On to the discussion!
Last week, I saw a video about the branding used on urban fantasy covers. For the link-averse, he displays a series of book covers to exemplify what he feels is overdone in cover art. Within this series is a long string of tattoos on portrayals of the heroines (including Marjorie Liu's The Iron Hunt, which is sorta kinda about tattoos, which makes the cover sorta kinda authentic to the story, kthanx).
This made me wonder about the significance of the tattoos in the urban fantasy stories themselves. Are tattoos a cliché? Becoming cliché? Or are they (becoming or already) a trope? Full disclosure time: I have a tattoo and plans for more. One of my stories (the urban fantasy, heh) features tattoos as part of the world.
Clearly, not all UF and paranormal romance heroines have ink (even some of those on the UF covers portrayed with a tattoo don't actually have one), and not all ink serves the same purpose within the story or world. But even if the tattoos were, across the board, there only for the purpose of art on the heroine's skin, would this really be as terrible as SciFiGuy seems to imply?
Ink might be trope-ish because it fits within the demographic range of urban fantasy heroines and often of paranormal romance heroines. Specifically, these women are urban or at least modern and steeped within their society and world. Given the number of women sporting tattoos these days (especially tramp stamps), is it any wonder UF and PR heroines also have tattoos?
Another reason the tats don't feel cliché to me is because of their symbolism. A trope of UF is the "kick-ass heroine." Heroines don't have to physically kick it, but they have to be strong in character. They have to be doers, motivated, good at their chosen work.
Tattoos in Western culture have been remarkably common (even in the Victorian period) yet not really mainstream until the last decade or two. Those for whom they have been most common have been warriors. Sailors. Soldiers. Marines. Tattoos in many societies are received during rites of passage. In some cultures, the act of getting painful, full-body tattoos over the course of days constitutes the entirety of the rite.
It could be said that tattoos are symbolic of warriors and of strength in endurance. These are appropriate phrases to attribute to UF heroines and many PR heroines. Even the heroines who don't tangle physically with the enemy are warriors at heart. And boy howdy do they endure.
I'll pose a few questions here to get the conversation rolling. Respond to any, all, or none. Maybe there's a giveaway involved. Who knows? ;)
- You know we all love to see each other's ink. Share the photographic evidence in the comments, and let us all be voyeurs.
- If you have an opinion about tats in UF and PR, regardless of the opinion, dish.
- What do you think the significance of tats is? Do you think there's a symbolism behind them that fuels their popularity in feminist fiction?
Next time, I'm going to pull back from this specific trope/cliché discussion and hopefully drum up some fun conversation about general genre tropes and clichés.