If you were anything like me growing up, you wanted nothing more than to catch ‘em all, to collect every gym badge in the Indigo League, and to compile the most powerful team of Pokémon that would squash all others to a pixelated pulp. Your parents likely confiscated your Gameboy Color more than once, and told you to spend more time doing homework or playing outside while assuring you—with offensive confidence—there would come a time when Pokémon no longer mattered to you.
It’s true—to an extent.
We have grown up. Other, more important aspects of our lives have taken precedent. That isn’t to say Pokémon are completely effaced from our minds and memories (especially with the recent release of Sun and Moon); and what better way to preserve such colorful nostalgia than by having it permanently etched on our skin?
It comes as no surprise that the tattooing of Pokémon, and the artistic rendering of Pokémon in a variety of mediums, has popularized over the past two decades since Pikachu first lit up our television screens. What makes this popularization both unique and exciting is the fact that, not only can Pokémon be recognized by an entire generation, but they work as versatile subjects which can be manipulated by a variety of techniques and styles.
What do I mean by that?
Log on to Pinterest, and search “Tribal Pokémon Tattoos.” You will find almost any Pokémon from any generation rendered as a tribal stencil, ready for inking. You will likewise find sparse images of people who have had these stencils tattooed.
Next, try searching “Pixelated Pokémon Tattoo.” For a tattoo that fully embraces your childhood nostalgia, you can have your favorite Pokémon inked to look exactly like the pixelated version from the original Gameboy Color games. Usually inked as fairly small pieces, the pixelated style is ideal for those who prefer micro tattoos, which have also gained massive popularity in recent years.
With a generic search of “Pokémon Tattoo,” you will find a series of other styles, including bold lined, vibrantly colored Pokémon-inspired ink complete with the banners and florals that are staples of American traditional tattoos. There is an entire series of Pokémon American traditional tattoos (one batch of which I’ve featured in this blog below), which speaks not only to the incorporation of a Japanese pop-culture icon into American traditional style, but to the versatility of Pokémon as an artistic subject I mentioned before. Think about it: a grown man who’s never played a Pokémon game in his life could technically sport a Blastoise American Traditional tattoo without recognizing its origins as a children’s TV show.
This leads me to the Pokémon themselves.
Regardless of style, you have a whole wealth of Pokémon—hundreds of them, in fact—that vary by appearance to meet the aesthetic preferences of any client. You’ve got the beastly Pokémon like Gyarados and Entei who offer the same masculine, ferocious style of a dragon or monster tattoo. You’ve got a whole batch of elegant Pokémon like many of the Eeveelutions (e.g. Umbreon, Espeon, and Vaporeon) for a more feminine approach that can be executed deftly in color or black and grey. Then, you’ve got the cute baby Pokémon like Squirtle, Charmander, and Bulbasaur, all of which have been popularly tattooed wearing “costumes” that look like their evolved forms (Blastoise, Charizard, and Venusaur) for an “aw look at that!” appeal. Tattoo artist Meredith Bertschin, who works at the Tattooed Heart Studios above our Painful Pleasures facilities, has done one of these tattoos (a Charmander in a Charizard costume) with expert precision. The tattoo is featured on her online portfolio, which you can see here.
But it isn’t all about the Pokémon themselves.
The entire Pokémon universe offers a host of *ahem* exceptionally tattoo-able icons. There are countless gym leaders with iconic looks that can be rendered to a client’s preference—think of the possibilities: a Misty pin-up tattoo, a fairy Sabrina tattoo, a macabre corpse of Ash Ketchum, surrounded by Ghastlys. Any of the gym leader badges, of all shapes and colors, can be inked as a micro tattoo or mayhaps a tribal ornament. The Pokéball is a universal icon whose round shape is perfect for any part of the body, (but most ideal for a muscled deltoid, if you ask me); it can be rendered to be three-dimensional with photo-real high shine, inked in American traditional style, or pixelated for nostalgia’s sake. I’ve even seen a Pokéball tattoo incorporate the popularly inked “ripped flesh” tattoo, to look as if the ball is embedded in the client’s skin—indicative, again, of the Pokémon world’s profound versatility.
I’ve rambled about the endless options for Pokémon-themed tattoos, but let’s not rule out the simplicity of inking each Pokémon as they originally appeared on the show. One ambitious tattoo artist, Alicia Thomas of Boston Tattoo Company, aspires to ink all 151 original Pokémon on 151 original customers. A multitude of vastly different creatures for a multitude of vastly different canvases. This speaks not only to Alicia’s impressive determination, but to the popularity of Pokémon tattoos in general.
The popularity and re-imaginings of the wonderfully accessible Pokémon universe do not only exist within the tattoo industry. I would encourage anyone with an interest in Pokémon and artistic expression to take a long, hard gander at the deliciously macabre work of David Szilagyi, who has rendered many of the original 150 Pokémon into ghoulish fiends. Feast your eyes on this horrific magic by checking out his online portfolio here. Needless to say, I don’t think the intersection of horror tattoos and Pokémon tattoos is entirely out of the question—the possibilities could fill binders, just like our trading cards did when we were kids.
So, what say you? Will you ink ‘em all, or even just one? Who wants to be a Pokémon ink master? I, myself, have considered an innocent Squirtle tattoo for my hip. Boring, perhaps, but what can I say?
Squirtle is a cutie.
Tattoo Artists Brent Megens and Angus Byers are credited for their featured work above (the traditional Pokémon tattoo and the Cubone tattoo in progress respectively). You can check out Brent Megen's portfolio by clicking the Pokéball image. Check out Angus Byers's portfolio by clicking here. Artists responsible for the sleeve tattoo and Gyarados tattoo featured above were not credited online. If you know who did these tattoos, please let us know so we can properly credit the talented artist for his or her fabulous work!