You'd think that after three decades of Bill and Hillary Clinton, the people of Arkansas would be pretty tuckered in the outrage department. But Winona Martin, the owner of two San Diego tattoo parlors, recently learned that even scandal-weary Arkansans can still get worked up about the damnedest things. Martin, the owner of Tattooland & Primal Art in the Midway area and the Tattoo Gallery and Piercing Studio in the Gaslamp Quarter, found herself at the center of an old-fashioned Bible Belt throwdown after she erected a billboard in Harrison, Arkansas, to advertise her ink parlor in nearby Branson, Missouri. The ad for Aloha Nonie Lani's tattoo parlor featured a recumbent "Miss Anna," the same model shown in the Yellow Pages ad for Martin's two San Diego shops, proudly showing off the Hawaiian-influenced shark-tooth tattoo that runs along the left side of her body, from ankle to armpit. "The picture was originally the centerfold for Tattoo Magazine's 1998 calendar," says Miss Anna, a former hula dancer who now tattoos for a living and is headed to San Diego this month for a four-month stint at Martin's two local shops. "In the original picture I was actually naked. But the people who did the billboard, they're really good with computers and whatnot, and they computer-generated me a pair of panties and wrapped a ribbon around me so I look like a big box of See's candy." Unfortunately, the computer-generated effort to render the X-rated Miss Anna PG didn't play well with the locals. The people of Boone County, Arkansas -- 35 of them anyway -- signed a petition asking the local district attorney to remove the offending billboards, claiming they violated an Arkansas law that bans "obscene materials...that depict or describe in a patently offensive manner sadomasochistic abuse, sexual misconduct or hard-core sexual conduct...(which) taken as a whole appeal to the prurient interest of the average person...(and) lack serious literary, artistic...or scientific value."
The Starr Report might flunk that test, but Aloha Nonie Lani's ad was A-OK. That was the opinion, anyway, of the district attorney, Gordon Webb. He told the concerned citizens, most of them members of two Baptist churches, that while they could boycott Aloha Nonie Lani's if they were offended by its ad, "there's not going to be a state prosecution."
The reason, according to Webb, was that "no sadomasochistic abuse, sexual misconduct, or hard-core sexual conduct is depicted in the billboard." That's what he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, anyway. Miss Anna has her own theory. "I think the prosecutor kind of likes the ad," she says.
If so, he wouldn't be alone. According to a Harrison Daily Timesstory, even the woman who lives across the street from the billboard has come to like it. "It's just a work of art," the woman says. "Her privates are quite covered.... Besides, when I give people directions to my house, they never have trouble finding it."
Martin insists the ad wasn't a PR stunt, designed to rile the sleepy Arkansans and get the parlor's name on the news wire. Still, she admits, "You can't buy the kind of publicity we got."
"We didn't mean to offend anybody," Miss Anna says. "We were basically just trying to show people that tattooing isn't what everybody stereotypes. And we were just trying to show a different, softer, classier version of it. You know, we're female owned and we wanted to promote that femininity."
The fight isn't over. Rita Lancaster, the church secretary who organized the petition drive, told the Democrat-Gazette that she "plans to pursue the matter further." For starters, she told the paper, "We [won't] get tattoos for a while."
But the tattoo ladies have a new plan of their own. "I'll tell you a little secret that we haven't told too many people," Miss Anna says. "We're planning on putting up a rebuttal billboard." What would such a promotional riposte feature? "Well, me," says Miss Anna. "Just a little different picture. Still something a little risqué but different. And maybe I'd be holding a sign that says, 'Happy Now?' "
While the battle brews back in Arkansas, Miss Anna is headed to San Diego, where she will work out of Martin's two local parlors through July. "I've never been to San Diego," the 25-year-old says. "This is going to be my first trip down."
Raised in Florida, Miss Anna says she moved to Hawaii when she was 17, just days after graduating from high school. She eventually wound up in Martin's Waikiki parlor, where the proprietress, who says she's "a scout for talent in this business," immediately recognized the young woman's ability -- and marketing potential -- and put her to work.
"My mom used to always tell me, 'Oh, Annie. You've got to do something with your art. You draw so good,' " Miss Anna remembers. "And I can't think of a better way to express myself than permanently. It's the ultimate form of self-expression.
"It's amazing. People come in and they have a little small idea and you can shape it and form it and -- ta da! -- there you go, you have a permanent art piece. It's the only thing you can buy that is guaranteed to outlive you.
"I really like to do pin-up girls, kind of like the girls that used to be on the front of the bombers during World War II. I love doing those. They're just the greatest. I'm not talking about little roses or skulls. I really prefer to do big custom work."
Martin, who has owned San Diego's Tattooland for 13 years, got her start in the tattoo business in Alaska more than 20 years ago. But she says she was "influenced by the legendary Doc Webb," who operated a tattoo shop for decades near the Balboa Theater on Fourth Avenue in downtown. She now owns five parlors: one each in Waikiki, Hawaii; Yuba City, California; and Hollister, Missouri; and two here in San Diego.
The publicity the Miss Anna billboard generated in Arkansas has Martin thinking of erecting it in other towns where she operates parlors. "Would I use the Anna billboard in San Diego? You bet," she says. "It rocked their world in the Bible Belt. San Diego could use a little bit of that, too. They need somebody like Anna who enjoys what she does and has fun. It's still too much like Reagan's Ranch down there..."