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Erik "The Lizardman" Sprague said he didn't know much about New Zealand but was interested in our natural scenery, the All Blacks, and of course, Maori tattoos.
Known for his forked tongue and extensive, reptilian body tattoos, Sprague was also odd for being a rugby-mad American. He picked up the oval ball at university in upstate New York, the same place an epiphany led to his freakish physical transformation.
"I played rugby with stretched ear lobes, a split tongue and the filed teeth. But once I got the implants on my forehead, they were too much of a liability, especially since I played hooker."
If he weren't The Lizardman, he said he'd be probably still be studying philosophy or lecturing at colleges.
But Sprague, 42, said there was more money scaling the heights of the freak-show circuit. His startling change began almost 20 years ago with an interest in body paint and costumes.
"I wanted to bring more permanence into my art work and performances," he said. "This was going to be the best way for me to express myself as a person and an artist."
He lives with wife Meghan, a neurology nurse, and their three pet ferrets Jezebel, Kabuki and Luna in Austin, Texas. He met Meghan at a show in Austin after starting to morph into Lizardman.
"She's the groupie that I kept," he joked.
The Lizardman arrives on Thursday to promote Ripley's Download the Weird, a book with interactive features, interviews and trivia.
When not travelling overseas, Sprague can be seen at tattoo conventions and comedy club gigs, but said every week was different.
"The closest thing to a routine I have is changing the dirty laundry... and trying to spend some time with the wife."
Srpague said he had a largely vegetarian diet. He disliked the taste of meat but did admit eating insects, stemming from a childhood interest in bush tucker.
He was heartened when people he met at conventions said he inspired their own tattoos and body art.
"Part of my motivation is to make the world a more interesting place. It doesn't matter how weird you are, how different you are, what your ideas are. Go ahead, stand up and be yourself."
- By John Weekes of the Herald on Sunday
The Lizardman's appearances
Thursday, November 8
3.15-3.50pm Whitcoulls Botany Downs
5.00-5.40pm Whitcoulls Albany
6.30-7.15pm Real Groovy Records
Friday, November 9
12.00-2.40pm Big Boys Toys
3.30-4.15pm Paper Plus Sylvia Park
Saturday, November 10
12.00-3.30pm Back at Big Boys Toys