John Airo

John Airo Chicago flag tattoo closeup

C2E2 is a huge comics and entertainment expo in downtown Chicago and my wife Erica was working the I Want to Draw a Cat For You booth all three days. She came home Friday night saying, “I saw a lot of Chicago flag tattoos today”. So Saturday when I visited the expo I was paying less attention to the hundreds of robots, aliens, and monsters than I was to scanning exposed skin for Chicago flags. I didn’t find a single one and headed back to Artists’ Alley to see my friends. Nearly back to their booth, a man with an impressive beard, who turned out to be Luke Stokes, said, “Nice tattoo - he’s got one of those” and pointed to his booth companion, John Airo. John rolled up his sleeve and showed me a very distinctive, bold and battered version of the Chicago flag, of his own design. John and Luke collaborate on a new comic book, CPD 70, about the Chicago Police Department in 1970. John’s personal art work is filled with versions of the Chicago flag and it obviously occupies a prominent place in his artistic mind.

CFT: What’s your Chicago flag tattoo story?

John: Well, I’ve been doing a lot of Chicago flag-themed artwork and I think it all stems from being born here, being a Chicagoan, loving and hating it. As a community, as a people, it’s home, it’s the best place ever. But our leaders have failed us and continue to fail us. I never thought it could get worse than Daley and I think it did. We’re beat-up and weathered but we’re still together. A car breaks down in the street, people get out and help each other. Someone needs something and everyone’s there, except the cops, except the government. They’re hating on teachers, they’re… To me it’s just surviving, we’re surviving because we’re Chicago. The people that wave the flags above their buildings, they’re not Chicago, it’s us.

I guess that’s what it is to me. I’m just proud, I’m proud to be here. I’m not going anywhere, because I’ve made it this far and I’m going to keep going. It’s taken on every part of my life. I’m an artist as a job, that’s what I do, and the flag, for me, it’s relevant. I think what you do is great, that’s fantastic.

CFT: Oh, thanks.

John: Having a site dedicated to that, it’s brilliant. [Indicating my own flag tattoo] It’s good, we could be in another country and I’d be like, “Alright, there’s someone I can count on.” Just seeing that.

CFT: That’s one of my questions: when people see yours do they know what it is?

John: Chicagoans do. Absolutely. And that’s the thing I like about the flag is that it’s not that known outside of Chicago. It’s not a touristy image of Chicago. It’s a Chicagoan image of Chicago. If I got the skyline, if I got the Sears Tower or the Picasso or the Bean or anything, everyone in the world would know that. People that know the flag, they’re us. And that’s what’s cool. You go out of the city and people ask. I was in Austin recently and I was in Mexico this year and people ask. But when people do know it they’re like, “where you from?” because they’re either residents now or recently residents.

CFT: A friend of mine recently moved to LA and he’s had people had people be like, “hey I’m from Chicago, too!”

John: Yeah, it’s not everybody, it’s our insider thing. That’s why you’re here because we saw that [indicates my tattoo].

CFT: So you’ve lived in the city your whole life?

John: Born here, live here now. When I younger my family moved… yeah, basically. Born here, back here. Junior high, High school, my family moved. But as soon as I graduated I came running back. This is home, this is all I know.

CFT: And where’d you get it done?

John: I got it done at Family Tattoo. Gilly Smash did it, he’s a good friend of mine. It’s a nasty looking, beat-up flag and I figured he’s one of those survivor guys, one of those awesome dudes. I’m like, he’s the guy for it. I wanted someone that I was friends with to do it, too.

CFT: Mine, I was trying to get it nice and clean, but I got some scarring there, but I decided, that’s OK.

John: Absolutely. That’s what it is. Yeah, I’m never going to put sunscreen on it or anything. This is two years old and I’m hoping it just gets more and more worn. You don’t want all your stuff to go bad, but that’s the whole point, is it can’t, it can’t go bad.

John Airo Chicago flag tattoo

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This page contains a single entry by Fuzzy published on May 4, 2013 4:12 PM.

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