“Your cadaverous pallor betrays an aura of foreboding. Almost as though you sense a disquieting metamorphosis.”
Mid Town Tattoo, Pico Blvd, 3pm 4/14/17: I’m here almost an hour early early, in part due to a desire to beat cross-town traffic, in part due to a simmering excitement and jittery nerves I’m just now admitting to myself.
I’ve had tattoo ideas in my head for years, but never had a reason (or the nerve?) to commit to one. My husband Jason’s recent *gorgeous* hare tattoo by the amazing Micah Perry brought all of those ideas back to the forefront of my mind.
Reviewing the astounding artistry and technique of Micah’s other work made me think more seriously about what I would want to get. However, he’s in high demand, usually booked months in advance all around the world. Then, as luck would have it, he had some last-minute slots available in LA this week, so that sealed the deal. I sent him my deposit and booked a spot.
And now I’m here, a bit nervous but mostly excited. I always enjoy when people have a story behind their tattoos, making them a permanent scrapbook. Similarly, the many design ideas I’d been mulling over are similarly scrapbook-y, depicting things and ideas that have influenced me deeply.
For my first tattoo, I decided on a childhood experience that informs my current career. Actually, now that I think about it, all of the tattoo ideas I have teed up in my head are, thematically, links between early childhood experiences and my evolving adult outlook on life, but this one was the most important, and the one I thought had a lot of potential, given Micah’s style.
When I was four, I rode the Haunted Mansion for the first time, and it both terrified and fascinated me. Wanting to understand all the illusions and effects that brought the Mansion to life, I later at age eight or nine inquired with my neighborhood librarian, who pointed me towards books about magic, theater design, stage illusions, and Walt Disney – and the rest is history. I was hooked.
Ultimately, I learned how all of the tricks worked in the mansion. I also discovered the unique story of how it developed from a walk-through spookhouse, to a Museum of the Weird, to eventually a unique combination of many ideas and styles from multiple famous Imagineers. In particular, I was drawn to the concept art of Rolly Crump, whose 1960s counter-culture style gave elements of the mansion a kooky, super weird vibe.
My earliest memory of that weirdness was when I rode the Mansion at four years old – and I discovered that the walls have eyes! At a distance, the Mansion’s iconic wallpaper looks like some sort of gothic Victorian flocked filigree – but upon close inspection, reveals Rolly’s myriad designs of sinister, odd faces peering back at you from the wallpaper’s repeated pattern.
My second memory of being weirded out as a kid was leaving the Mansion, hearing ghostly Little Leota tell us to “hurry back, and be sure to bring your death certificate.” You know, for kids!
But even though the Mansion creeped me out something fierce (were ghosts *really* going to follow me home??), I couldn’t wait to ride it again. And again. And again. By now, my rides on the Haunted Mansion perhaps number in the high hundreds or low thousands.
With each ride I discovered more details, and as I grew up, recognized more layered nuances of story and subtext. As a teenager, I finally understood the arch humor and darkly funny intent of the Mansion’s designs. As an adult – slowly facing and accepting my foolish mortality – I love how it inverts the usual haunted tropes by laughing at death rather than reeling from it.
So, I wanted a Haunted Mansion tattoo… but I didn’t want a “Disney tattoo”. Not that I haven’t seen many great Disney tattoos on Mansion fans, usually depictions of Leota, or the Hitchhiking Ghosts, or Doom Buggies, or even the the entire exterior of the Mansion itself. I love all of those elements, but none of those singular totems spoke to me as the reason *why* the Mansion has become such a constant in my life.
Then I realized: it was the *face*. That creepy, shrieking banshee face that hollered back at me from the Mansion’s wallpaper, all twisting hair and glowing eyes. I was hypnotized.
When I finally sat down with Micah, it took a good two hours of him sketching in sharpie on my arm, interpreting the reference photos from the Mansion that I’d given him. I didn’t want a copy – I wanted his floral and lyrical style. He sketched and wiped clean and re-sketched, and we’d talk and he’d revise again and again. I told him what I liked, he asked what I didn’t like. “More banshee, less skull; less occult, more gothic; less Potter Dark Mark, more funereal flower arrangement.”
Slowly, finally, the face organically appeared, the banshee’s hair growing out of overgrown vines and ferns, its arched eyes and shrieking mouth a wink towards Rolly’s style lurking deep within the foliage. Suddenly I heard the Mansion’s haunting organ theme echoing inside my head, alongside Paul Frees’ ghoulish voice calling me a “foolish mortal”.
Perfect. Let’s do this.