I have considered getting a tattoo numerous times throughout my life. After seeing Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke for the first time, I yearned for a kodama, which my friend suggested I put in a tree. Upon seeing all the stylized, unique tattoos on readers of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet, I weighed many ideas as to how my Non-Compliant tattoo would appear. I never ended up getting that kodama, nor did I land on a thematic idea for a NC tattoo that suited me best, but a few weeks ago, I finished the beloved cult television show, Hannibal. And, finally, I knew what my first tattoo would be.
Before the kodama, I considered the multi-pronged antlered stag in Princess Mononoke as a beautiful image rivaling the kodama. Hannibal has its own stag as a motif, an unsettling depiction of the show’s gothic appeal. I found myself attracted to antlers yet again and planned a back piece, something much more extensive than the wrist pieces I’d assumed my kodama and NC tattoos would make. Because of this, I felt more trepidation than I ever did in my previous plans. How would I know that I found the right artist? How long would a piece like that take? How much would it hurt? How would I be able to care for it after?
Enter Ink for Beginners, a tattoo guide created by Kate Leth, who knows more about tattoos than all of my tattooed friends combined. I was already familiar with Leth’s body of mostly non-fictional comics due to her weekly stint at ComicsAlliance.com and her comic about bisexuality, as published in Northwest Press’ Anything That Loves anthology. Leth writes in a personable voice, which attaches to her a friendly authority in any subject she creates a comic around. Her simple penciling style and popping colors lead to art that is often amusing and always fun. As a newbie entering a complex world, I needed a guide from someone clear, concise, and accessible, and Leth makes it look easy.
Leth starts with two diagrams of the human body, front and back, with a pain meter that uses red, yellow, and green to indicate the pain levels in different areas. Although not chronological like the rest of the guide, this choice to put pain explanation first is easy to comprehend because if a newbie gets turned off by anything, it might be the pain levels (especially if you’re like me: a giant wimp). I was relieved to find out that the places where I imagined my stag landed on the green and yellow levels of the pain meter. On this section of the guide, and throughout, Leth includes quotes and opinions from tattoo artists and others to verify her claims so that it’s not only her experience included.
Leth, as one person, can only offer so much, however. She advises on most of the tattooing process, including general safety tips, how to decide on your tattoo, what to do before and after the inking session, what your artist might do, and how you might feel afterward. Although her reasons for not drinking the night before getting tattooed make sense, she also notes that some painkillers have the same effect as alcohol and I found myself wondering, are there painkillers I could take that don’t? She doesn’t mention any, although one of my friends recommended a numbing gel. As for aftercare, Leth depicts several methods you might be given to help your tattoo heal, but in the end explains that aftercare is individual to each artist and to follow their instructions.
Ink for Beginners will answer several of your initial questions and maybe even relieve a few of your fears before you have your consultation with your tattoo artist for more details. It involves all the important need-to-know subjects such as hygiene, etiquette, and the healing process. If you’re thinking of getting inked for the first time, Leth’s guide works as accessible first research.
What was your first tattoo experience like? Share your story in the comments!