The Illustrated Fan

I love tattoos. I love the process of marking my skin with permanent symbols. I love the rip-burn-buzz of the needle, the smell of the ink. Just walking past a tattoo shop and hearing the needle makes my heart race.

I don’t have many tattoos, though. I have three and one more coming soon. I’ve never been one to simply walk into a shop and choose a design off the wall (though if that works for you, more power to ya). The images percolate in my mind for years before they get to my skin. I’ve had the design for my next tattoo—my daughter’s name in Arabic calligraphy—for five years. I may be on the extreme end of caution, in terms of design, but I’m fine with that. No need to rush something so important.

One of the great things about having tattoos is that other inked people want to show you what they have. This can, in the case of really terrible tattoos, also be a bad thing. Sometimes, people will proudly display some gawdawful splotch that looks like batshit, and wait for a compliment. Once I saw a guy who had the word “HATRED” across his substantial belly in letters three inches high, but he’d only colored in half, so it looked like HATRED. At first I thought perhaps he really liked red hats.

But getting back to good tattoos, I’ve had the pleasure, at scifi and fantasy conventions especially, of seeing some wonderful work with fannish themes (though none of mine are geeky…yet). I’ve seen an upper arm covered with the Tardis and seal of Rassilon. I’ve seen Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth. I’ve seen Klingon, Federation, Rebel Alliance and Empire symbols (Klingon more than the rest combined, though). I’ve seen vampires and zombies and steampunk gears and Strongbadzone “Your Head Asplode” designs. Tattoo designs are inner symbology made public, and it makes good sense that fandom, which has always expressed itself in art, would generate some great ink.

The growth in social acceptance of tattooing and the increase in public displays of geekery, while not necessarily connected, have developed together over the last few decades. Tattooed nerds are a natural extension of both trends, as is evidenced by the website Geeky Tattoos (from which all but one of the pictures in this post come, with permission. The last photo in the article is of my sister’s tattoo of The Missing Piece). My favorite tattoo on the site is probably the Library of Congress number for James Burke’s The Day the Universe Changed. I mean, how fucking fantastic is that? I can’t help but picture Burke, seeing the tattoo, launching into a discussion about the connection between tattoos being used to identify drowned sailors, and ship-making techniques borrowed from silk weaving inspiring the early development of computers, which later led to the internet, where you are now reading about it all.

As I said, none of my tattoos are geeky. I was thinking, though, that with the right tattoo artist, an Alex Ross piece would be amazing. Maybe something from Astro City. I freakin’ love Astro City. (I’ve seen a few Ross pieces as tattoos on the internet…a mixed bag). I’ve also considered getting the OuLiPo symbol. Ooh, or maybe a Sidney Paget illustration.   

So, dear tordotcomrads, do you have nerd-ink you feel like showing off? If so, please do! Or tell me about one you’ve seen. Do you have a great idea for a design? 


When Jason Henninger isn’t reading, writing, juggling, cooking, or raising evil genii, he works for Living Buddhism magazine in Santa Monica, CA and dreams of more tattoos. 

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