Note: This experience took place in February and early March 2020, before the COVID-19 explosion in the US.
I wanted a tattoo for many years, but there are many factors to not getting one–parental disapproval (despite being a grown man), the permanence, changing likes and dislikes throughout life. When it came down to it, the first step was tossing the first concern out the window. It was something I wanted to do for me as a birthday present.
I watched videos from people who got tattoos and people who give them. I read all the articles. I did my research. I had to know everything going in. What is pricing like? What does it feel like? What kind of tattoo should I get? What do artists feel about tattoo copying? How is the healing process? What kinds of things should I say or not say? Can I bring my wife along? And as it turned out… most of that research was unnecessary.
I went through many ideas. Harry Potter has a lot of meaning to me. I knew I wanted my first tattoo to have something Potter related. I looked at symbols, wands, and so much more. But then I started branching out and looking at other ideas entirely? Spider-Man tattoos kept coming to mind, as I am a big fan of the character. In short, I ended up getting a tattoo that, in a way, describes me entirely. But it still wasn’t planned as-is until pretty close to the day. Here is what the final product looks like about 5-ish months later:
I found this picture of Spider-Man fighting Deadpool and realized this was it. I knew artists didn’t like doing exact copies of other tattoos, so I had no expectations of tattoo copying. I also wanted them to be fighting over the lamp from Aladdin, because of course Spider-Man is trying to stop Deadpool from getting 3 wishes from a meta-comedy genie. But instead of the genie coming out, smoke that looked like space or a galaxy came out instead. And on the lamp was supposed to be the Deathly Hallows symbol from Harry Potter.
I found an artist that I liked. He was local and worked in a professional shop next to his house and had been awarded Best Tattoo Artist in our town more than once. I met him, and he was friendly and informative. To top it off, his shop only allowed one patron getting a tattoo at a time, so it was a more private experience–something I loved due to nerves getting this done around others. And the pricing was reasonable.
We talked, and even though I put out there that he could put his own spin on the reference images I brought, he ended up staying quite literal with the references and stuck to them. When he first sent me sketches, I realized I didn’t entirely like the Deathly Hallows symbol on the lamp and suggested switching it to be outlined in the stars on the galactic smoke.
So here’s what this tattoo means to me: On the surface, Spider-Man and Deadpool are my two favorite superhero characters, and I’ve already mentioned that Harry Potter has a big meaning for me. Spider-Man is one I click with personality-wise personally. Deadpool is heavily meta, and meta qualities are one of my favorite things in fiction of any kind. So to me, Deadpool didn’t just represent the character but my love for all things meta. Aladdin is my favorite animated Disney movie. I also have a love for all things outer space, hence the galactic smoke. Also, I love mash-ups. In short, they were all things that connected to stuff I liked or represented a part of my life or personality. So, you know, typical “first tattoo” reasonings.
The day came, I ate a good breakfast (as suggested) and brought some sugary snacks and water (as suggested). We picked up our babysitter for the kids, and my wife and I went to the shop. The tattoo was originally going to be on my left arm, but we realized the direction of the characters would be better placed on my right arm or end up needing to be redrawn and flipped. I had shaved my left arm in preparation (I’m a pretty hairy dude), but now he had to shave my right, which was awkward. After asking what kind of music I wanted to listen to (he didn’t care, and what he had on worked for me), we got to it.
Everyone said tattoos felt like a constant, burning cat scratch, which I felt to be true and not true. It’s hard to describe what getting a tattoo feels like, which is why there is so much about it. It did hurt, of course, and I wouldn’t describe it as fun. But my session lasted 4.5 hours (which both my artist and at least one other patron were quite impressed by for my first tattoo). I don’t have a super high pain tolerance or anything, but I was able to deal with it. We took a few breaks throughout but never for very long. But he held conversation most of the time, and if not, I just talked to my wife or sat there meditatively. The most painful part wasn’t until the last 10 minutes or so when he added in the white coloring and had to go deeper. That hurt quite a bit.
The part many people don’t seem to talk about? The itch. Between the healing factor and the re-growing hair, the itchiness is horrible, particularly because you aren’t allowed to scratch it. My family would make fun of me for constantly slapping my arm for hours on end every day for weeks. Speaking of family, how did my parents react? Shocked but not disapproving (my sister had gotten her second tattoo pretty soon before mine).
And just when the itching calmed down, I realized I would need a touch-up. Some ink had come out in the healing process, particularly in the blue of Spider-Man. We set up a date, and I went in for a quick touch-up (from the time I got there to the time I walked out was maybe 10 minutes). This one was far more painful, as he decided to color in all the blue all over again, ripping into healing scar tissue. I was grateful the experience didn’t last long, as I’m not sure I could have endured it for an extended period. There was far more blood this time, as well.
So months later, how do I feel about it? Are there any regrets? Well, I’m happy with how it turned out, and I would 100% do it again. It took me a while to get used to it. I’m not upset at what I chose, though perhaps the style of it. It isn’t earth-shattering disappointment–more of a general bummer at wanting a more realistic Spider-Man over the chibi version as a tattoo, though I’m not sure I would want more than one Spider-Man tattoo. At least, not at the moment.
And then there’s the elephant in the room: JK Rowling. I knew JKR had been going a bit off the deep end when I was thinking about getting a Harry Potter tattoo, though I didn’t know what was going to come at that time (For more info there, you can read here). That being said, I’ve always been able to disassociate an artist from their work (For example, I think Tom Cruise is crazy, but I like his movies). Potter has such a strong meaning for me (and others) that I think it transcends JKR herself. So no, I do not regret slapping the Deathly Hallows symbol on my arm despite things going on right now.
What’s in store for future tattoos? I do plan on filling in the gaps and doing more of a half-sleeve of other nerdy mash-ups and backgrounds, though I haven’t landed on any exact design just yet. I also really like Ellie’s tattoo from The Last of Us Part II, but I don’t think I’m ready for that placement yet for professional reasons. Also, so many people are getting it right now.
Speaking of professionally, as an elementary school librarian, I found it interesting how so many kids in class would see it poking out my sleeve and have to point it out or ask about it. Tattoos are becoming far more acceptable in the workplace, including in education, but I’m still not quite ready to push those boundaries. But I’m definitely not going to stop anytime soon.