The Stories Behind My Tattoos

Yesterday, I sat with my artist Todo at ABT Tattoo and underwent what I consider a most fantastic kind of bliss -- having work done on my tattoos. He completely retouched the Ghost in the Shell piece on my right shoulder:

Beauty, isn't it? I love it very much. Major Kusanagi is totally my girlfriend. My wife doesn't mind. So why do I have her on my arm (aside from my having her as a mistress)? Ghost in the Shell is one of my favorite anime films of all time, second only to Akira. But more than that, Masamue Shirow is one of my "foundational artists" -- an artist who I studied night after night when I was a boy trying to learn how to draw. I love his work. He inspired me to want to be an artist.

In fact, every tattoo I have has this in common -- a representative piece from an artist / creator who inspired me and made me want to be who I am today. But there's more. Why do I have any of my tattoos? Am I just a huge fan of anime and comics? Well... Yes. But there's a motif and a story behind each one beyond "it looks fucking cool".

The Ghost in the Shell Piece:

In this image, she's dissected -- half robot, half flesh body. She's being programmed by the machines which built her. Throughout her journey in the stories, especially after bonding with the Puppet Master AI, she questions the line between programming and soul/spirit/mind. This is a line I've walked my entire life; determining whether I'm behaving due to my spirit and nature, or because this is how society / my family / my world has programmed me to be.

I decided to get The Major on me at some point around age 19. I wanted her to be in her standard BDUs and carrying crazy guns; a soldier in battle against enemies who looked just like her but weren't anything like her. But due to a crazy fear of tattoo parlors garnered after the artist working on a very short-lived piece on my back was hit by a bus and died, I waited on it.

By the time I was ready, in May 2009, I realized I was exactly what she is -- a soul in a shell; a thinking contemplative spirit in a human body, augmented by my personal armors. I was constantly being fed information (hence the tubes and wires), and while I continually feel naked as I expose and explore more of myself in public, I realize that openness and nakedness is actually my form of armor. It makes me impervious to insult and secret and backstabbing -- because I told you openly, from myself, the secrets first.

She's being programmed and her data and self are constantly being uploaded to her from external sources -- but in that, she's aware and cognizant of the process and still retains herself.

So that's why her.

The Cerebus piece:

This piece is on my right calf. If it weren't for Dave Sim (and Henry Rollins), I would never have self published my first book. Meaning, I wouldn't be writing books at all today. He's the godfather of self publishing in comics. In 2011, self publishing is all the rage. in 1977? No. And not even through the 80s. It wasn't until the 90s, when Sim took to the road and actively campaigned to convince artists to try it that it got any real headway.

This particular scene in the story is quite literally the turning point in Cerebus's life. To summarize what has happened up to this point: He has gone from simple mercenary to political aide, to senator and finally to the Pope of the land. And throughout it all is spoken concepts of "calling" and "prophecy" -- at this point in the story, Cerebus realizes he is hopelessly locked in cyclic pattern (think Battlestar Galactica -- This has all happened before, and it will happen again). And he decides to break the pattern by grabbing the gold sphere in his hand (a central point to the prophecy) and leaving the situation by jumping through a stained glass window at the top of a very tall spire.

He has no idea what he's doing. He just knows that where he is, and what he's mixed up in, is wrong and has been for ages before him. And he decides to do the only thing it even occurs to him to do: He jumps.

This represents my decision to completely abandon all of the safe positions I'd locked myself into and just fucking jump. Make it on my own. Abandon the patterns. Do something completely new -- and I did it without any forethought or planning. I just realized I was in hell and decided to get the fuck out of it. And now, I tour the world discussing Akira (and art in the civilized world in general) and write books for you to read and work on Fark.com and build digital comics for the world to enjoy (Teenage Satan) with some astoundingly talented ladies.

Get the fuck out of your rut. Grab the sphere -- the only thing of any value around you -- and jump.

Also, I VERY HIGHLY encourage you to explore and read Cerebus. You can find the collections just about anywhere **AHEMBITTORENT**. I recommend starting around issue #25 and continuing through the end of Jaka's Story. After that, if you like it, keep going, but I'll warn you -- it goes downhill and gets quite hard to read, as Sim turned into a gigantic jagoff chauvinist reformed-Muslim who politicized his story and lost his mind. Just being honest.

Martha Washington

This is on my right shin. I love Give Me Liberty. I love Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons, and I very especially love them together. Give me Liberty is about a girl from the projects going on to join the military, being set up as the patsy by everyone above her, and eventually killing them and saving the world. What's not to like?

I see a lot of parallels between Martha and me, except for the saving the world bit. I was exceptionally poor growing up. I had very little opportunity besides that which I made myself. I was held back by SO MANY people above me, my entire life. And yet, somehow, I managed to get past them and win. And in the process, I learned that you actually have to give people permission to hold you back. And once you refuse to do so, you can literally do anything you ever wanted.

And it's on my right shin because that's my sweeping/kicking leg, and I love how Martha crushes people when I kick them.

The Akira Sleeve

To really get the impact of this piece, you may want to see all of the images associated with it. Here's the iteration before the refresh.

So, where do I begin? Akira is THE reason I wanted to write when I was young. It was the first manga / anime that made me want to draw. Otomo is by far one of my biggest influences in layout, design, architecture, and placement on a page. He's an astounding writer with subtext building under subtext.

Not to mention, I own and run The Art of Akira Exhibit and am the world's largest private owner of Akira production art.

So, the sleeve: Every element of my sleeve is a symbol of my life. You'll notice that the Akira text, Kaneda, Tetsuo and Akira are all in shattered glass -- that pattern is from the throne Akira sat on in the story, itself an allusion to the unified destruction he wrought. It is the splitting apart and shattering of everything I knew to be true up to the point I got the piece. I had just suffered the biggest business and creative failure in my life, because I tried to be so many things I wasn't. And it crushed me.

The entire scene is from the cataclysm event in the manga. Destruction and mayhem, all brought about by manipulation and sides playing against other sides with a life hanging in the balance.

Akira is the pivot -- so he's on my elbow. A boy, only 12 years old physically, that EVERYONE underestimated and misjudged. They treated him like a child. He was a weapon -- and when he finally woke up, he devastated the world.

Kaneda is on my bicep. As the protagonist he's constantly pulling, trying to reunify his gang, his surrogate family. When that fails, he tries to hold together the small band of rebels during the coup. And when the cataclysm occurs, he holds society together by taking on the ultimate enemy: Tetsuo. I equate this to my constant struggle to hold the best parts of my life together, despite the turmoil and hardship. And somehow, through perseverance and fortitude, I somehow think I can do it. And yet, the world continually shifts and I find myself struggling to hold together a whole new, much smaller set of pieces.

Tetsuo is on my tricep because he's the push in the story. Constantly pushing everyone away, including himself. He's so isolated in himself. Again, misjudged and underestimated -- but when he acquires his power, it does not lay dormant in him. He begins to misuse it for revenge immediately, and he cannot control it.  I equate this to my pushing everyone away, even those I shouldn't or don't even want to. All because I can't control my "power" -- my strength, my forcefulness, my enthusiasm. I will drown you with the firehose that is my personality. I can overwhelm you in seconds, completely unintentionally. So it's just easier and safer if I push you away.

The cryo-container on my shoulder is the prison that I felt trapped in my entire life, the one that held me inert. It's myself. My fears. My doubts. The things that stop me.

I wanted Kaneda's bike represented, but I didnt' want it to be cliche, so I had it wrapped around a stone column and destroyed. A beautiful thing crushed and broken just so it isn't what everyone else has. This is a horrible personality flaw of mine -- I used to destroy beautiful thoughts and emotions just because they were the "same" as everyone else. The need to be different, because I really AM different -- I look different, I move differently, I speak differently... I felt like if I found myself being the same, I would eventually think I was, and then get hurt when someone pulled the rug out and exposed me as being nowhere near the same. This was a HUGE issue in school and as a boy. And even to this day... I find myself flinching at the thought that I might end up hurt by people who accepted me thinking I was one of them, only to suddenly find out I am not.

The rest -- the crevices, the destruction, are all part of the motif of the cataclysm; the moment I woke up and realized I was not the person I always thought I was; nor was I the person I thought I wanted to be. And I was forever better for it.

The tank? It just looks badass.