The ’80s and ’90s were an epic time to be a kid. Not only did you avoid the dramas of being a teenager with social media, you had plenty of amazing television shows and movies to enjoy. Tattoo artist Jon Leighton certainly attributes this to fueling his passion as an artist and he continues to reference the good ol’ days with homages to “The Simpsons,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Ghostbusters.” We met up with Jon virtually (it’s still a pandemic, after all) to learn more about his favorite toons, how he achieves ultra-neon colors and his silliest tattoo of all time.

When you were a kid, which cartoons made the biggest artistic impact on you?

Definitely cartoons from the ’90s. Shows like “Spider-Man,” “X-Men” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” have all made a big impression on my tattoo style. Although, if I had to pick one, it would be “The Simpsons.” Some of my earliest memories from childhood are drawing mashups of Bart Simpson and X-Men, coloring those drawings with highlighters on the bus to school, and giving them to other kids to put in their binders.

Who are some of your favorite cartoon characters to tattoo and why?

My personal favorite cartoon is “The Simpsons,” because there are just so many episodes you can pull inspiration from. It’s always fun to see all the different episodes your clients are connected with. I love nerding out with my clients about old movies and cartoons. I also love “Adventure Time,” “Invader Zim” and late ’90s/2000s Disney movies.

If you could only tattoo characters from one movie or show for the rest of your career, what would it be and why?

That’s a tough one, but I want to say Star Wars because of the diversity among all the awesome characters and the endless possibility for designs.

Who are some of the most difficult characters to tattoo?

Some of the most difficult characters for me are from anime, solely because I didn’t grow up watching a lot of anime. I’m not able to put all of my fandom passion into the design like I usually do. But, with some help from friends, I’ve been trying to change that. I’ve gotten really into Studio Ghibli lately and I have a long list I have to get through.

Who could you tattoo with your eyes closed?

I could tattoo anyone from “The Simpsons” straight out of my head.

What are some of the weirdest or silliest tattoos you’ve done?

The silliest tattoos I’ve ever done have to go to my cousin and her best friend. One day, I get a text from them, and they want best friend tattoos. So of course I ask, “What do you two want to get?” and I get this photo of what seems to be a stick figure of an avocado holding a cheeseburger, drawn on a napkin. My reaction was “What in the hell is that?!” and I just started laughing. I drew my version for a cartoon avocado with a drooling face thinking of a cheeseburger. Still one of my favorites I’ve done to this day, it makes me laugh every time I see it.

How do you make your tattoos look so vibrant and bright?

I’ve always been naturally drawn to bright, neon colors, you can blame that on growing up as a kid in the ’80s and ’90s. I've always wanted to be able to mimic that in my artwork. It’s been a lot of trial and error trying to find what color combos work well together consistently with different skin types. Making sure the tattoo heals well is also incredibly important to me. It’s a lot about balance, contrasting colors, depth and the overall design aesthetic. I like to see how far I can take the subject matter, but still allow you to immediately recognize which characters you are looking at. I think the use of black and muted tones are just as important to my design as the bright colors are, because those bright colors wouldn’t pop without them.

If you could create an ink color that doesn’t exist yet but you wish it did, what would it be?

Most of my career I’ve used Fusion ink and thankfully they have a really diverse palette, where I don’t have to mix a lot of colors to achieve the look I want. I do have some mixes I use regularly, blood orange with a few drops of dark magenta—this makes a beautiful, velvety, fruit punch color that’s a great undertone in sunsets. But if I ever had a color set it would be named after ’80s and ’90s pop culture nostalgia and it would definitely look like the ’80s exploded all over it.