Hug Life: Four Days in a Hello Kitty Convention Tattoo Parlor

Four Days in a Hello Kitty Convention Tattoo Parlor

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Hug Life: Four Days in a Hello Kitty Convention Tattoo Parlor

For Hello Kitty fanatics, free tattoos at the icon’s 40th-anniversary celebration are just another benchmark in a lifetime of nostalgia, identity, and devotion Courtesy of Sanrio Diana Torres showed up at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in downtown Los Angeles last Thursday morning at 3:45 A.M. It wasn’t colder than hoodie weather, even in the three hours of pre-dawn darkness. The Riverside, California, native and her sister-in-law didn’t have to bother with typical urban campout gear like blankets or lawn chairs. The Geffen plaza was completely deserted when they arrived, so the pair had time to grab coffee and return to take the first place in line, but only just enough—minutes after they returned, a few more shrewd faithfuls showed up to queue behind them. Six hours later, in the bright, summer-hot sun, the line would stretch around the block, but only the first 50 or so would be rewarded. Their dedication would earn them with a free tattoo, designed by artists set up for the weekend at HK Ink, a small pop-up shop at the heart of the warehouse space where only the most hard-core fans visiting the inaugural Hello Kitty Convention would be inked on a first-come, first-served basis.

This ritual played out every morning of the four-day convention, hosted by Hello Kitty parent company Sanrio in celebration of their star feline’s 40th anniversary. Hello Kitty actually began as a marketing strategy in Japan in 1974, when the then-fledgling maker of small gifts realized it would be cheaper to create its own characters than license others’ intellectual property. Her first appearance was on a tiny coin purse. Today, she may represent the ultimate intersection between design and commerce. Even after a recent sales slump in Japan, Sanrio continues to rake in roughly $7 billion annually, mostly off Hello Kitty.

Plenty of other extreme fandoms exist, of course. Star Trek and superhero comics have driven some of their acolytes to the far edges of sanity, […]