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The Baby Tattoo Roadshow Brings Coop, Gris Grimly, and Other Influential Artists to Mesa's Lulubell Toy Bodega on Tuesday Night

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Lulubell Toy Bodega co-owner Amy Del Castillo has an important piece of advice for anyone who's planning to attend tomorrow night's appearance by the Baby Tattoo Roadshow at the Mesa boutique: Come early.

That's because the four popular and highly influential artists who are participating in the tour -- rockabilly culture king Coop, macabre illustrator Gris Grimly, surreal-meets-swanky graphic designer Ragnar, and bizarrely beautiful doll maker Marina Bychkova -- are almost certain to draw a crowd during their stop at Lulubell on Tuesday, May 21. Plus, Del Castillo says, they'll be at the shop for a mere two hours. Better heed her advice and be plenty punctual.

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"I'm pretty geeked out for Tuesday," Del Castillo says. "It was a really special opportunity to bring these four to Arizona. Baby Tattoo is only doing six stops for this tour and they're really small stops so we're pretty honored to have them here. We're encouraging people to come out because it's one of those things that's like it doesn't happen that often in Arizona and I'd like to bring more of it here for the community."

All four artists will bring new prints and works to show off and sell at the signing session and meet-and-greet at the shop. They'll also have some compilations of their works from Baby Tattoo, the Southern California-based publisher with a particular yen for fringe, counterculture, and bizarre artists.

While a couple of the talents involved (such as Coop and Grimly) are regular visitors at toy or comics conventions across the country, Del Castillo says that tomorrow night's event offers the opportunity to not only meet such artists and get their creative efforts signed, it's a chance to witness their stuff up close and in person. And for a some of the artists involved in the tour -- like Bychkova, in particular -- getting an in-person gander at their work isn't possible outside a gallery or museum setting.

"A lot of Marina's dolls are usually shown in museums and places like that," Del Castillo says. "Marina will have this 'traveling set' of dolls that she's bringing with her, which is really cool, because for a lot of us, it's probably the only chance we'd ever see them unless it's at a museum in a big city. Baby Tattoo will have a book that's almost like a catalog of a lot of her work."

Bychkova's works are quite striking, to say the least. These self-described "enchanted dolls," which are made from porcelain, are adorned with lavish and extravagant-looking miniature jewelry or costuming and painted with intricate tattoos before being posed in opulent settings. There's a certain dark moodiness to her work, Del Castillo says, which adds to their bizarrely beautiful nature.

"Her dolls are just amazing. They look very highly detailed and it's kinda a really neat mix of realism," she says. "She hand-paints tattoos on a lot of 'em, which is something I've never [seen much] before."

Meanwhile the graphic design work of Ragnar boasts what Del Castillo calls a "kind of retro, lounge feel with a real angular, dimensional style that a little twisted in nature." It's a bit like Shag inasmuch as it offers a mid-century/space-age vibe, albeit with a bit of fetishistic feel.

"Shag is a little more lounge-y and happy and Ragnar has more of a darker twist," Del Castillo says. "He's known for his prints and designs, but he's also getting into a lot of kind of housewares and goods and has been doing different design elements with those. I'm not sure if he's gonna bring anything from those lines. I know he's bringing prints and whatnot on the tour."

Unlike Ragnar's creations, which flirt with the twisted, the works of illustrator Gris Grimly (self-described as the "Mad Creator") are firmly in the realm of the ghastly and ghoulish.

Influenced by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and Edward Gorey, the artist, filmmaker, and storyteller's oeuvre is filled with all manner of creepy beings, fiendish rogues, and other things that go bump in the night, as seen in such books as Sipping Spiders Through a Straw and Wicked Nursery Rhymes, as well as short films like Cannibal Flesh Riot and The Craving, and his most well-known tome Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Madness.

And then there's Coop (née Chris Cooper), arguably the king of rockabilly art whose signature style and such trademark imagery as hepcats, hot rods, devils, and ultra-voluptuous women has graced concert posters of rock and punk bands for decades, not to mention t-shirts, stickers, and art prints.

"Coop is probably the most well-known out of the bunch because he's done a ton of things in so many different genres. He began doing all those concert posters but kind of dabbled in so many different things," Del Castillo says. "He's big into the hot rod scene and cars and a lot of his art embodies that. A lot of tattoo artists, rockabilly people, and hot road enthusiasts know his work."

Del Castillo herself is an avid fan of Coop's work, and owns a couple of concert posters signed by the artist. As for those locals who'd love to bring in their Coop collections to be autographed, she says it may or may not get his John Hancock.

"I'm not sure what they're allowing. They're only gonna be here during a two-hour window, so they're probably going to be primarily focusing on selling their own stuff," she says. "People have been asking me that and they each have their own individual preferences, so I'm telling people, it's not gonna hurt to bring something, but if they want it signed. I think it will depend on the artist and it will depend on how many people are there. Since I'm not 100 percent sure, I'm telling people it won't hurt to try."

The Baby Tattoo Book Tour and Artist Signing featuring Coop, Ragnar, Gris Grimly, and Marina Bychkova takes place from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday at Lulubell Toy Bodega in Mesa. Admission is free.

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