The world of tattooing is one that brings up images of grimy, badass dudes in dark basements smoking cigarettes and listening to metal while getting inked up. It’s not a clean-cut industry by any standard, and it was never intended to be—it’s always aimed to go harder. And thus, its icons, like in music and fashion, are always the rebels—the ones in the pack who are down to start something new and adventurous, redefining what the craft really means.
Sailor Jerry and Don Ed Hardy entered this world in a time when only the rugged and ruthless were going hard and getting permanently marked up for life. They had to live and operate in that world to pursue their passion, and it was a test for both of them. Dealing with soldiers, sailors, and gangsters would harden up anybody, but we’re here to decide which of these two godfathers of American tattooing—Sailor Jerry or Don Ed Hardy—came out harder in the end.