073 (2)I’m a fan of tattoos. Have been as long as I can remember. I’ve always found it fascinating how the things we use to decorate our skins tell the stories of us.

The most interesting thing about tattoos is that they’ve remained essentially similar throughout human history. Whether it was tribesmen in the alps, sailors on the high seas or modern peoples everywhere, creating a tattoo is essentially the same. Using a sharp implement to break the skin to drive ink underneath the epidermis. Modern tattoo machines are more precise and allow for more control to the artist than the traditional Ta Moko type tools, let alone the singular needles used in old sailor and prison tattoos. But the process is essentially the same.

I’m in the middle of editing a space opera novel, The Avatar Legacy, in which one of the two main characters has tattoos and uses them as a way to deal with the fact that she’s killed people. This has got me thinking about the future of tattoos. There’s this scene in the Starship Troopers movie in which the Roughnecks central to the story go in to get tattooed.

And while that sure looks cool, there’s something missing from the process. Doing my entire back took something like 50 hours of work. Granted, a lot of this is because the artist who made it was very detail oriented. Each of the scales on my dragon is inked in individually and that shows if you look at it up close. But there’s definitely something pensive about the process of getting tattooed that’s been there from the beginning but is entirely lacking in the Starship Troopers clip. And while my memories of getting tattooed may have been gilded by time, I don’t recall any of it hurting quite that much, even while the artist was working on top of my spine.

There’s a tactile quality to tattoos and tattoo artistry that I somehow doubt will ever quite go away. The best artists create their own designs instead of working off stock pictures and the move toward more artist control seems the likeliest. Tattoos can be an art just like any other. On the other hand there will probably always be tattoo “artists” who work off template designs, working on the cheap and for them a machine like the Starship Troopers one would be great. They could set it to work and be done for their part. I’m not sure if both of these can be present in the same machine.

There’s a Writing Excuses episode where Howard Tayler talks about making his Schlock Mercenary PRG. The game producers delivered him perfectly drawn templates and asked him to trace them out because part of his “voice” as a cartoonist is the way his hand shakes or moves while he’s drawing. The same undoubtedly goes for tattoo artists. And I don’t know if you can maintain that while creating a more mechanized process of actually putting the ink under the epidermis.

What do you think?