Everybody’s got a story to tell, a story about how someone changed their lives. Adrenalynn just happens to wear hers on her right arm.
The 23-year-old Plano native is happy to show off the tats that form a sleeve from her right forearm up to her shoulder. They illustrate the tipping point at which a former child model with the Kim Dawson agency and a student of ballet at Southern Methodist University became a tattoo artist herself, a body piercer, and, ultimately, a performer in adult films in the wilds of California’s San Fernando Valley, headquarters for the U.S. porn industry.
The real-life Adrenalynn is small, eye-catchingly pretty, and has multiple piercings on her face. But about that tattoo sideshow on her right arm: It begins, in vivid colors and bold strokes, with an inspiration that she and husband-manager Jarrod Richardson took from a 1999 comic book series titled, natch, Adrenalynn. It’s about a beautiful but deadly Cold War-era cyborg who’s been designed to destroy other Soviet warrior cyborgs. There was no historical or political agenda in the choice: The Richardsons just thought that the fembot warrior creation of artists Daniel Egeland and Tony Daniels looked cool.
And there is a strong resemblance. The comic-book Adrenalynn is drawn slender and busty, with a gorgeous pouty face, olive skin, and a steely glance in her dark brown eyes. The real-life Adrenalynn – or at least, the Texas woman who was transformed into that exhibitionistic creature – is similarly elfin, with that same haughty glint in her eyes. On the real arm, the comic-book heroine Adrenalynn is being tattooed by a rather deranged-looking clown. The clown, of course, is hubby Jarrod Richardson, the owner of Fort Worth’s Psycho Clown Tattoo studio and a start-up entrepreneur in the world of adult movies and photos.
Together, Adrenalynn and Jarrod Richardson, 39, hope to fuse the worlds of tattoo/piercing and pornography, two subcultures that may be further apart than most people think. For the adult-movie end of the business, they’ve created a corporation called Apathy International Multimedia to photograph, manage, and represent models. They hope to make inroads into California’s porn industry – especially for Adrenalynn, the rising star of the moment. And they’re also determined to create a national chain of tattoo/piercing studios spinning off of Fort Worth’s Psycho Clown shop. They want to use Adrenalynn’s potential stardom as an adult performer and a tattoo artist to further both endeavors. Mainstream pornography is only just beginning to accept models with tattoos and body piercings. They want to accelerate that. It may be a different kind of family business, but Jarrod and Adrenalynn are deep into the skin trade – in every sense of that phrase – and determined to succeed.
Based on background alone, Jarrod and Adrenalynn could hardly have been more unlikely recruits to the flamboyant, controversial subcultures of tattooing/piercing and porn. Jarrod, born into a devoutly Catholic family in Indiana, landed in Texas as a young teenager when his family moved to the Glen Rose area for his dad’s new job at the nearby Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant. The Richardson clan soon switched to a non-denominational church in Texas, where his father became a deacon. Jarrod lingered in the pews most Sundays of his young life, but there, as everywhere else, he felt like a loner. “I didn’t have many friends,” he said. “I wasn’t involved in activities in school. I hated homework. I didn’t want to blend in.”
In notebook after notebook, however, his imagination poured out in colorful drawings, many of them psychedelic-flavored and inspired by sci-fi and horror movies. He swears he was a non-drug user, non-smoker, and non-drinker; he didn’t even see his first Playboy magazine, much less a hardcore porn flick, until he was 18. High school could not hold his attention, but he managed to graduate. He moved out of his parents’ house and began supporting himself with various odd jobs in Granbury and Fort Worth: at car dealerships, music stores, and, eventually, tattoo shops. But before he began to work in the “body art” industry, he got burned by a bad-ink charlatan.
“I didn’t get my first tattoo until I was nearly 20,” he said. “I just walked into a place at random [in Fort Worth] and got the biggest one they had.” Drawn on his back, it was supposed to be “a naked chick climbing a spider web.” But when he looked in the mirror, he said, “I realized it didn’t look anything like the picture on the wall.” The experience pissed him off sufficiently to make him decide to turn his own artistic skills to what he calls “a living art form” and also started him on an informal educational campaign that continues to this day: As he tells potential tattoo recipients and anyone else who will listen, “Don’t just stumble into the first studio you see and get a tat. Do your research.”
In the early ’90s, he followed a girlfriend out to Odessa. Soon after moving there, he talked his way into an apprenticeship with artist and studio owner Rex Free, who ran Tattoo Fever. Jarrod went from sweeping and trash-bagging to the meticulous sterilization of needles to, finally, direct experience in needling the customers. Tattoo Fever was near a strip club, he said, and many of his early customers were “drunk strippers and club customers and a few Mexican bandido types who wanted to add to their collection.” Jarrod discovered he cared a lot more for the methodical work of “body art” than many of his early, inebriated customers. He said the idea of creating a picture that people would carry around for the rest of their lives gave him a thrill, even a feeling of importance. His tats were big-canvas pieces with thick lines, bright colors, and often seemed to move like action-film sequences. He wanted people to notice his work, even if his Odessa clients often couldn’t focus their eyes while he was working.
Andy Brodsky, one of Jarrod’s current tattoo-parlor associates in California, described Jarrod’s inkwork as being in “the ‘new school’ style of tattoos … not just tiny details or abstract designs, but big, bright, kinetic art. You’d notice his work from across the street.” Jarrod, meanwhile, learned about more than tattoo designs from Free, his Odessa mentor. He learned public relations skills – and absorbed the lesson that a tattoo operation needn’t be a seedy, nonsterile, illegitimate enterprise. Eventually, Jarrod moved back to Fort Worth and got a job at Casino Tattoo, on 28th Street near Meacham International Airport. The owner, who’s long since dropped out of the industry, was apparently not as savvy as Rex Free had been: Creditors were ringing the phone off the wall, and most of the staff tattoo artists “just plain sucked. They didn’t care,” Jarrod said.
As far as he could tell, he was the best illustrator there. The owner told him one day, “If you want this place, you can have it.” Jarrod had never considered owning his own studio – he thought business demands would distract from his own artwork, and he was about as far removed from your typical MBA grad as possible. But he took on the business, mollified the creditors with small payments until the shop was solvent, and recruited a whole new staff of needle artisans – including body piercers – whose work was up to his standards. He rechristened the place Psycho Clown Tattoo, and his clientele steadily began to increase, he is proud to say, by word of mouth. Soon after, he bought Skin & Bones Tattoos in Dallas. He owned the Deep Ellum tat studio for more than a dozen years, eventually selling it to concentrate on photography and Psycho Clown. In its heyday in the mid-’90s, the place was routinely packed.
Ralph Heatley III is a 44-year-old tattoo artist who virtually runs Fort Worth’s Psycho Clown shop when Jarrod and Adrenalynn are out of town trying to establish their brand. Heatley has been tattooing professionally for 14 years and has worked for Jarrod for six years. He is unsparing in his praise for the couple and for their attempts to create a reputation that draws new customers and maintains regulars. “I’ve worked at tattoo shops all over Texas,” he said. “Let’s just say a lot of the shops supplement their income with other sources, and that’s all I’ll say.” The Richardsons’ Psycho Clown establishment was different, easily the tightest ship he’d ever worked for. “I asked around a lot, and people said Jarrod doesn’t tolerate bullshit,” Heatley said. “He pays on time. He sterilizes all his equipment on time. If he thinks an employee is doing hard drugs, he’ll spring a urinalysis test on them.”
More than that, he gives his staff tattooists homework assignments – illustrations to copy so he can see how well they’ve progressed. But Heatley said the signature trait of Psycho Clown is its willingness, when customers consent, for the tattooists to improvise on the design offerings posted on the walls. The artists are allowed such freedom only if Jarrod approves, based on his regular reviews of their work. “I didn’t have to take out any advertising” for his tattoo businesses, Jarrod said. “Friends of friends who’d got tattoos would ask, ‘Where’d you get that?’” His “living art” spoke for itself on the streets of Fort Worth and Dallas – and eventually served as an introduction to a younger woman who would change Jarrod’s life in important ways.
The female tattoo artist-body piercer-porn performer known as Adrenalynn won’t reveal her birth name. “My life began when I became Adrenalynn” is her explanation. But even at 23, she is far from the naive, bubble-headed, drug-addled stereotype of … well, a tatted-up female porn performer who’s married to her manager. Her voice has a husky, confident Texas twang. She refers to Jarrod affectionately and archaically as “my old man,” and she doesn’t hesitate to cut him off or correct him in conversation. She sounds equally assertive when discussing the trajectory her young life has taken thus far. Her middle-class Plano parents got her started as a child model at the age of five, when the Kim Dawson agency took her on. Almost immediately, her sweet, pixie look caught people’s attention.
“I did catalog photos for the major department stores – Macy’s, Dillard’s, J.C. Penney’s,” she said. “I was always in front of adults, posing and smiling. Performing was a regular thing for me from the start.” She also took classical dance lessons from an early age and switched from modeling to serious ballet around junior high school, studying dance all the way through high school and into college. Her tiny, lithe frame and adept sense of rhythm helped her excel in the very competitive world of ballet. An honor-roll student with a zillion extracurricular credits, she eventually earned a full scholarship to study ballet at SMU. But a transformation had already begun.
“My problem was, I was too social,” she said of her high school days. “I was friends with everybody – the popular kids and the uncool kids, the achievers and the kids that didn’t achieve, the nerds and the druggies. I wanted everyone to like me. I had my foot in the mainstream and in the subcultures. “In fact,” she said, “I usually led the way” to new, off-limits places. “I was too confident – I wasn’t afraid of anything.” That meant that by the age of 15 she was an underage Deep Ellum scenester, sneaking into clubs with friends and haunting the two or three tattoo parlors that were popular there in the late ’90s. Despite the allure of the clubs, Adrenalynn said, she never became a smoker or drug user, and is only a light drinker. Tats, not the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, became the draw for her.
One of the parlors was Jarrod’s Skin & Bones. Adrenalynn loved the laid-back atmosphere, the weird characters, the feeling that this was a gathering place where lost souls could make definitive pictorial statements about what they loved and carry those statements around forever on their arms, chests, backs, and butts. At SMU a few years later, studying the ballet methods of George Balanchine and Martha Graham, she also took a part-time job at Skin & Bones as a receptionist. She and Jarrod chatted for hours, finally discovering that their interests were converging in an unusual place: erotic photography. Adrenalynn wanted to be a model; he was intrigued by photography as a visual extension of his drawings and tattoo work. They both liked a web site known as SuicideGirls.com. It wasn’t long before she dropped out of SMU and started working full-time at Skin & Bones.
For the record, the female-owned-and-operated SuicideGirls.com is not quite as scary as it sounds. It’s a subDELETEion-only web site where hetero men and lesbians gather to appreciate “alternative pinups” – i.e. women of various shapes and looks who share an affinity for tattoos, piercings, and semi-nude cheesecake shots. Think Maxim with a twist of fetish and a much sharper sense of humor. Also think “gone mainstream,” because SuicideGirls.com has become a magnet for left-wing political bloggers, posting interviews with the likes of David Lynch and Al Franken. Currently based in Los Angeles, Suicide Girls has a paid staff of 50 employees as well as its own clothing line, publishing imprint, and DVD distribution.
But back in the day, you had to audition, persistently and with bold creativity, to become accepted as a “suicide girl” – a model whose pinups were a regular part of the site’s content. That is, you had to keep submitting your own images to the Suicide queens for acceptance into their online pinup fold. And submit more. And more.
As she answered phones and ran errands for Skin & Bones in Dallas, Adrenalynn passionately wanted to be a Suicide Girl. Jarrod had tentatively begun a hobby of photographing female models in all kinds of exotic settings. And so they clicked, professionally and personally.
Jarrod began shooting pinups of his new girlfriend Adrenalynn, documenting the effects of his artwork – a gradually accumulating series of tattoos and body piercings – on her appearance. She simultaneously entered into an apprenticeship where she herself learned to needle, pierce, and scarify. That’s the art of creating body designs with scarred flesh via cauterized burnings and brandings. (“I do most of the scarifying,” Adrenalynn explained, “because Jarrod hates the smell of burning flesh”).
Her photos went from the predictable (dancing around a stripper pole) to the campy (a faux 1940s pulp paperback cover called Reform School Girls, which declares “A Shameful Path Led Her There – Scarlet Secrets Kept Her There”) to the hardcore (Adrenalynn reclining naked on a grassy lawn with an enormous scaly python or posing in sexual situations with men and other women). She claimed to love every minute of it. Jarrod, meanwhile, began to study the technical aspects of photography with more experienced professionals. From this work, a few years ago, was forged the Richardsons’ more ambitious business venture – Apathy International Multimedia. Originally operated out of a Dallas studio, it’s a commercial photography company with a staff of professional photographers who do everything from hard-core and softer “erotic” scenes for magazines, web sites, and the portfolios of models who want to enter the business to private work commissioned by couples. Jarrod’s done promo stills for upstart bands, fashion ads, even weddings. “I love landscape and still-life photography,” he said, but, “right now, most of our business is from the adult side.”
That work prompted the Richardsons to move Apathy to Santa Monica last year, to the heart of what some call the “San Pornando Valley.” They haven’t gotten their movie business launched yet, but in the meantime, Adrenalynn has done what she calls “boy-girl and girl-girl scenes” in about five adult films for other companies. Apathy also offers career management and advising for young women who want to enter into the adult business. The Richardsons basically hope to create a “synergy” between their tattoo business and their adult business, using Adrenalynn as the link. They’re talking about opening new tattoo studios in Dallas, Fort Worth, and California in 2009 to be called (surprise!) Adrenalynn Tattoo. “They fit right in with the rest of the characters on Hollywood Boulevard,” confirmed Brodsky, the co-owner of Krayden Creations in California, where Jarrod has been doing freelance tattoo work while he and Adrenalynn try to establish a professional presence in the Los Angeles area. “Adrenalynn goes skating up and down the strip, handing out fliers, talking to everybody. People gravitate to her. She’s become a ‘tattoo muse’ out here – one guy asked her to be the model for a piece he got on his arm.”
The recent success of reality TV shows like Miami Ink and its spin-off, LA Ink (featuring former Dallas tattooist Kat Von D), has drawn more people into the tatted-up fold, Brodsky said. (Heatley, the Psycho Clown manager, said Adrenalynn “deserves her own reality TV show. She’s charming, she’s smart as hell, and she knows how to tattoo and pierce. She knows how to make customers comfortable. And she’s one of the very few female tattoo artists working anywhere that I know of.”) Jarrod, too, has “a great ‘bedside manner’ with the clients,” Brodsky said. “He’s very serious, but he also gets them to relax. He makes them laugh. I never mastered a sense of humor while I’m working – I have to concentrate too hard. Jarrod makes sure they enjoy the experience.”
One of Jarrod’s career management clients is 22-year-old Stacy Armstrong, a soft-spoken, curvaceous beauty who works as a veterinary assistant in Granbury and competes in cutting-horse events on the side. Armstrong said she grew up accustomed to the admiring gazes of men and has nurtured a fantasy since she was a teenager of being a Playboy playmate. She learned about Apathy International through friends and submitted some amateur photos, along with her physical stats (waist size, dress size, bust size, shoe size, etc.) and proof that she was of legal age. She is currently working with Jarrod to build a portfolio and make the move out to California. “I never would’ve gone forward with this if it hadn’t been for Adrenalynn,” she insisted. “She sat down with me and said, ‘This is not a job for your regular Jane on the street.’ She told me never to let anyone talk me into anything I was uncomfortable with. And she said, above all, do your research: Don’t rely on what some guy with a camera tells you. Ask for references. Ask to see the work he’s done.”
One of Armstrong’s own portfolio series came from a session co-starring Adrenalynn, photographed by Jarrod. It had a “naughty nurse” theme, with Adrenalynn playing doctor and Stacy the “bi-curious patient.” Armstrong insisted both Jarrod and his wife were utterly professional and courteous. They told her exactly what to expect beforehand and followed the plan as explained. They’ve also passed along the names of photographers and production people that Adrenalynn has worked with and grown to trust in the Valley porn industry. “I’m not sure if I want to do movies or not,” Armstrong said. “I’d like to take my portfolio and break into the Playboy circle.” She’s well aware of how quickly female performers age out of the business – she figures she’s got only three or four more years to do her best, highest-paid work. What she eventually wants is to become a photographer, specializing in nudes and other genres of erotica. Jarrod has already explained some of the technical basics of a photo shoot and has said he’ll help her – while she’s an Apathy client – to make a career on the other side of the lens. “They’ve both been great,” Armstrong said. “I wouldn’t make a move without them.”
If this all sounds a little too rosy for an industry plagued by ethical, legal, and addiction issues, that’s because Adrenalynn and Jarrod work to make it that way. They claim they are building Apathy International as an exception to the old, unruly law of the porn jungle. Although relative newbies themselves, they have no illusions about the industry into which they’re breaking. “There are a lot of scammers, even in the mainstream companies,” said Adrenalynn. “The only place I’ve seen more drugs was back in my Plano high school.”
Even the logistics of arranging a sex scene in California are shaky. Porn “still exists in a gray legal area, so the location shoots keep changing” to avoid raids, she said. “You never know which crew members will show up. You never know who’ll show up high. There’s a lot of unprofessionalism.” “I’ve seen people walking around with bags of cocaine the size of baseballs,” Jarrod said. “These pretty girls move out here and start making good money. Then they get addicted to coke, and suddenly they have to have two or three roommates just to pay their apartment rent.” He believes his aversion to “drink and drugs” has repeatedly shut him out from the right L.A. parties, the right people, the right opportunities. He and Adrenalynn also said they have met quite a few people in the same situation – performers, photographers, and producers who don’t like the whole mind-altering requirement for admission to the porn biz.
They both sound impatient about changing that self-destructive litmus test. They want Apathy International to develop a pioneering reputation in its new Santa Monica digs: no illegal drugs on set, no sexual pressure or freaky ulterior motives, mandatory use of condoms by male performers (an HIV scare several years back unfortunately didn’t substantially change the heterosexual porn industry’s practices), and, above all, the voluntary participation of women in all areas of the industry, as models, photographers, and producers. It’s a credo not too different from the sanitary and aesthetic requirements that Jarrod imposes on Psycho Clown Tattoo and formerly enforced at Skin & Bones.
Adrenalynn also wants to destroy one taboo within mainstream porn. (There is one?) It’s all about tattoos and piercings. Last month she was featured on the cover of Digital Playground’s DVD release Deeper 9. Digital Playground is a mainstream adult company that gave her a lot of promotion, including an autograph appearance at California’s Adult Video News Con last month. But her contract forbade her from getting any more tattoos before the film – she already had enough for Digital’s tastes. “That was a one-time contract,” Adrenalynn said. “Now I’m ready for more tattoos.” And for more porn flicks, at least in the near future. She’s also aware of the age ceiling that prevents long modeling careers for most women, and she shrugs it off. Porn “is fun, but it’s not the most mentally stimulating work in the world,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to do it forever.”
She acknowledges the widespread condemnation that the business receives. Does she ever wonder what would have happened had she stuck to one of those other paths she was groomed for – mainstream modeling or ballet? She responds with a question of her own: Do you know how many fashion models and ballet dancers have drug problems and eating disorders? The world of tattooed porn, she insisted, isn’t closing doors for her – it’s opening them. At 23, she already feels qualified to be an agent, a tattoo/piercer, a producer, and a business owner. What she hasn’t managed yet is to win approval from her family back home in Plano. “They’re not too supportive of my tattoo work, no matter how lucrative it is,” she said. “Her parents know me and like me, but they’re bipolar. They can’t decide,” Jarrod said. When he and Adrenalynn finally married last year, her parents were planning to attend but canceled at the last minute. Did it have to do with her recent work as a porn performer? “I don’t think they know I’ve been in movies,” she said. “We’ll see how they feel when this story comes out.”
You can reach Jimmy Fowler at firstname.lastname@example.org.