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Two weeks ago I met artist Hal Hefner, creator of the webcomic “Gates” presented by Heavy Metal, for lunch in Culver City. Before we could get to the informal portion of our meal, I had to bring up CBR INK. He had several visible tattoos and a few more peeking out from beneath his sleeves. It’s been three or four years since we last saw one another, so I asked if he had any tattoos that would be of interest to our audience.
He slid up his right sleeve and said, “I have this Spider-Man tattoo here…”
Last week, CBR INK sat down with Hal Hefner for a brief, more pointed chat about his tattoos, the story behind each of them, and the challenge of getting your own creation, drawn in your own hand, drawn permanently on you by another artist.
CBR Ink: Hal, I like to start off with the basics. When did you get your first tattoo, and how many do you have at this point?
Hal Hefner: I got my first tattoo when I graduated from college. It was of Egyptian Hieroglyphics, from the Book of the Dead and it means, “Hath created for my soul a dwelling place.” I got it from a guy just outside of Poughkeepsie, NY back in 1999. As of now I have 7 tattoos.
What are your comic book and pop culture tattoos? What about those images made you decide to get them tattooed on you?
I have several pop culture and comic book related tattoos.
1) Spider-Man (Black Costume Spider logo)
I have the Spider-Man, logo from when he got the black costume back in the ’80s. When Spider-Man got the black costume it changed my life because I was obsessed with drawing him. I credit that costume with inspiring me to blossom from a scrawny little 4th grader with a bad haircut and buck teeth — into the artist I am now. I learned how to draw the human figure from Spidey in his black costume. There is no Ultimate Spider-Man or any other crap that they did to Peter Parker in the recent iterations of the comic, in my world. Just the black costume and not even Venom can take away that coolness.
2) The Arashikage symbol from “G.I. Joe”
I have the ba gua symbol for ‘water’ and ‘fire,’ representing the 63rd hexagram of the I Ching on my right forearm.
Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow are two other figures from the world of comics that made me progress as an artist and they each wore this symbol. I interpreted it in my own way for my own tattoo. I turned it the other way, made it bigger and added outlines. Thank you Larry Hama.
3) “Fantastic Planet”
I have two tattoos from the animated film, “Fantastic Planet.” This bizarre 1973 acid trip of a film really kicked me in the stomach creatively and influenced my young, growing mind as a late teenager. I credit this film with opening the doors of creative perception for me and when I saw it as a nineteen year-old art student, I knew I wanted to make this kind of mind bending, thought provoking Sci-Fi — and that’s what I am doing now. If you like trippy Sci-Fi loaded with strange creatures, nudity and funky ambient music, then this is a movie you will never forget. One of the tattoos is from a scene in which the little human boy gets a close look at his master and the other is of a Salvador Dali-like meditation scene where the bodies of these giant alien creatures start to morph into abstract shapes.
4) Hieroglyphics from “Gates,” my comic book, presented by Heavy Metal Magazine.
I got my own art inked on me finally with two tattoos, which are my most recent. These symbols represent some really cool plot lines in the stories that are currently in motion in the “Gates” universe. The first one is a glyph that foretells a prophecy of the rise of a new species of humanoid from the ashes of mankind.
The second is an ominous symbol containing all sorts of occult symbols, utilized by the evil cult in my upcoming transmedia e-novel. This is the symbol of the Brotherhood of the Snake. You can learn more about these at http://www.gatesthecomic.com.
You’re an artist yourself, and you grew up learning from some of the best in the business. Do you worry about finding a tattoo artist who won’t be able to accurately translate your vision properly as a tattoo?
Yes, you always worry. Picking an artist to tattoo you is pretty easy though. My advice for anyone is to find a tattoo artist that can draw. My two favorite guys are Nate Gazin (NY) and Zulu (LA). These dudes are not only great tattoo artists but they have serious drawing skills.
Sound advice. Given that you have a tattoo of your own work, is there even greater anxiety involved knowing that there’s more pressure for it to live up to your vision?
No not really, not for me anyway. But I’m not an anal control freak either. As an artist, I know that things never come out exactly the way I see it in my mind so I allow for another artist to interpret my work and give me their best. That is all you can ask for.
Lastly, what do tattoos mean to you, or more specifically, what do your tattoos mean to you?
Tattoos to me are a road map of my life. I just see tattoos as another way of expressing my art on my own gallery, that just happens to be my skin. So I have chosen several tattoos that mean something to me personally. My tattoos mean the world to me and they should mean that to everyone who gets one, in my humble opinion.