Has Mickey Mouse’s shrill voice and happy-go-lucky attitude ever made you want to curb stomp the little fucker? If you share this contempt for Disney’s most wholesome icon, then you’ll probably love these Rat Fink tattoos. Ed “Big Daddy” Roth dreamed up this grotesque, free-wheeling rodent as the antithesis to Mickey Mouse in the ‘60s, and almost immediately the wart-covered rodent sped his way into the hearts of America’s outcasts.
Roth (1932-2001) was a cartoonist, pinstriper, and custom car designer. Because of his passion for the quarter mile, he was one of the leading members of Kustom Kulture — a movement surrounding hot rods in the US during the mid-20th century. Though he tricked out countless vehicles, he is best known for his caricatures, the most famous of which is this deranged green beast with a passion for hanging ten and hauling ass.
“Ed Roth was a genius of the only uniquely American art form — that automobile,” writes Tom Wolfe in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. “It is not aesthetic but kinesthetic, inseparable from motion. It is speed. Momentum. Freedom.” Turning American muscle into fine art was costly, so Roth subsidized his passion by pinstriping rides, creating “Weirdo” t-shirt designs to sell at car shows, and becoming a pioneer of fiberglass bodywork. His craftsmanship led him to illustrating spreads for Car Culture, where Rat Fink made his debut in 1963.
Something about the bulging-eyed misanthrope struck a chord with gearheads and other groups on the fringes of American society. Rat Fink, with his badass monographed overalls, embodies counterculture in all its greasy glory for outlaws and pariahs alike.
Rat Fink’s image has been recreated in comics, as figurines, keychains, decals, and more. The hideous yet beloved anti-hero was even used for the album art of Junk Yard by The Birthday Party and was widely embraced by the punk rock community for his antiestablishmentarian personality. Of all of the subcultures that adopted Rat Fink over the last 50 years, the tattoo industry has carried him — as if by slingshot dragster — into the present.
As seen in the pieces by Dirk Vermin and Bobby Ellis, some of the tattooists featured here remain faithful to original design of the renegade rat. Other daredevils like to put their own spins on him, outfitting him in religious garb, swimwear, and even cholo threads. Gregory Whitehead gives a nod to Roth’s intense hatred of Mickey Mouse with his work. Rat Fink is just as customizable as the hot rods Roth loved, so long as the artist channels the live-fast and give-no-fucks spirit of Roth’s greatest creation.
To see more depraved body art, make sure to cruise by these artists’ Instagrams. If you want to learn more about Ed Roth and his works, check out this documentary about him entitled The Tales Of The Rat Fink. If you want to show your outsider pride, think about getting a tattoo of this revolting rodent peeling out in an chopped-top Chevelle or catching some waves.