I have always loved tattoos, though I haven’t had my own until the last couple of years. All of mine are nerd related… The Simpsons, Ren & Stimpy, and Pokemon. Some people get ink as a tribute or a cultural practice. Some folks just get drunk and wander into a tattoo parlor on spring break. Whatever your reason for enduring the pain to enjoy the art, there’s plenty of great inspiration in nerd culture. Here are the best – coolest, funniest, or whatever – tattoos from nerdy pop culture. None of these are real tattoos on real people, per se, but rather tattoos that are integral to stories we all know and love. I plan to continue to get nerdy, cartoony tattoos from my artist, Jon Leighton. It’s always a major decision to get a permanent change to your body. Now it’s becoming more socially acceptable and perfectly fine to show off… At least in most places. Just don’t let your date see your creepy Red Dragon tattoo on the first date.
SPIDER JERUSALEM’S SPIDER
Spider Jerusalem is the Hunter S. Thompson analog of the great series Transmetropolitan by brilliant writer Warren Ellis. He’s sort of a drugged up anarchist fighting corruption in a dystopian future preventing the world from, well, being even crappier. Trust me, my summary does not do the story justice. Spider is covered in tattoos but he makes the list for being brave (crazy?) enough to put his namesake spider right on his forehead for the world to see.
DARTH MAUL’S SITH TATTOOS FROM STAR WARS
Death Maul is really a weird, red alien with horns. All those black marks are Sith tattoos supposedly painfully applied by some kind of pinching insect. Ouch. Ignoring the fact that the prequels were terrible movies and Darth Maul was hilariously underutilized, his design and tattoos are frightening. I’d love to see a hardcore Star Wars fanatic go all out and get the full Darth Maul tattoo treatment over his/her body.
GUNG HO’S USMC CHEST PIECE FROM G.I. JOE
Gung Ho is a classic G.I. Joe hero best known for running around with his shirt open. On his chest is a massive USMC tattoo. Whether you love the Marines or you’re indifferent, you have to respect a dude who lets the world know where his allegiance stand. He’s also one of the first toys I remember owning that proudly featured a tattoo of any kind. The Arashikage Clan tattoos of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow may be more iconic, but Gung Ho’s is too in-your-face to ignore.
BETTY (“NEVER AGAIN”) FROM THE X-FILES
Divorcee Ed gets a classic style pin up girl tattoo with “never again” written below it while fairly drunk. Because this show is the X-Files, the tattoo named better turns out to be talking to Ed. Is it supernatural? Is it ergot causing weird hallucinations? Ed and Scully sort of have a romance thing… kind of. Scully gets a tattoo. Ed’s tattoo hates women and tells him to hurt people. Oh, and Jodie Foster provides the voice of the villainous tattoo, Better. It’s a very interesting episode that focuses on a different side of Scully with a very memorable tattoo.
ABE SIMPSON’S FLYING HELLFISH
Ok, so I may be a little biased here considering I have my own Flying Hellfish tattoo, but it is the stuff nerd memories are made of. Who doesn’t love incoherently rambling Grampa Simpson proving to Bart that he was a badass back in World War II? Grandpa and his until, including Asa, Ox, and the villainous Mr. Burns, were cool enough to sport tattoos before tattoos were socially acceptable. So, that’s cool. The episode is hilarious. Oh, and who doesn’t enjoy a flexing fish person? Very Lovecraftian.
PETUNIA FROM THE ADVENTURES OF PETE & PETE
Sure, Pete & Pete may be a somewhat obscure 90’s TV show. It was only 3 seasons on Nickelodeon. Still, it was one of the best and smartest children’s TV shows ever with one of the best theme songs ever. Hey, Sandy! Don’t talk back, hey Sandy. Anyways, Petunia! Little Pete had a tattoo of a woman in a red dress named Petunia originally gotten as a gift for an understandable upset mother. Petunia doesn’t do much other than sort of dance and look awesome.
THE ILLUSTRATED MAN’S ENTIRE BODY
Any list of tattoos in nerdy pop culture without mention Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man is doing a huge disservice to everyone and anyone who reads it. Basically, the Illustrated Man is a carnival freak covered in tattoos that supposedly come to life in vivid animation. It’s all used as a framing device for a series of short sci-fi stories and is remarkably effective. Effective enough that many sci-fi fans of a certain generation refer to anyone with tattoos as an illustrated man. From a photorealistic rose on his palm to tattoos – here called illustrations – that tell stories as varied as virtual reality lions eating people to a simple couple watching refugees from a nuclear war stroll by. Published way back in 1951, The Illustrated Man was one of the first real movements by tattoos from the fringes and into the wider pop culture. In fact the entire idea of living, breathing tattoos has appeared again and again in history as ways of telling exciting stories. At their best, this is what the body artists do: tell stories in ink and flesh.