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Tattoos come of age at the Cleveland Rocks Tattoo Convention.


There was a time when tattoos meant greenish words crudely etched onto forearms or biceps, paeans to Mom that were the product of heavy drinking and extended tours of duty.

These days, it's Mom who's sporting tattoos. Thanks to a 1990s fashion wave that just won't go away, tattoos are everywhere. Their ubiquity has even spawned the more cultured tag "body art," a term fashioned to soften the blow for outraged parents.

There's also a national network of tattoo conventions, a traveling circus for the artists who make skin their canvas and the people who supply it. The local version of the road show, the second annual Cleveland Rocks Tattoo Convention, will spend the weekend at the downtown Sheraton Inn, a longtime friend to business travelers and tattoo enthusiasts.

"Tattoos are in the mainstream now," says John Artist, the local designer who organized the expo. "But I really don't know where they're going to go from here or how long they're going to be popular. The artwork is always improving, and there are younger, more talented kids getting into design, which is a good sign."

More than 100 artists will be featured, in addition to live music by a roster of area bands you'd expect to find at a tattoo convention. There's also a sword swallower who pounds nails into his nose and hangs weights from his balls, and a fire-eating stripper. And, of course, more tattoos than the Warped Tour's road crew.

"A tattoo is something very personal," Artist explains. "You can have money and buy a nice house and get married to a beautiful woman. But it can all disappear overnight. Tattoos are with you forever.

"They're memories that can never be taken away from you."

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