Interesting people and their interesting tattoos. The tale of Mad Dog and The Wasp.
by Matthew Haddon-Reichardt on Jan 14, 2022
Will facial tattoos ever go mainstream? Or will they always be a taboo that is seldom broken? Yayo sent out regular blog boy Matt Haddon-Reichardt to find out.
Back in 2016 Justin Bieber broke a social taboo, that I expected to herald an avalanche of tattoo change. It was a time when he was transforming from clean cut, mediocre pop singer to bad boy, mediocre pop singer. A huge part of this reinvention was a bunch of mediocre tattoos. The tattoo that caught my eye, and got me thinking was very small, but one fact made it stand out from the rest. What caught my eye was the fact Mr Bieber’s new tattoo was near his eye; he had gone and got a face tattoo. Yes it was small, yes it was mediocre but it was on his face; and as we all know facial tattoos are a big no-no.
At this point I’d been writing for the tattoo trade for 4 years, and if I’d learned anything in that time it was that where celebs go, society follows. I was surprised over the next half a decade when face tattoos didn’t take off in a big way. Yes I know many tattooists and enthusiastic tattoo collectors have them; but I expected Justin’s face ink to have the same impact David Beckhams back tattoo did, or Cheryl Coles hand tattoo. It seems that for now face tattoos are a taboo only for a select elite and my gut feeling is that will always be the case. Which brings me on to my interesting people; Mad Dog and The Wasp. These two gentlemen perfectly illustrate why facial tattoos will probably never go mainstream.
“This,” he said gesturing at his face, “is my arsehole detector.”
I can remember meeting John like it was yesterday. He thrust his hand enthusiastically in front of me and barked:
“Call me Mad Dog.”
I sat down and I tried not to stare at Mad Dog’s heavily tattooed forehead. Mad Dog’s son Jimmy, headed to the bar to get us drinks while Mad Dog told me his tattoo story.
“This,” he said gesturing at his face, “is my arsehole detector.”
Mad Dog was dressed in leathers and sported long, undercut hair that was tied back in a high ponytail. This exposing where his tribal tattoo extended across his forehead, along the side of his skull and down his neck. I asked if getting his face inked was part of biker culture; he began laughing. He was still laughing when Jimmy returned from the bar.
“Dad’s never owned a bike,” said Jimmy awkwardly, as he handed me my pint.
It was 2004 and John’s tattoo and biker gang image were only 6 months old.
“I got this lovely bit of art put on my face to mark the end of one life and the start of another.”
John had separated from his wife of 26 years the previous summer. It had been an acrimonious affair brought about by a string of illicit affairs. Prior to his divorce he’d been a clean cut, average Joe; post marriage he adopted the Mad Dog persona.
“A lot of people won’t talk to me because of the tattoo and that’s fine; it’s great even. If you’re not willing to give me the time of day because I have a picture on my face then you’re too shallow and judgemental to be a friend of mine.”
He glugged his Diet Coke and smiled showing off his gold teeth.
“A lot of people are intimidated by my tattoo but that says more about them, than me. It’s what’s behind the skin that’s important not what’s embedded in it. The only downside of it is I get asked a lot about bikes and I know sod all about bikes,” he smiled, breaking out into another rich belly laugh.
"The Wasp was truly an intimidating character."
This wasn’t the last time I’d met someone who used facial tattoos to as a filter. While working for a community mental health team as a therapy assistant, I came across a guy who made Mad Dog’s tattoo look tame. His psychiatric nurse had nicknamed him The Wasp.
The Wasp was truly an intimidating character. His cue ball head was littered with nasty tattoos: teardrops under his eyes, a spider web across his cheek, a yin yang on the back of his head, a demon on the crown and the words born evil badly flowed along his jaw line. He looked like a character Robert Carlyle would play in a Shane Meadows film; the guy who kicks someone to death in a drug fuelled rage in the final act of a gritty, Northern, kitchen sink drama
The Wasp was a wiry bloke in army boots and a bomber jacket, but he was no more a skinhead thug than Mad Dog was a biker. He’d come from a broken home, been severely neglected by his mum and beaten by his dad. This trauma had resulted in a childhood spent in and out of care, and had led to an adulthood in and out of psychiatric hospitals; as he struggled to come to terms with the anxiety and depression that dominated his life.
"They warned: keep away or pain will follow."
While Mad Dogs facial tattoo was an arsehole detector The Wasp’s were the human equivalent of the black and yellow banding of a vespula vulgaris. They warned: keep away or pain will follow. But he was more hover fly than wasp. A frightened, vulnerable victim who just wanted to be left alone by other people in the hope of escaping more hurt. His wasp impression worked wonders and I once remember watching a gang of rowdy football fans cross the street, fearful of his sting.
Mad Dog and The Wasp demonstrate that while tattoos are now ubiquitous, with everyone having one including my aging aunty Roz, face tattoos are a different territory. Perhaps it will take a braver celebrity than young Justin to bring them into the mainstream, or perhaps they will always be associated with wasp stings and dog bites.
Please be aware none of the images included in this article are of Mad Dog or The Wasp. They are all images of people I have collected, who are brave and bold enough to rock a face tattoo. One day I may well join them.
A final thought: Counsellor and retired psychiatric nurse Tony Brown explores the psychosocial implications of face tattoos.
“The old cliché of the eyes being the windows to the soul holds some truth. Eye contact is an essential part of nonverbal communication and we convey many emotions and messages through our eyes, eyebrows and facial expressions. Changing and distorting the face, particularly the skin around the eyes, can have effects on how we are perceived.”
“Look at the press coverage and criticism Renee Zellweger received a few years back for suspected surgery on the skin around her eyes. People were stating they didn’t recognise her. Jamie Lee Curtis has recently admitted to a similar procedure and she states she deeply regrets it. Tattoos around the eyes can have the same effect and could really impact on how an individual is treated.”
It is not only how society views those with facial tattoos, Tony believes that there is potential harm to the individual’s self-perception.
“It also can have a negative effect on the person’s perception of self. Like heavy cosmetic surgery or severe trauma extensive, body modification can change drastically how someone looks in the mirror and effect how they view ourselves. Too many changes, too quickly can result in the face in the mirror looking like that of a stranger. I think this applies to eyeball tattoos in particular.”
But Tony isn’t opposed to facial tattoos he just feels people should make informed positive choices.
“Tattoos are all about self-expression and communication. Look at the Maori facial tattoos. They are both beautiful and socially acceptable. I think western facial tattoos have moved on a lot in the past few years. Now people can get beautiful art done in a place where it is unmissable.”
If you want the best then use the best; use Yayo!