Star Wars Celebration: Tattoos, a convention tradition

April 19, 2015 | 2:17 p.m.
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Eric Vie, left, of Dayton, Ohio, gives the Bay Area's Alain Bloch a tattoo of the Jedi Code at Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Vinny Romanelli of New York City gives Angela Byrd an angelic R2-D2 tattoo at Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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In tattoo alley at Star Wars Celebration, Damian Cain of Somerset, England, gives David James of Arcadia a Darth Nihilus tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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British tattoo artist Damian Cain shows off his Luke Skywalker tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Jon Aragon of Rancho Cucamonga uncovers his "Star Wars" tattoos at Star Wars Celebration (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times).

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Modesto's Angela Byrd received her second "Star Wars" tattoo at Star Wars Celebration, both by artist Vinny Romanelli. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“Star Wars” fans, if this weekend’s Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim is any indication, are a patient lot. Thousands camped out Wednesday night to be in the same room as director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, and lines to buy exclusive convention merchandise could stretch up to three hours.

That’s about how long, for instance, it took me to purchase a wall clock in the shape of Salacious B. Crumb, the rat-like pal of Jabba the Hutt in “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi.” Others waited an hour or so to purchase ornaments. Some waited for love (speed dating sessions for men seeking women were booked by Friday morning, dashing my hopes of a “Star Wars romance) and still others waited hours for a glimpse of new video game “Star Wars: Battlefront” or a chance to have a photo taken in a mock Millennium Falcon.

It isn’t really a surprise that “Star Wars” die-hards would have such endurance. They’ve been waiting 10 years for a new film, and even longer for one that sees the return of beloved characters such as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. Much of the four-day Celebration, which concludes Sunday, was dedicated to hyping the upcoming Abrams-directed “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” for which a new trailer was unveiled on Thursday.

The trailer, however, is under 2 minutes long. A tattoo, meanwhile, is forever.

A still-growing tradition of Star Wars Celebration is getting inked, as 45 tattoo artists set up makeshift shops on the convention floor this weekend and engraved “Star Wars”-only designs on the faithful. Getting tattooed, however, however, meant essentially giving up one’s day . For some, that entailed seven or eight hours of missed panels, missed autographs, missed photos and missed networking.

But again, “Star Wars” fans are a patient lot, and coming home from Celebration with a personalized tattoo was worth skipping out on an afternoon of, say, watching droid races.

Vinny Romanelli, of New York City gives Angela Byrd, of Modesto, an angelic R2D2 tattoo at Star Wars Celebration.  (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Vinny Romanelli of New York City gives Angela Byrd an angelic R2-D2 tattoo at Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“It’s totally worth it,” said Angela Byrd, 28, of Modesto.

She was getting a full-color R2-D2 framed with angelic wings along with the phrase “you’re my only hope,” words made famous by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope.” It’s her second “Star Wars” tattoo, and positioned just below a mini-Millennium Falcon blasting out of a crescent wreath.

“I’ve never gotten a tattoo at a convention,” Byrd said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. There’s so many people out here wanting to get one by an artist who’s coming from another city or another country. I think it’s worth it, totally, even if I’m missing a little bit of the convention.”

Tattoos have had a presence at Star Wars Celebration since 2005, when Shane Turgeon set up a booth to display his archive of “Star Wars” tattoo images. Turgeon has compiled two volumes of his “The Force and the Flesh” books, coffee table-ready collections of “Star Wars” body art, and runs the Edmonton, Canada-based shop Shades of Grey.

Turgeon, along with Marc Draven, began organizing the on-site tattoo pavilion at 2010’s Celebration event in Orlando, Fla. That year, there were 25 artists at the show. Turgeon said about 200 applied to be in Anaheim this weekend, and the 45 chosen were asked to pay a fee to Lucasfilm in order to become officially licensed “Star Wars” artists.

“Here, you get a ‘Star Wars’ tattoo by your fellow ‘Star Wars’ geeks. They understand you. They understand what you want,” said Turgeon, who added that with more films on the way the tattoo pavilion was only likely to grow.

That Lucasfilm stamp of approval is a big deal, said artist Damian Cain. He traveled to Celebration from Somerset, England, and was planning to do one tattoo per day. He said he probably wouldn’t make up the cost of travel, but immediate financial gain wasn’t his incentive for coming to Southern California.

“This is a massive opportunity,” he said. “To be  a Lucasfilm-licensed artist is a dream come true. I’ve been obsessed with ‘Star Wars’ since I was tiny, so to grow up and get into tattooing and be almost officially validated is, like, ‘Wow.'”

Tattoo artist Damian Cain of the U.K. shows off his Luke Skywalker tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

British tattoo artist Damian Cain shows off his Luke Skywalker tattoo at Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Bay Area’s Alain Bloch has wanted a “Star Wars” tattoo for a number of years and jumped at the chance to get one done at Celebration. His tattoo, a heavily detailed rendition of the script for the Jedi Code, was likely to take a full afternoon.

“I definitely want to get tattooed by someone who loves the culture and is willing to come out and dedicate their time,” said Bloch, 34. “I feel like there’s a strong connection there. I also feel just the significance of Celebration. What better place to get a ‘Star Wars’ tattoo to remind myself of this time, this place, these people.”

As for why he choose the Jedi Code, Bloch said flatly, “I’m a Jedi.” He isn’t kidding, as Bloch is a member of the Saber Guild, which puts on lightsaber demonstrations and was hosting a number of performances throughout the weekend.

Byrd is working on a full half-sleeve of “Star Wars” artwork, and has had both of her pieces done by the same artist, the first in New York and the second this weekend. “I’m girly, obviously, so I wanted it to be girly,” she said, explaining the inspiration behind the angel wings. “I didn’t want it to be super manly looking.”

This was the second Celebration for Vinny Romanelli, who was tattooing Byrd.

In the tattoo alley of Star Wars Celebration, Damian Cain, right, of the U.K., gives David James of Arcadia a Darth Nihilus tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

In tattoo alley at Star Wars Celebration, Damian Cain of Somerset, England, gives David James of Arcadia a Darth Nihilus tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“I don’t really do conventions anymore,” said Romanelli. “They’re kind of hectic and we’re out of our comfort zone with the set-up and everything. But I’ve always loved ‘Star Wars’ and to be able to do what I love, tattooing, in the middle of something else that I’ve always loved, it’s, like, the best combination ever.”

David James of Arcadia would agree. He was getting a portrait of Darth Nihilus on his upper arm, a tattoo that will compliment his portrait of Boba Fett. He has non-“Star Wars” tattoos, including those that honor rock acts the Misfits and Pantera, but the 33-year-old said his “Star Wars” ink bridges generations. He recalled the reaction of his parents when he got his first “Star Wars” tattoo at age 19.

“My parents don’t like tattoos at all,” he said, “but they saw it and they were like, ‘Oh, it’s ‘Star Wars,’ it’s cool.’ I was kind of scared to show them when I first got it. I thought they were going to kill me. But they were like, ‘OK, that’s really cool. It’s ‘Star Wars.’ We like it.'”

–Todd Martens | @toddmartens |@LATHeroComplex

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Comments


One Response to Star Wars Celebration: Tattoos, a convention tradition

  1. David James says:

    Can I please have a copy of this addition of the L.A. Times?!

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