Navigator: How did you become a feminist?
Arlen: My girlfriend became a feminist as we were dating and I picked it up really quickly. Just being with her all the time opened my eyes a lot. And also Tumblr. There are lots of social justice blogs there and I get daily reminders of how bad and unfair things are. It’s a good place for women and trans people, or anyone who’s not a white straight male, to have their opinions out there.
What makes you a feminist?
I use a female figure by default and want to show more people of colour. I like to share this with people and project it in my work. I think women are generally under-portrayed in the media.
Do you feel there’s not enough female imagery around us?
Most of the things I see are about a dude doing stuff and saving the world, and the woman’s there just for decoration to be looked at or to support the male character. There are some good female representations out there, but not enough.
Do you think the landscape is shifting in any way toward a more feminist society?
Probably. Very slowly and late, but I think it is. Disney’s doing really good stuff, like Maleficent. That’s about a relationship between two women, and the guy’s kind of a douchebag. It turns out you don’t have to be saved by a true love’s kiss; it’s between the woman and the evil witch. And in Frozen the true love is between two sisters who care about each other a lot.
So is there a place for Prince Charming in feminism?
Not exactly. He’d be a lot different than the traditional Prince Charming.
Who would be your ideal Prince Charming?
(Smirks) Well, he’d be super nice and caring, but he’s going to treat the princess as an equal. If she doesn’t want to be saved, he’ll let her figure it out, or—
Well, maybe she’ll kick ass.
Did you think that way before you met your girlfriend?
No. I was actually pretty sexist and homophobic, and I made fun of fat people in high school—just like every other high school boy out there. It was kind of the norm, and I think it’s what society teaches boys to be like—to be entitled—and society tells girls to shut up. I’m ashamed for who I was then. It was a gradual realization that it doesn’t have to be that way. I used to go to church and then stopped after I realized the pastor took some parts of the Bible and taught us that men should be in charge and women should be subordinate—among several other things he said. I kept going until I was 18 to keep my mom happy.
Are you still religious?
No. I went into a church the other day because I really had to pee. I don’t have anything against religion as long as it’s not hurting anyone.
There are a lot of misperceptions about feminism. What would you say to people who associate it with, for example, militant male-haters?
Educate yourself, think about what we’re trying to do before you go shutting down the whole movement. If you actually think about it, it’s fairly obvious that we’re trying to be equal, decent human beings. Take a step back and listen before forcing your view onto people.
And what would you say to extreme radical feminists?
Chill out. You’re not going to get anywhere or help anything.
What do you associate with the term “lungless,” which you use as your brand?
I found the word online and thought it was really cool. Now I use it for all my tags and profiles on the internet. Sometimes I’m really quiet and mumble a lot, like I have no lungs.
Your art pricing is astoundingly low. Why?
My main audience is college kids who are already in debt, so I’m not going to sell high-price paintings, no matter what my art teachers told me to do. I’d like to become snooty and famous and sell works for $1k, but for now it feels way better to sell paintings cheap than to have a whole stack of them in the house. And I feel like I’m constantly changing and getting better, so keeping the stack means keeping works I’m not happy with anymore.
What is the idea behind the recurring theme of female figures bigger than life walking through urban landscapes in many of your paintings?
I wish it was like this in real life. There’s something about the big living thing looking around. I feel it’s better if it’s a woman instead of a guy.
Do you conceptualize your paintings or do you improvise like with your collages?
I do have to plan them out and draw thumbnails. I’ve tried just painting without a plan, and most of the time it doesn’t really work out. It’s too much time and energy to be turned into a mess. The collages are totally random. I just get a bunch of National Geographics and fashion magazines, flip through them until I find something cool, throw them on a pile, and make something.
What inspires you the most?
There are a bunch of comic artists you probably don’t know that I really like. I want to be as good as them. Like Ashley Wood—he has a great visual and influential visual style, mixing comic books with expressionist painting and using almost monotone, striking colours. And Mike Mignola—his was the first comics I got into besides Donald Duck. The way he draws is unique—clear lines, and every panel is a perfect composition. I also like his writing and sense of humour. Chris Ware, a cartoonist for The NewYorker, inspired my depressive and existential stuff. His art style is clearly different than mine, though. He’s geometric and precise—he does everything by the ruler or something. And people might hate me for this, but I literally get inspiration from nowhere. I just wait around and know I’ll get inspired out of absolutely nowhere. I also get inspired by music. Sometimes I just play music really loud and get excited and start creating.
What inspires you to make comics that don’t follow the traditional storyline?
I like short stories and storylines and getting emotionally involved. Complicated storylines are great, but I want my comics to have emotional impact. That’s how I’ve evolved, and that’s what I like to read, too. I like when it makes you ask, “What happens with the girl?” “Is she happy?” “What kind of car is she driving?”
So when the man jumps off the roof and falls into a manhole in issue 11, does he die or just exit the storyline?
Everyone expects him to splatter on the ground, but he goes into the hole. Well, that’s unfortunate; you think he’s going to die, so how can it possibly get worse? Maybe he dies, maybe he continues to live. Does that really change anything? I didn’t have a plan, or an idea for what’s going to happen. I’m not going to tell readers what to think. I just want them to feel something. I like that kind of humour where there is no punchline and nothing to laugh about.
I think they bring out more emotion when they’re stark, like the latest one about the lioness in issue 13. And when I said my inspiration comes out of nowhere, the zombie penguins are exactly that.
But where did the lioness come from?
I did research and learned about how they travel and how the families and packs hunt. Everyone says how the lion is the king of the jungle, but he sits around and doesn’t do much. The females do the hunting, and the lion guards them against other males, which is almost redundant. They help sometimes, but the lionesses are basically the core of the family, and you never hear about them. They can go for four days without eating, and when they finally get something, they stuff themselves and then don’t have to eat for another week.
How long can you go without food?
I couldn’t go without it for four hours. I have to eat constantly.
What are some other things that fascinate you?
Cockroaches. They have a social significance. They’re a symbol of disgust, but are in fact beneficial, tough, and they live forever. They clean up and make great pets. I wish I had some. I’ve seen people with doll houses for cockroaches.
What makes a cockroach a great pet?
(Pauses) They’re as good as fish. You watch them move around… Ok, I guess they don’t make great pets, but they’re cool and cute.
What things do you hate?
I hate ginger, but only sometimes. I like ginger ale and gingersnap cookies, but otherwise ginger is gross. I hate those stupid mix chocolates with surprise fillings. When one of them is ginger I’m like ‘yuck.’ I hate misogyny and patriarchy. I hate being depressed and having anxiety. I hate some online gamers who complain constantly. I hate how expensive it is to live in BC. I hate how racist the US is and that they keep invading countries for oil. But I don’t think I’m a hateful person.
Things you like?
I like feelings, bacon, drinking, and humour that’s dumb. I like cherry blossoms, sweeping, and playing video games. Also, cats are awesome. I like physical work, because you can see the results, and it’s kind of like art: you’re making something and feel accomplished after. Being active and getting endorphins makes you feel good.
Does it make you feel like a good boy?
Yes, I am a good boy.
Arlen Hogarth’s comics are regularly published in the Odds & Ends section of The Navigator, and some have been in Portal. To view more of his work, including paintings and collages, visit his website, Lungless Art. [Editor’s note, Arlen’s work can also be found on the cover of Nanaimo’s free literary magazine “text” issue 2 and 3.]