— Beleaguered Sarah Ferguson may have been the talk of New York City’s annual BookExpo America this week, but Julia Gnuse was undoubtedly the most memorable sight at the show. The 54-year-old California woman drew double takes from one end of the Jacob K. Javits Center to the other.
That’s because Gnuse is covered in ink from one end to the other. When it comes to tattoos, she puts the likes of Jesse James paramour Michelle “Bombshell” McGee and Kat Von D of “L.A. Ink” to shame; vivid designs cover some 95 percent of her skin. Except for part of her upper lip area and the skin near her ears, it’s hard to find a spot where Julia isn’t inked.
It’s earned the woman dubbed “The Illustrated Lady” a spot in the 2011 edition of Guinness World Records, which she helped promote at the expo in advance of its Sept. 15 release.
While Gnuse admits she inspires comments such as “How could you?” when it comes to her body art, she insists her tattoos are not a vanity project; they’re actually a type of camouflage. Gnuse suffers from cutaneous porphyria, a skin disease that causes overproduction of enzymes, leading to blistering even in moderate sunlight.
“I did this for the reason of covering up scarring from the blisters,” Gnuse told London’s Daily Mail. “They get as deep as a third-degree burn. I had a friend who is a plastic surgeon, who suggested tattooing my skin the same color to the scarring that I had, seeing if we can match my just pale-looking skin that I had.”
The ink-to-skin match proved difficult at first, but once Julia had a few tattoos, “I got hooked, I got addicted.”
Pop go the icons
That may be an understatement. Gnuse proudly displayed her hands, which feature familiar faces from Santa Claus to comics icons Wonder Woman, Archie and the Peanuts gang. Exposing her hip, Gnuse showed off a large tattoo of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, not far from the Three Stooges.
Her belly is equally busy, with a jack-o’-lantern, a Dalmatian dog and, for some reason, a have-a-nice-day smiley face dressed as a pirate.
Gnuse is a musician, and all of her myriad tattoos were rendered by Art and Steve Godoy, identical twins who are punk-rock musicians as well as tattoo artists.
As far as drawing stares goes, Gnuse says, well, that’s part of the point of getting covered in ink.
“I love people,” Gnuse said in an interview on “Larry King Live.” “I’ve had a lot of psychology in my life, and I’m very understanding of what reactions will be, responses and so on.
“I’m able to take it, you know? However it comes out of someone’s mouth.”