I went to Red Rocket Tattoo’s event in honor of Rogue One and had an awesome time getting tattooed by — Han Solo of the industry — Adam Guy Hays. Read on to find out what the experience was like and about all the cool body art a bunch of fans got as Hays and the rest of Red Rocket's crew churned out tattoos that would make Yoda proud.
Last Saturday morning, I found myself with a group of other Star Wars fans waiting for Red Rocket Tattoo’s doors to open. There were five of us, and we’d all arrived early, because we wanted to secure our chances of being inscribed with iconography from one of our favorite film series of all time. One man was a long-time client of Adam Guy Hays, and for the rest of us, including me, this was our first visit to the shop, having come specifically for its Star Wars Day festivities.
It was chilly, and we were all shivering as well as giddy with excitement, talking about what characters we were thinking about having tattooed on our bodies. Though it wasn’t as massive as some events at comic shops and conventions that I’d been to before, I could already tell that this was going to be one of the most exhilarating nerdy gatherings I’d ever attended.
“I’ve been drawing Star Wars characters as long as I can remember. You do something for over 15 years, you get pretty damned good at it.”
I was blown away by the shop’s entrance. Just walking up the two flights of stairs into Red Rocket is a spectacular experience. The steps are riddled with tattoo typography, and the walls are brimming with vibrant and detailed paintings and drawings. Best of all, for a Star Wars nerd like me, is that large portions of the gallery are devoted to Hays’ geeky visual art, which features depictions of iconic imagery such as the AT-AT Walker, Luke's disembodied hand with his blue lightsaber, the Millennium Falcon, and more.
Basically, if it’s Star Wars related, Hays has illustrated it.
“I’ve been drawing Star Wars characters for about as long as I can remember,” Hays said. “Once you do something for over 15 years, you tend to get pretty damned good at it.” His interpretations of the characters from this galaxy far, far away are epic, employing a signature illustrative style, flowing line work, and muted orange-heavy color palettes. Though there are numerous tattooists out there with penchants for Star Wars imagery, Hays' stand out as uniquely his own.
In order to help me decide what tattoo to get, Hays ushered me to his work station and showed me his ingenious Star Wars hat project. He's designed numerous stencils of headwear that can be mixed-and-matched on characters from the films. "I started this little project over a year ago," he said. "At first, I drew up the characters’ heads and just made a few hats to switch around on them." Now, this fun undertaking has grown significantly. So far he has made over 140 different designs, and I can tell you firsthand, the force is incredibly strong with all of them.
As someone who loves the original trilogy, playing with his stencils brought me back to when I first encountered Star Wars, watching A New Hope while my family anxiously awaited the election results on the night Bill Clinton was elected president. Now, as a full-grown adult, I was smiling ear-to-ear, like a little kid playing with action figures, as we dolled up Boba Fett Dolly Parton-style, made a black-power Vader, and put a Goofy cap on a Stormtrooper. Hays said he plans on creating even more hats and Star Wars heads, which is infinitely exciting because it means that people can get their favorite characters memorialized by him in one-of-a-kind ways. "Once any one of these becomes a tattoo, the design will be decommissioned,” he said. “That way each one remains an original piece of art."
Though it was extremely difficult for me to decide on which head and hat to go with, when I slid a stencil of a mitre on to his dark helmet, I instantly knew Pope Vader was the one for me.
Given Star Wars’ popularity, I expected to see diehard fans turn out for the event, and I was not disappointed. The group I met at the door, as well as several other walk-ins, all wandered away with some killer body art, even another Catholic Lord Vader in a nun's cap. Someone else got a Vietnam-themed Boba Fett a la Full Metal Jacket. Portraits of characters were not the only sort of tattoo either. One of Shannon Ritchie’s clients got a tattoo of the Rebel Alliance's insignia with a floral inlay and vines around it. I overheard Hays and one of his longtime customers chatting about eventually doing a green lightsaber piercing his ribs, too.
It was amazing to watch each of these tattoos take shape, and it was so compelling to hear all of the tattooists and their clients nerding out about the Star Wars. "While a lot of people stand by The Empire Strikes Back as being the best,” Hays said during the day, “for me, it's definitely Return of the Jedi, because it was the first one I ever saw in theaters as a kid, and I love all of the scenes from Jabba's Palace."
Since the shop’s event was in honor of Rogue One’s release, I had to know Hays’ expectations for the movie. “I’m excited about it,” he said. “Since it has all new characters, they really can’t mess them up, like they did with Vader in the other recent films. They took the meanest badass in the entire galaxy and turned him into a pussy.” I couldn’t agree with him more, and I have high hopes for this installment of the epic narrative as well.
Though they don’t have any more events like this scheduled in the near future, Hays wants to do more of them. “I attend countless conventions, and honestly, they are starting to feel overdone,” he said. “But when I tattoo at Star Wars related events, the atmosphere feels reinvigorating. It’s great to work with people who are enthusiastic about celebrating their fandom, and I want to do it more in the future.” As with his commentary on the Sith Lord’s character development, he’s once again right; witnessing all of these fans collaborating with artists to create homages to their favorite characters filled me with an incredibly exciting sense of belonging, and I think it’s safe to say it did for everyone else who took part in the fun.
Red Rocket Tattoo will likely host other events like this one, so keep an eye on their website for updates. Also, if you want to see more of Hays’ Star Wars inspired work, here’s a link to his Instagram.