Fan Expo Canada is the largest pop-culture event in Canada. It runs from now until Sunday. For thousands, it’s not summer until they spend a weekend in a concrete bunker downtown Toronto, mixing (and shopping!) with people from every IP. There are live celebrity panels, cosplay contests — multiple opportunities to meet one (or a dozen) of your all-time faves. (CBC News has a full event preview here.) Visitors who wish to keep a memory of their experience as a souvenir can also get tattooed on-site.
You can access it all weekend, as part of Tattoo AlleyThe Fan Expo has operated this attraction in Toronto for many years. However, how many people are actually tattooed at the con?
Fan Expo has no stats for Toronto but, when you combine all of their events across North America, there are more than 1,000 people who leave Tattoo Alley every year with fresh ink. This service was first offered by the organization in some U.S. markets about ten years ago. They plan to continue expanding in this area. A Fan Expo Canada representative says, “You’ll never know what could pop up at Fan Expo Calgary or Edmonton.”
Chris Rhyason (a Grande Prairie tattoo artist) said that “tattooing at fan events is quite new in Canada.” This weekend is his second appearance at a pop-culture convention after being in the business for twenty years. He says the phenomenon makes “just enough sense” to him. More and more tattooers are specializing in pop-culture designs, says Rhyason, and that’s the case for many of the folks appearing at this weekend’s con — though the most popular request doesn’t exactly require a niche skillset.
The popularity of autograph tattoos is high. Salem Harlow from Tattooer has heard back from one client, who will be stopping by her booth to meet Robert “Freddy Krueger”, Englund. But she’s also filling her book with custom designs — work based on shows and stars that are heavily featured at the con. That’s more like the stuff she does on the regular.
She says, “The niche that I work in is all geeky fandom.” I’m also a big nerd.
What’s her geekiest tattoo? Geeky, in a good sense. That question was put to several artists who were at the event this year.
Salem Harlow – Immaculate Concept Tattoo (Calgary)
Which is the most geeky tattoo that you have ever had?
All the subjects I tattoo in are geeky.
You Have A lot of people have gotten involved in this project. Pokémon [requests] because I’m currently trying to finish the first 151 Pokémon of the Pokédex in tattoo form. What I’m doing, it’s like the catchphrase — gotta catch ’em all. The original ’90s cartoon had 151 Pokémon, and I don’t even know how many there are now, but there’s the original 151, which everybody can recognize, so I want to tattoo every single one of them.
I have a poster that I’m crossing them off on, and once I complete it — like, I take photos of each tattoo that I have — I’m going to get a big poster blown up and I’m going to replace the original images of the sprites with the tattoos that I’ve done. There are 52. The beginning was in May. I finished it at the end of May. Then I went on to June, July, and August. That’s primarily what my bookings are in Calgary right now, mostly Pokémon tattoos. (laughs). I think I have one booked to attend the convention. Just now, I’m going through all my bookings. I believe I’ll be able do a Meowth.
Katrina Barss – Good Point Tattoos (Oakville, Ont.)
Which is the most geeky tattoo request someone has ever made of you?
You can count on it. A cartoon I made recently called Gravity FallsIt was a watermelon Jack-o-lantern. It was funny and I actually did it right under the girl’s back. The cartoon has an episode called “Summerween” and she was interested in something from it. I thought that it would be cool because it’s, you know, summer — so a watermelon — but it’s also Halloween, so it’s a jack-o-lantern.
Did you already know anything about this subject before she visited you? Are you a regular fan?
Oh, yeah, yeah. That cartoon is very appealing to me. As soon as she spoke, I was able to understand what she was talking. My whole life I have been a nerd. I watch movies, cartoons, read comic books, and play videogames. I have a lot of knowledge. (laughs)
If you did not know enough information about the person you are considering tattooing, would you turn them down?
No, never. It doesn’t matter if it is a design I don’t like, I will recommend that they find someone who can. If the tattoo is vulgar or contains profanity, I wouldn’t turn it down. Learning new information is always fun for me. And, you know what? One of the greatest parts about tattooing, you can bond with your clients over what you’re doing. You can ask questions and get to know as much about the subject matter you’re not familiar with.
It’s great to be able to connect with your clients about the tattoos they are getting. It doesn’t matter if you know nothing about tattooing. This gives you the opportunity to ask questions, and even learn more.Katrina Barss is a tattoo artist
Even if the person isn’t 100% sure of their source, they can come to me for pop culture suggestions. I will do my research, because it’s always fun learning more about cartoons and new shows. I will watch a series of episodes or a movie to gain background knowledge and insights before I begin drawing my designs.
That’s cool. Have you found any other favorite shows?
Yeah! It was booked for the convention. Fullmetal Alchemist. It’s an anime. That’s the anime I watched. A show I saw called Surround the Garden Wall This was a suggestion from a customer a few years ago. This one was also really great.
Tony Sklepic – Hivemind Studios (Edmonton)
Which is the most geeky tattoo request that you have ever been given?
Although I cannot say which idea is more geeky, I have seen a lot of characters in comic books, movies, television, and video games.
Coworker, he is amazing Star Trek Fan, so I made a leg part of Data, Geordi and Enterprise to wrap his calf. That one is pretty geeky, I think! A knee piece was also made by my other coworker from Garbage Pail Kids/Mars Attacks mashup. It was quite a fun one. My favorite stuff, however, is those with more complicated subject matters.
Some things I love to tattoo are Spider-Man, Ninja Turtles and the Joker. These pieces are my favorites and I will never refuse them. I can always do something new and fun with every one of them, though I am more open to ideas I haven’t seen before.
A sleeve full of Street Sharks was my first tattoo. It was based on the 1990s toys. That was an amazing idea, and one I haven’t seen tattooed more than once. A few years ago, I also did a fun portrait of Ernest P. Worrell. That one was a great one. It had me and my client laughing the entire day.
Chris Rhyason – Sterling Skull Studio (Grande Prairie, Alta.)
Let me know about your geekiest tattoo requests. Any other ideas?
(laughs). I’ve done many of these. I won’t get into the subversive stuff because there’s lots of stuff — especially in the early days of my career — when all kinds of nefarious biker types wanted, you know, movie starlets in compromising positions or cartoon characters with their guts getting blown out. All that stuff. This was in the very early stages. It’s much more acceptable these days.
One of my favourite ones that I’ve done — and actually it’s going to be on my banner at the show — I did Jessica Rabbit as a pirate wench.
Why is it so geeky?
Well, it depends on how you define geek. I also have a guy who is a real gearhead — who, like, rebuilds cars and all that kind of stuff. He wanted Oscar the Grouch to drive a hotrod.
He is the guy wearing the Jessica Rabbit costume. He loves pirate themed things and Disney stuff. In fact, I did an entire sleeve on him — which might even count, too. He was a man of many rides at Disneyland, including Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean. I had an entire sleeve. That one was his favorite. Buzz Lightyear’s game, The Tiki Room. Which one is it with the train? What’s the roller coaster train? He got it as a gift. Both love Disneyland.
Are you a Disney or Disneyland fan?
Other than music, I would not consider myself to be a geek. But you know, I grew up on Disney and I actually wanted to be a Disney animator when I was a kid … until I found out I wouldn’t get to meet Walt Disney because he was long dead by that time. (laughs)
To be able to respond to this request and to feel a connection with it personally, you need to find something unique about it.
That’s correct, it is. And that’s exactly what makes it enjoyable for me.
If I’m doing a design — and I design it with the person there — as I draw it for them and I can see their eyes light up and they get really excited about it, that’s when I know I’m on the right track.
Kif Scott – Good Point Tattoos (Oakville, Ont.)
Which is the most geeky tattoo that you have ever had?
I did a tattoo last year, and it was Spider-Man, but it was also a Squirtle from Pokémon, SpongeBob’s house and the castle from Harry Potter — and a video game that I actually had never heard of.
Where did you start the design process? How did the client first contact you? How did they describe their needs?
There are some people who have an uncanny ability to see the future. The consultation is always the first step in the process. This person came to me with his laundry list of nerdy things and was eager to share them with us. Then he said “I don’t know how to combine all of this.” I said, “I’ll take all your ideas and I’ll make a composition that’ll basically fill half your arm,” and that was it.
The videogame was not something you had ever heard of. What do you do when you aren’t familiar with the topic but want to create something meaningful for others?
What was the outcome of that particular case? He was very specific in his request for what he desired to see. A sword which had pierced ground, and a howling Wolf. He said it wasn’t a particular wolf. He gave me a couple photos of real wolves — and, you know, I know how to draw a wolf, so I figured no problem. (laughs)
When I am unfamiliar with a game or show, however, I often need to refer back to the source material.
Shannan Greeley – Good Point Tattoos (Oakville, Ont.)
Which is the most geeky tattoo request that you have ever received? Do you have a favorite tattoo project?
Yes. Yes. I have one. (laughs). My tattoo shows Chewbacca as a Toronto Blue Jays player. The message reads “wookiee-of the year” which I find quite amusing.
How does it all work?
The Big Star Wars fan. (laughs). I like puns too and thought this was funny.
My definition of geeky is not a request for a tattoo. This request is basically a way to make another person smile.– Shannan Greeley, tattoo artist
Are there any geeky tattoos that stand out to you?
The following is my opinion Adventure Time It’s a very funny tattoo I did on Thursday. This will show Lemongrab, holding onto another character, and shouting “One Million Years Dungeon!” It’s quite an iconic line, for any person who has ever heard it. Adventure Time fan.
To me, a request for a geeky tattoo is not necessarily geeky. This is a request that will make someone smile. Adventure Time You know this line, fan? It’s great.
Deep down, I am a huge nerd. Many fandoms I enjoy are ones that I cherish. It was an honor to be invited by the University of Toronto to attend. [Fan Expo] I didn’t want to pass the opportunity by to get to interact with a bunch of other people with very common interests, and to get to tattoo something meaningful or fun for them.
These conversations were edited to ensure clarity.