Gary Hoag-Corio was 12 when an ex-convict taught him how to make a homemade tattoo gun. By 18, he’d earned the nickname Tattoo Gary, and he easily snagged a job at Ace Tattoo and its sister shop, Inkers. He followed the tattoo parlors to Ocean Beach in the ’80s, when redevelopment squeezed them out of Downtown.
More than 30 years has passed, but you can still find Hoag-Corio upstairs at Ace Tattoo on Newport Avenue. Ace has been around since 1947, which makes it one of the oldest tattoo parlors in San Diego. A lot of talented artists have put in time at Ace—Ed Hardy tattooed at the shop in 1973—so when the opportunity to buy the place arose in 1991, Hoag-Corio went for it.
Hoag-Corio has a Tom Waits-like growl and a mop of curly hair that resembles that of his poodle, Kara, who is always somewhere nearby, sometimes perched on his shoulder. When you sit down to get tattooed by Hoag-Corio— who can tattoo just about anything but specializes in color cover-up tattoos these days—you can hear plenty of stories, but two are at the top of the list.
“I was tattooing in Hawaii for a few years, and, one day, I got a call from a guy telling me he was famous,” he chuckles.
About half an hour later, John Bobbitt walked in. “He comes in and says, ‘Excuse me, but I was here first and I’m John Wayne Bobbitt, the guy who got his dick cut off,’” Hoag-Corio says.
Bobbitt asked for a heart tattoo adorned with the name of his Playmate girlfriend. Hoag-Corio, who did see Bobbitt’s scar for proof, warned him against getting a name tattoo, but he did it anyway. About a week later, a fight between Bobbitt and his girlfriend made the news.
“It was probably because of that dumb tattoo,” Hoag-Corio says.
Another night during the artist’s stint in Hawaii, he got a call from Flip Wilson, the now-deceased co median.
Wilson wanted Hoag-Corio to come to his hotel room. When he showed up, Wilson was in a robe and said he wanted a tattoo on his penis.
“So, I was setting up and I heard a noise like an air compressor and Flip comes walking out with a boner,” he says.
Hoag-Corio had to explain to Wilson that a boner wouldn’t be necessary, so Wilson lifted his scrotum and revealed a valve and let out air.
“He told me the pump cost him $17,000,” he says. “I guess he couldn’t get a boner no more, so that was the solution.”
Hoag-Corio tattooed an eyeball on Wilson’s penis.
“When it was over,” he laughs, “he called it his third eye.”
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