Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Like a Grand and Miraculous Spaceship


This could be an in-depth look at tattooing, about what it means to me and how it feels and how the agony folds into ecstasy and then back again. I could talk about how sexy Kelly the Wonder Tattoist is, or how talented, or how his shading techniques are pretty damn near legendary around these parts. I could tell you about the planning stages, which took much longer than normal, or the actual sitting, which took close to two hours.

Don't mess with Texas.

I could also tell you all about how my tattoo was so complex and so detailed that it is the first to require a second session, meaning that the brand new ink I’m carrying around right now is technically unfinished. Just when that second session is happening is a matter of a little debate, but it’s going to be sooner rather than later. After all, this thing has to be healed before late September.

But I’ve told you all that before: the euphoria, the pain, the process. It’s all been done. So instead, let’s just look at some kick-ass pictures taken with Mark's kick-ass camera at a work in progress that, I have every confidence, will turn out to be the best ink I’ve ever gotten.

Since the dawn of recorded time…

Kelly told me that geometry wasn't his strong suit. I begged to differ. Like, begged.

Two. Hours. My foot fell asleep twice.

Just the stenciling took over an hour. Weirdly, the stenciling didn't hurt as much as I'd feared, making me remember that the werewolf on the other leg didn't quite hurt as much either.

Then came the shading.

Kelly explained that he didn't much care for Disney. I gleaned that when he stated, "I hate Disney with such a passion I can taste it." He further explained it's because they treat their animators like crap, a notion I tried to dispel by explaining all about the shift in management. No one was listening to me. Mostly because I was explaining this through grunts and gasps and mewlings for help.

As the work stands now, it almost looks finished. Sort of like Epcot meets the Death Star. But it's damn impressive already - almost giddily impressive, especially since Kelly was unsure whether he could do it. When it's done ... you guys, this thing is going to be amazing. I honestly think this is going to eclipse my werewolf as the most technically amazing ink I have. And it might also be my favorite.

I'm going to stand under Spaceship Earth in September and I'm going to look up at it, feeling dwarfed by it as always, but also feeling at one with it. This is the first step in a grand journey, a way station toward owning a piece of magic I could only touch fleetingly before.

...And as our appetite for information and knowledge grew, the world began to shrink.

I think it fits well.


And here we come to it:

This is the finished product, kids. We wanted to leave a crescent-shaped wedge of the design open. With the lines and the shading branching out and the “sunset” shading on the right, Spaceship Earth looks more spherical and less like a disc. This, initially, is what I wanted the design to look like, but in Phase One, Kelly left a little too much open, so that it looked unfinished. Filling it in entirely would be a mistake, I think, because skin isn’t paper and making it look like the sphere it is would have been impossible. This is the first time I really asked for the impossible from Kelly; I think he did pretty damn good.

Looking at it close-up in the picture, I’m even more impressed. Kelly did almost all of this freehand, which stuns me. I love how the branches edge out from the facets to the left, and the gray shading gives the impression of depth. An unexpected plus: this really didn’t hurt. Almost at all. Apparently, this part of my leg is really okay with tiny, tiny needles prodding it into submission. Not only that, but Phase One healed remarkably easily, with little itching and almost no scabbing.

You guys, I am really pleased at how this turned out, and I can’t wait to see how it looks up against the real Spaceship Earth next month. I also can’t wait for my next ink, which may or may not happen before the end of the year. I’m getting two at once – I refuse to have thirteen on my skin – but what exactly they are and where exactly they’re going to go … well, you’ll just have to stay tuned.

Epcotattoo! Woo hoo!


When Kelly the Wonder Tattooist moved down to Dallas, I was a bit bereft. He’d done all my best pieces, from my Springsteen sneakers to my Steampunk Dr Pepper, and he’d even come back to town to do my Seger Eagle, still one of the actual badass tattoos I have. (My body is sort of a tapestry of cute and fun tattoos like Baloo and Tom Servo, and cool tattoos, like my werewolf and my aforementioned Steampunk Dr Pepper.) He’d recommended me to John, also at Chameleon, to do my ink back in Boston. John proved he cold do good work with my Cooley Bird – the Drive-By Truckers band symbol – and he proved he could do great work with my Hardy/Arbuckle comedy & tragedy concept.

When I came to him with the idea to expand my original Spaceship Earth tattoo, he took to it with aplomb. I loved Kelly’s original work – my favorite building in the world, standing monolithic midway down my leg – but as my body was getting more and more crowded with art, I was starting to realize I wanted some actual scenes. Nearly all of my work so far has been iconic, symbols of things I love summed up in a simple image. With Spaceship Earth, I had long thought that I wanted to add a monorail to it, and build it out as a thing actually of Epcot, of Disney World. Plus, I wanted to somehow capture the kinetic feel of the place, and maybe a sense of the rich history of it. I sent my ideas to John and he was down.

Oh, and here’s something that’s never happened. Every time I’ve gone to a tattoo artist – from my first few people to Kelly to everything with John previously, they’ve drawn up my concepts on paper and then applied them to my skin. That’s how it’s done. Except when I went in for my consult? John drew freehand on my leg. He literally brought out some markers and just drew on my leg. I watched, agape. And then he started injecting ink into my flesh with a million little needles and I didn’t watch for awhile.

My tolerance for tattoo pain hits its peak around two and a half hours; it’s then when I stop riding the rollercoaster of euphoria and agony and start just wishing it was over. We pushed my first session – outlining, some shading – to three hours, by which time I was wondering if the sweet release of death might be achievable with the implements around me. John released me, but not before scheduling my coloring appointment for after my next Disney trip. Meaning, if I was to assign sentience to a theme park, which I would never do because creepy, Epcot itself would only see the work three-quarters done when I was there. Would Epcot be pleased? And would I maybe read too much into the fact that the first day I was there with my tattoo and my friend Jeff, the ride inexplicably broke down and I had to be evacuated from it?

So many questions. Now, onward!


I never lived Epcot history. I have to revel at it from a remove of time, like those guys who do Civil War reenactments, or people obsessed with the Titanic. You all have my buddy Joe to thank for that. On my third trip to WDW, when I was starting to wrap my mind around the scope of Disney history, Joe showed me a video of the old Horizons ride, and I was hooked. The whole idea of classic Epcot had a massive appeal, in the same way that steampunk would – it’s retro-futurism, the history of the future as imagined in the past.

A lot of Epcot looks like it did in 1982, when it debuted, but there are changes, both major and subtle. To me, the most significant change is in the forecourt in front of Spaceship Earth. Right now, they have these granite slabs featuring faces of people who bought the right to be a part of Epcot back in the 1990s. I get the concept of them – they’re supposed to be a little stark and desolate, trying for beauty in simplicity – but back the 80s, the whole court was lined with palm trees and water and it was warmer and, in my opinion, more welcoming. That’s what I wanted for the ink. As much as I love current Epcot, I am in deep with vintage Epcot; well, EPCOT Center. I wanted palm trees.

I laid down. Shawn poised, ready to take pictures and Vines. John played “Thunder Road.” And got to work.

Another two hours later, I stood up and observed what had happened. I was blown away. Every step on this road to my Epcot ink has been exciting, each new session another building block toward something bigger. John created cartoonish “bubbles” on the top and the side, in case I wanted to continue the scene around my leg. Even before it healed, I knew I did want that: I wanted Space Mountain next, continuing around the side of my leg and connected by the monorail. And maybe, sometime later, the Tower of Terror – even though in real life, the monorail goes nowhere near there.

Walt Disney once said that Disneyland (and, by extension, Disney World) would never be finished. Not to be too grandiose about it, but I like to think that in some small way, I can apply that philosophy to my right leg. It’s a future we’ll take – and make – together.