So you're somewhere — on vacation, at war, time traveling, teleporter accident, whatever — and you want something that'll stick around longer than just a Fun T-Shirt. That's easy, just vandalize a handy surface!note
This trope is pretty much as old as humanity itself (it's posited that there are hand-prints at Lascaux for this very reason, among other theories), but the Trope Namer is a bit of Memetic Mutation from World War II whose origin has many stories (see Real Life section below).
Not to be confused with the Styx album.
Troper was here:
- City Hunter: Ryo, who enjoys mocking his adversaries and pulling pranks on them, is quite fond of playing this trope when he infiltrates into his enemies' lairs. Before leaving, he vandalizes pictures, writes insults on the walls -or comments about their enemies' penis size-, paints drawings of them... He makes this because an angry enemy is prone to commit mistakes... but mostly because he gets a good laugh out of pissing them off.
- Pokémon: In an early episode of the anime, Ash, already insecure from how poorly he is faring compared to his Pallet Town peers, discovers a piece of graffiti, from his personal rival, on a sign in a town he had only just reached.
"Gary was here! Ash is a loser!"
- Lupin III is fond of leaving a token caricature of his face, usually on paper, but sometimes as a graffito.
- Asterix: In one of the books, a centurion is shouting at an Egyptian for carving his name on a Roman temple, asking how he'd like it if they did that to his temples. This is likely a Historical In-Joke to Italian archaeologist Giovanni Belzoni, who carved his name and those of his expedition's members in an Egyptian temple.
- The Cartoon History of the Universe shows a Greek mercenary leaving his name on some Egyptian architecture.
- Footrot Flats: In one strip, Wal makes a speech about how insignificant it makes one feel knowing that an ancient tree will still be standing centuries after he's dead. He then carves "Wal Footrot Was Here" into the trunk.
- In the Gunslinger Girl fanfic Heaven's Conscripts, Rico finds the names of soldiers that had been carved in the rocks a hundred years ago when the Dolomites were a battleground between Italian and Austrian forces in World War I. After killing three terrorists, she carves their names in the rock as well.
- Showdown: No Holding Back: Yolo finds a spot on the wall in his bedroom where two other past tributes wrote their names and what Hunger Games they were about to be sent into. He adds his own name and date next to their names.
- Twelve Red Lines: In Chapter 36, while going through Shandora, Robin mentions that she's found Roger's writing all over the ruins, with this being the most frequent message.
- In Miraculous: The Phoenix Rises, Morgan writes her name all over her desk in black marker, stating that the the board said to write their name on their desks..
- Cast Away: Chuck Noland does this before sailing away from the island he was marooned on, presumably to leave a record in case he dies at sea.
- The Killing Room: Several people are locked in a room and forced to take part in a lethal Mind Control experiment. One finds HELP ME and a list of names has been scratched into the wall. Then they find names are scratched over all the walls. The anonymous researcher secretly watching the experiment then brags, "It used to take six to eight hours to reach this point, but leaving those names really sped up the process."
- Gallipoli: The diggers are shown carving their names into the stones of the Pyramids. Very much Truth in Television.
- Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle: While taking shelter in a treehouse, the heroes find "Alan Parrish was here" etched on a branch, Alan being the protagonist of the original Jumanji. None of them have any idea who that is, but they figure that it was another person who got sucked into the game just like they were.
- Kelly's Heroes: In the end, the American captain, always one step behind the heroes, finds the bank looted and the gold gone with the message painted on the wall.
- Quatermass: "Kilroy Was Here" can be seen written in a tunnel in the Hammer film version of Quatermass and the Pit.
- The Shawshank Redemption. Before hanging himself because he doesn't fit into the world outside prison, Brooks carves BROOKS WAS HERE. Later, Red occupies the same room and scratched, "So was Red", but he didn't intend to follow Brooks' lead.
- The Boy on the Bridge: When McQueen and Phillips get the atmosphere samples from the last cache, on the Cairngorm Plateau, Phillips pauses to leave his dogtags behind as a memento for anyone else who ever finds the place.
- Jedi Academy Trilogy: In I, Jedi, Luke Skywalker reveals that he, Wedge, and Biggs carved their names and a slogan ("The Empire or us — there is no compromise") on the night before attacking the Death Star as a cross between this and a preemptive memorial in case their side lost.
- Journey to the West: Sun Wukong makes a bet with the Buddha that he can leap out of Buddha's grasp. He goes an extreme distance away and finds a set of pillars. Thinking that he'd won, he leaves the words "Sun Wukong Was Here" on the middle pillar and urinates on it for good measure. Turns out the "pillars" were Buddha's fingers. Oops!
- "The Message": The protagonist, a time traveler from the 30th century, visits northern Africa during World War II (20th century). Time travellers are forbidden from interfering with the past, but he carves a message on the wall of the hut he was in, telling people George Kilroy was here. Supposedly the first time anyone left the tag, creating a Memetic Mutation.
- The Neverending Story: There is a mountain that is only conquered for the first time — that is, you are always "the first person to ever climb it"; it is impossible to get on the top as long as there is any memory of anyone doing it before. As such, leaving a tag at the top blocks everyone else from finding it until the tag is worn out by the elements.
- The Yiddish Policemen's Union: Detective Landsman is thrown into a cell by the villains, and chillingly finds a snarky comment written by his dead sister carved on the wall, written after the date she supposedly died in a plane crash.
- Better Call Saul: The season 2 premiere sees Gene carve a message on a wall reading "SG was here" after getting locked in the room where the dumpsters are.
- Community: Two Kilroy faces appear in the opening credits, with the noses forming the L's in "Joel McHale".
- Doctor Who: In "The Invasion" and "Warrior's Gate", "Kilroy Was Here" is seen; first written on a lift shaft, later spray painted onto a wall inside a spaceship. Legend has it that the former, at least, was in tribute to the "Kilroy was here" marked on the lift shaft of the studio in which Doctor Who was taped during the Troughton years, Lime Grove studio D, which was on an upper floor reached by a large (but not very large) freight elevator. In the latter example, Kilroy turns out to be a member of the spacecraft's crew.
- The Flash (2014): In "The Trial of the Flash", Barry Allen is framed for murder and sent to prison. He finds "Henry Allen was here" scratched on his cell's wall, indicating it was the same cell his father had previously been incarcerated in. Later, he scratches "So was Barry".
- M*A*S*H: The name "Kilroy" is written on the dirty window of one of the Army buses.
- My Name Is Earl: Randy had regularly done graffiti like this, and after the episode where he goes back to school, he sends Earl to correct it since he [Randy] realizes that his spelling was wrong.
- Star Trek: Strange New Worlds features "The Scorch", the oldest unreplaced outer hull plate on the Enterprise. Signing it is in illicit rite of passage on "Enterprise Bingo", as is the requisite extravehicular excursion in space suits. In the season 1 episode "Spock Amok", the two notoriously uptight senior staffers Commander Una Chin-Riley (AKA Number One) and Security Chief La'an Noonien Singh catch wind of Enterprise Bingo and try it for themselves, finally understanding and partaking in the spirit of the game's lower-ranks mischief by forgoing the space suits and enveloping the outer hull sector that the Scorch is in with an atmospheric containment forcefield to go sign it... leaving a perplexing curio for the next ensigns going for a Scorch-signing, considering the pair's reputation.
- Iron Maiden: On the cover of the Powerslave album, the wall of the Egyptian tomb has "Indiana Jones Was Here" written on it. It's easier to see on the vinyl release.
- As noted above, Styx released an album in 1983 named, yes, Kilroy Was Here. The opening movie did feature rebel rockers using 'rock code' graffiti, albeit more for communication.
- The Black Museum: In "The Notes", the police find notes saying "Kilroy Was Here". The police eventually realize that the killer is actually telling them his name is Kilroy.
- d20 Modern: The "Weird Wars" setting uses "Kilroy" as a kind of spirit that has allied itself with the Allies. It possesses random soldiers and leads them to perform suicidally effective charges against Axis positions. When its host is killed, it discorporates, always leaving the graffiti "Kilroy woz 'ere" imprinted on a nearby surface.
- EarthBound (1994): Checking a certain sign in Summers shows a message from Porky insulting Ness.
- Edna & Harvey: The Breakout: Edna can write "Edna was here" and some variations on many surfaces throughout the game, at one point even on the moon.
- Left 4 Dead has graffiti in every safe house as a form of pseudo-communication between groups of survivors. Among them is Chicago Ted, whose statistics for zombie killing become something of a legend.
- Planet 404: Some unseen character named Buff scrawled his attendance in several different places, such as a secret pirate base and an imperial jail cell.
"Buff was here too"
- Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire: Outside Lilycove City's Pokémon Fan Club building, it's noted that a number of Trainers have scribbled their names all over its sign. There is also a small island in the waters by Seaside Cycling Road that Team Aqua (or Magma) have tagged ("Team Aqua Was Here!").
- Scooby-Doo! Big Air: The 1700 message reads "Old Man Jenkins was here", while 4100 reads "Shaggy was here".
- The Order of the Stick: There's a gag when Elan shows that his rapier is actually useful by carving "The Order of the Stick was here!" into the dungeon wall.
- The Boondocks: Riley graffio-tags his name in big bold letters, "Riley Wuz Here", then wonders how he got caught.
- Code Lyoko: In "Ultimatum", the phrase is graffitied on the back wall of an abandoned meatpacking facility where Odd and Yumi are held captive by a XANA-fied Delmas.
- The Fairly OddParents!: At the end of Channel Chasers, Vicky's sister Tootie gives Timmy's parents pictures of all the damage Vicky has caused over her time as babysitter. One such picture displays her scratching "Vicky Was Here" on the side of the parents' car, which they had blamed Timmy for.
Timmy's Dad: Vicky was key-scratching "Vicky Was Here" on my car! I punished Timmy for key-scratching "Vicky Was Here" on my car!
- Family Guy:
- Stewie claims to have scratched "Brooks was here" on the wall of Lois' uterus while he was being born. He admits that he did it "just to be a jerk".
- In "Peter, Peter, Caviar Eater", one of Peter's attempt to pass Cherrywood Manor as a historical place consists on scratching "Jesus was here" and giving the scratch a before Christ date. When asked how Jesus could have written anything at all before his own birth, Peter handwaves that Jesus could do anything.
- The Flintstones: In "Adobe Dick", Fred and Barney are swallowed by a whale. Inside, they spot a graffito that reads "Jonah was here".
- King Size Canary: A cat opens a sardine box, only for him to find nothing but a small sign reading "Kilroy was here!"
- Looney Tunes:
- "Haredevil Hare": Bugs Bunny lands on the moon (in 1948) and mentions that he's the first living creature to do so. He then passes a rock with "Kilroy was here" written on it.
- "Rebel Rabbit" has Bugs paint the Washington Monument to look like a barber pole, then signs it "Bugs Bunny Was Here". He then rewires the signs in Times Square to read "Bugs Bunny Wuz Here".
- Robot Chicken: In "Jedi in Chief", where George W. Bush becomes a Jedi, at one point he vandalizes the Lincoln Memorial by using his lightsaber to carve a message. Since Robot Chicken portrays Bush as dimwitted, he writes, "W Wuz Hear".
- The Simpsons:
- In earlier seasons, "El Barto" graffiti tags can be seen all over town. Unsurprisingly, the cops never suspect Bart as the culprit.
- Homer tries doing this using the name El Homo, which results in him getting hit on by a man passing by.
- "Lemon of Troy": Bart writes his name in wet concrete, with an Imagine Spot of the future, where archaeologists speculate on what he might be like.
- Teen Titans Go!: In "Sidekick", Robin graffitis the words "The Joker was here" on the side of the ruined Batmobile to blame him for the damages.
- "Kilroy was here" is a version of this that became popular during World War Two and has maintained on-again off-again relevance since; however it originated (The Other Wiki has a few theories), American soldiers began leaving Kilroy everywhere, and took the meme home with them when they returned to the US. The graffiti typically consist of the basic phrase scrawled over a wall or other surface, usually alongside a stylized figure depicting a bald, long-nosed figure peering over the top of a wall.
- During the Potsdam Conference, Harry Truman allegedly had some fun at Joseph Stalin's expense by sneaking into his private bathroom and writing this on the wall. Stalin, in characteristic fashion, had the KGB on high alert looking for this mysterious "Kilroy". Though given that the war had just ended a scant few weeks earlier, being on high security makes a good deal of sense.
- Graffiti tags. There's even a "language" associated with specific artists and gangs depending on what elements are present in a tag.
- Places like Names Hill, Register Cliff, and Independence Rock in Wyoming; according to Wikipedia, people on the Oregon Trail and the like carved or had carved their names in them. Names Hill also has Native American pictographs.
- One Viking trader scratched "Halfdan was here" in his native language into a parapet of the Hagia Sophia when he visited Istanbul. Similar tags have been found in several places in the Mediterranean, as well as in the complex at Skara Brae in Orkney.
- Giovanni Battista Belzoni as quoted here: "To commemorate this memorable exploit, Belzoni carved his name and those of his fellow adventurers, as well as the date, on the north wall of the temple sanctuary, where the statues of Amun-Re, Re Harakthi, the deified Ramesses II and Ptah sat. Such carving was common practice in those days as unequivocal demonstration of the ownership of a monument or the paternity of a discovery."
- Pompeii is notorious for the quantity of Roman graffiti that were preserved within it, which include a variety of snipes from the graffiti-maker to other people, boasts and brags, and various markings of people's passage through the area.
"We two dear men, friends forever, were here. If you want to know our names, they are Gaius and Aulus."
- Soldiers from the Romans in the 50s BCE to the British in the 1940s left their names on the Pyramids at Giza.
- On nearly any web site that allows people to leave comments, anyone making the first post will just comment with "First" as a way of saying "I was here".
- Mikhail Ushats, a student of Moscow Architectural Institute in the 1940s, had a habit of labeling various objects with his surname. This led to several pranks, which resulted in a MArchI in-joke of scribbling "Ушац" or even "Ушацъ" (with an outdated pre-1917 spelling) on various surfaces. A number of Soviet films feature "Ушац" written somewhere on the wall as an Easter Egg.