention, they implemented the idea on a more permanent basis here in Saugerties. Now, after their opening last month, they boast not only the largest local collection of comics and collectibles, but what they say is the cleanest tattoo operation in the vicinity, and being “one of the only places that prides getting [their] art on point.”
“I used to do antique shows and I set up in High Falls, that’s where I met Sal,” said Bouchard. “He was working at another shop and did my finger tattoos. When he moved here, I had him do my other tattoo — I was working at the Saugerties antique shop and we decided to open together.”
The two became close when Bouchard, who describes his religion as Norse Pagan, commissioned Vargas to ink symbols on his knuckles last year. On his ring finger, Bouchard wears the “anzus” symbol, which, he says, connects one with the gods. On his pointer is a triadic symbol called a “valknut” symbolizing the relationship between life, death and Odin, the head of the Norse pantheon. This year, before the pair joined retail forces, Vargas tattooed a “vedgvisar,” a Norse tree of life, on Bouchard’s bicep.
Bouchard’s family has been in the business of local antique peddling for years; he has been amassing collectibles since his childhood. His collection, the entirety of which does not fit into the pair’s small retail space, is comprised of over 4,000 titles, and can be brought in upon request. Bouchard also prides himself on his ability to find rare, sought-out books.
“I’m on Craigslist a lot looking and I have a few local collectors that I work with,” said Bouchard. “It’s very much like stocks: going from the one dollar books to the 100 dollar books, it’s always a good investment.”
Vargas, who claims to have “played with every single medium” including ice sculpture, ultimately became a tattooist because it is “one of the last professions where a computer can’t outdo [you].”
“On this coast there’s a very specific style — a lot of people say no to everything here … we’re trying to educate the clientele this side of the river. The industry is kept secretive because everyone is trying to make money.”
Each element of the tattoo process is entirely vegan, and they tout their operation as the cleanest in the area.
“We run the most organic situation here — everyone tries to take strides to keep up with us, but they don’t want to pay the way,” said Vargas.
Initially, Vargas prepares skin with his own formula of tea tree oil, eucalyptus and cucumber-infused liquid. Along with air sterilizers, a large coral reef in a tropical fish tank faces the tattoo station, acting as a “lung” by taking in air impurities.
“He had the fish, we used my tank — another collab between me and him,” said Bouchard. “We call it ‘aqua therapy.’”
Amongst the shelves of comics and collectibles are a series of vinyl records, all of which are for sale. Visitors are welcome to play this “store music” as an element of the kitschy atmosphere of the space, just another detail in the small, tightly curated dual space.
“We just wanted to take comic book art and make people experience it forever,” said Vargas. “You can come here, experience history and put it on your skin.”