Katherine Brannock is a tattoo artist who designed the tattoos on DC Collectibles Gotham City Garage statues of Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Batgirl, the last of which will be released this month.
SYFY FANGRRLS got a chance to chat with Brannock about her work, how she started tattooing, her inspiration for each design, and her thoughts on the DC Collectibles statues and the way they reflect real bodies.
How did you get into tattooing?
I remember the first time I saw a tattoo. I was about eight-years-old and I saw a real one on my sister’s ankle. [laughs] It was benchin'. It was a little rose on a vine and it was pretty much the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my life. At that point, I never really thought I could ever really be cool enough to tattoo, so I did the normal thing and went to college and got a degree and got into graphic design.
In between flirting with the idea of becoming a tattoo artist and wanting to push into the commercial illustration industry, I ended up knocking the tipping point as far as jumping the gun and looking for a proper apprenticeship. When I starting to think of how I wanted my life set up, I had no problem as far as a work ethic and putting in 60+ hours a week, you don’t mind putting in the time. It’s just your life. When I realized that I wanted to continue telling stories, writing or illustrating in whatever capacity, I knew that tattooing was a logical decision for me because I knew that I could have total control of my schedule, I could still do what I love and keep abreast with my skills. I would have the control to have an income as an independent agent, and I could cherry pick what projects I wanted to work on.
Can you talk a bit about your style?
It’s developed pretty dramatically over the past few years. I’ve started getting more clients that really wanted me to take my own spin on a lot of their ideas or just see what I had going on on the back burner. I can’t even say for certain where a lot of the psychedelic components come from. I can assure you that all of this is done completely sober. They kind of come out of nowhere.
I love flora and fauna, and I used to snag whatever National Geographic magazines I could when I was a kid because I liked the photos of animals and I wanted to draw from there. Mythology always informed my work. Symbology, alchemy, it didn’t always have to be Western mythology. Just huge influences. As far as the line quality and the calligraphy of the work, that really came about just from iteration after iteration. That is something that developed on its own. Moulding everything together, I could almost say that if you wanted to get philosophical or conceptual about how my thoughts evolved, it’s almost as if what’s happening on the page is that everything is sort of sliming together as far as a concept, because it’s really hard for me to focus on just one thought. I think what drives a lot of the work too is that I understand that everything has already been done... but is it possible to try and do something that no one has ever seen before?
So how did you get involved with DC?
[Creative Director at DC Entertainment] Jim Fletcher serendipitously came by my booth at WonderCon. He stopped in his tracks when he looked at some of my Bic ballpoint pen sketches, and he was curious as to who I was, what my plans were. It was almost like an interview on the spot, but Jim is so warm and personable. From there he introduced me to a number of artists in the company and left the door open.
Can you talk a bit about each design and what inspired you?
Sure! With the Harley Quinn, I love her background story of being a psychologist and how she met the Joker in Arkham Asylum. But aside from the love interest and the adventure, whenever I approach a tattoo, it’s about that person solely and their identity. So I pulled in not only elements of again, symbology — the caduceus is there with the two snakes, and that’s typically seen as a medical symbol, and the two snakes and the wings. We have her character, which is the mask over the skull, and the ribbon which is the harlequin pattern. That’s a signature for her. It was a matter of really highlighting this division between what was her accepted persona in society versus this fly by night character, the sort of mini-death as she transitions from one to another.Moving on to the Wonder Woman character, she has so many interesting backstories and she has so many detours. One of my favorites is when she actually loses her superpowers, or I believe she chooses to be a mortal. I love that. She gave up essentially what was an identity in exchange for something real, so she was able to generate strength out of her self in what was a more human capacity. She took on the Kung Fu master I Ching, amazing. And that’s where the knot comes in, the infinity knot. It does have a number of other names. Things get lost in translation, but in one aspect can be connected to the eight-fold path. You go down and you bring yourself up, and that is when you understand the full breadth of what it is to be human. You come from the very bottom and bring yourself up to the top, and understanding suffering. That, I felt, was Wonder Woman’s choice to do that. I love that, and that made her real to me.
And beyond that, we have the star marking. You can make connections to the Greek gods and the heavenly bodies. The Greek gods made the stars, and that star is there. It’s there in the owl, and that owl is a reference to Athena in that mythology. Again with that eight-fold path connecting the human element to the God-like or celestial element and that was [Diana's] choice to do. Brandishing that element on her arms where her cuffs go, that is now her protective marking. And that is a big thing in tattooing, that was a big one that I wanted to do for her.
For Batgirl, she still has a pretty raw background, I would say. Her conception comes from purely her personality; something that is kind of like a wild card. We’ve got the bat which has a Halloween edge, kind of wonky, a little wild, a little psychedelic. That ties into the Queen of the Night, which is the flower that’s been referenced next to the bat. I think there is a part of me that wants to see Batgirl develop into that strong woman because she has that capacity. When I’ve worked on women in particular that get tattoos, so much of what they’re drawn to is how they see themselves or how they wish themselves to be, which I think is absolutely beautiful. For Batgirl, it’s: "I’m about to start my adventure. I’m about to see what kind of woman I’m going to be." The last part is the mandala pieces. Those were actually based off of bat sketches which were loosely based on mandalas. The symbology behind the mandalas is that no matter how chaotic things become, so long as you find the path back down to the center, that’s where you can find your peace. That’s also a reminder to her that, no matter how crazy things get, just remember your core and who you are.
Lastly, we have Supergirl. I almost started telling the story to myself about her. When I was working on it I asked where DC wanted me to go with this, because her background is pretty similar to Batgirl’s in that there isn’t as much development as, say, some of the other characters in the DC Universe. They were like, "You know what? She comes from a different world. Go to town with it." So I just went off the deep end. [laughs]
I started picturing Supergirl as this down-home, grassroots girl that loves her horses and her stable. I think that very American girl [feel] comes across. Also in the comics, she has her Labrador Retriever. I started to wonder what would her pets look like back on her planet. I began to draw this cross between this canine, horse-like alien creature. In my head I named — it never really came out into the media, but in my head, I named them Gypsy and Vanner, which are types of horses, and to me they were reminders. The tattoo on her is also a reminder, again in this imaginary fantasy context, and meant to be a component of the story that reminded her of her alien roots. Here’s this homage to what could have been her pets on her home planet.
One of the things that is great about the DC Collectibles statues is that they have body shapes that an actual human could have. Was that one of the draws for you?
Majorly, yeah. One of the things that I love about tattooing the most is the challenge of framing something or tailoring something to someone’s anatomy. We all have a fairly similar template, however, I think the real challenge and the fun of doing something for someone is to really form it to their body, because when they see it formed to who they are, then they really can see how beautiful they are. That’s the most important thing, especially when designing for women.
You can follow Katherine Brannock on Instagram @KatherineBrannock, and you can check out her new project Someday Mouse here. What do you think of the DC Collectibles Gotham Garage statues and the tattoo designs? Let us know @SYFYFangrrls.