Written by Joy Yoon (@Joy_Yoon)
Additional research by Jian DeLeon (@jiandeleon)
The art of tattooing, branding, or inking has been a part of history for many millennia. Since the Stone Age, civilizations from around the world have integrated this art form into their cultural practices. In the 18th century (1796), a naturalist aboard Captain Cook’s ship the HMS Endeavor discovered Polynesian tattoos and with that reinvigorated interest in body marking, brought the word ‘tatu’ or ‘tatau’ into Western culture. Tattoos swiftly regained popularity among European sailors and even high society.
In 1929, our favorite sailor Popeye appeared in the daily King Features comic strip ‘Thimble Theatre’ with his forearms tattooed with anchors in full view, an image that became synonymous with seamen everywhere. Since Popeye, pop culture has seen various cartoon characters with tattoos, a particularly boom occurring in 1980’s.
From Rainbow Brite (1983) and G.I. Joe supervillain Zartan’s facial tattoos (1984) to the matching Arashikage Clan markings on ninjas Snake Eyes (1982) and Storm Shadow (1984), Mumm-Ra from Thundercats (1985) large chest emblem, and The Simpsons (1989) Snake Jailbird’s snake tattoo, skin art seemed to be everywhere. Even now you’ll find more cartoon and comic book illustrators using tattoos on their characters as a form of expression, an integral part of their super powers, or as an ode, as Brian from Family Guy displays with his tattoo of comic character Ziggy. And with iconic Barbie doll now sporting a few tattoos (2011), who’s to say the world of fictional characters isn’t on track with real life?
Marvel at some of these inked heroes and villains. Check out A Complex History of Tattooed Comic Book Characters.