Tattoos used to show symbols, experiences

Jon Eissler conquered his old fear of needles to get this tattoo symbolizing his survival of a form of brain cancer.

Tattoos have been around for thousands of years. Through the years, the symbolism of tattoos has changed in some ways, and in other ways stayed the same.

Different cultures get different kinds of tattoos. Americans tend to get tattoos to make a statement, whether it is showing love for someone, a political or religious belief or even a symbol of self-empowerment. Some people also get spur-of-the-moment tattoos without much meaning to them at all.

Liquid Swordz is a tattoo shop in Ypsilanti. Tattoo artist Alex Frantz and piercer Dave Coyle said they have a lot of customers come in wanting to get a significant other’s name tattooed on them. Instead of just taking the money and running with it, those at Liquid Swordz try to sway the customers to get a tattoo reminding them of the person instead.

“Names are just bad luck,” Frantz said.

A while back, Coyle and Frantz had a couple who were dating come in to get tattooed. While Frantz was tattooing the girlfriend with the boyfriend’s name, the boyfriend started laughing and said, “Man, your husband is going to be pissed when he sees this.” Apparently, she used the tattoo to tell her husband she was leaving him.

The most common tattoos people get at Liquid Swordz are stars, followed by butterflies and Kanji (Japanese symbols).

A lot of people also come in with pictures from Frantz is OK with this because he is normally able to work with customers to customize tattoos.

Coyle said, “We try not to recycle tattoos.”

Nobody wants to be at a bar and see the same tattoo on another person unless it was planned.
“A person’s first tattoo is usually symbolic to their life, but after that one tattoo a lot of people start getting random tattoos that just look neat,” Frantz said.

Coyle said, “The people who get the tattoos that look cool are usually getting tattoos that match their personality, so they aren’t completely meaningless.”

Mi Joi Thompson, a sophomore at Eastern Michigan University, has 13 tattoos, but according to her, only six of them have any real meaning. Thompson said she got random tattoos when she wanted to get some ink done, and some of them were just jokes in her mind.

“I’ll usually relate the concept with a mental image of what I would think represents the thought, idea or words, and what they would look like translated into pictures,” Thompson said.

Senior Jesse Christian has three tattoos. On the right side of his chest he has the symbol from “Ka,” a part of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series.

“It represents the idea of destiny or fate, but it goes deeper than that. It is an unavoidable circular chain that bonds people to other people, places, times and events,” Christian said.
The left side of his chest has his own rendition of the Jagan Eye, which can be translated from Japanese as the evil eye, but in Japanese culture its significance is much bigger. It represents a third eye to the spirit, located in the center of the forehead.

“The eye is used to summon strange and unnatural powers, but it also allows a person to see another’s spirit. My brother has his Jagan on the opposite side of his chest, and the idea is that we use them to watch out for one another,” Christian said.

His last tattoo is a tattoo from the movie “Trick-R-Treat,” and according to Christian it doesn’t really have much meaning. He loves Halloween, and he loves the movie. He saw it at the tattoo shop he goes to, thought it looked cool, so he got it. Some tattoos can be as simple as that.

Jon Eissler, another student at EMU, had Medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer, as a child. Because of the cancer he says he has a harder time comprehending things.

“I have a comprehension disorder, but that doesn’t mean that I will not understand things. It might just take me longer than someone who has not battled brain cancer,” Eissler said.

Eissler said his stepsister died a few years back, and his whole family got tattoos in her memory. He thought of doing the same but decided not to in the end. Instead, one day while surfing the net he went to a website called and saw a shirt that said “I Made Cancer My Bitch.” It was then he knew he was going to get a tattoo.

Eissler went to Liquid Swordz by himself.

“I was really nervous because I had been poked so many times as a kid, and had developed a fear of needles,” Eissler said. “The thought of a needle piercing my skin anywhere from 200 to 3,000 times a minute was horrifying.”

Eissler decided on a tattoo with the slogan “I Made Cancer My Bitch” with a brain around it. He said he is glad he did it because it makes him feel empowered. He said it is not there for others to see, but for him to remember he has come a long way and he can do anything he puts his mind to.

“I have a tattoo now that helps me push through hard times,” Eissler said.

Frantz said if you want to get a tattoo and want to play it safe, think about it for a long time, plan it ahead of time and get something that significant to you.

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