Jesús “Cartoon” Reyes at work: “I’ll do anything — it’s your life; if you want it, I got you.”
When you’re paying someone to carve a piece of permanent art into your skin using needle and ink, you want him to have experience.
Jesús Reyes — better known as Cartoon or simply ’Toon — has quite a bit of it, nearly 20 years’ worth. Half of that time as a tattoo artist comes from work he did on fellow inmates during two stints in prison.
“I was tattooing every day in there, even during lockdowns — I guess [prison] was my university,” says Reyes, who’s currently on parole for a gun charge from Texas. He was arrested there while on the lam for an armed robbery and homicide here in Wisconsin.
“The homicide case was dismissed but I did four years in Green Bay for the armed robbery,” the 34-year-old explains. “After that, I had to go back down to Texas for the gun charge, and because it was federal, I got shipped to Kentucky to do four more years on that.” He was released in May 2015; his parole may end next August.
Although tattooing in prison is illegal, Reyes says the guards turned a blind eye to it. Of course, Reyes wasn’t able to take his $2,500 professional tattooing machine into prison with him. Instead, he built a makeshift machine using an electric hair clipper. “You take off the blade and use the motor — it moves back and forth just like [a tattoo machine],” he explains.
It wasn’t his first time using homemade equipment — he was trained on a machine like this by his uncle when he first began getting and giving tattoos at 15.
Reyes got his first gig at a tattoo shop when he was 22. After settling into the professional atmosphere, it was clear he’d found his passion. “What I love most is that I get to meet new people from all walks of life during their highs and lows, good days and bad,” says the father of two. “I spend hours and hours with these people and before you know it, we’re friends.” Sometimes, he even plays therapist. “There’s a lot of laughing, a lot of relationship talk,” he adds. “Sometimes, there’s even some crying.”
On a recent Thursday night at Made You Look Custom Tattoo, Reyes is beginning a large, full-back tattoo of roses encircling lyrics to the Eagles’ “Desperado” for Rebecca “BossLady” Barber, a hip-hop DJ at WORT-FM.
This is her fifth tattoo by Reyes since early summer. “I’ve had the ideas for these for a long time, so when I found the right person, it was time to get them done,” she says. As for the design process, Reyes says it’s an even split between those who come in with a design already versus those who want him to draw something based on an idea. “Roses seem pretty popular right now — I’ve been doing about two to three a week,” he adds.
Reyes likes the variety of the designs that people want. “A lot of people get them for religious reasons or it’s a cultural heritage piece or as a memorial or a celebration of something,” he says. “It’s always something important to them, [and] I like being a part of that.”
While Reyes has seen his fair share of bizarre requests, he won’t talk you out of any tattoo. “I’ve done a lot of cover pieces to hide [bad choices] like gang tattoos and racist stuff,” he says, adding “but I’ll do anything — it’s your life; if you want it, I got you.”
Made You Look Custom Tattoo 1440 E. Washington Ave., 608-255-5665