Today we’re joined by CJ. CJ is a wonderful artist who does a lot of work relating to the Hawkeye Initiative, which encourages artists to draw male characters in the ridiculous poses women are often in on the covers of comics. When they’re not drawing, CJ is also brushing up on their writing skills and hopes to be published one day. Their work is pretty amazing and really creative, as you’ll soon see. My thanks to them for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
My art? It’s low-quality garbage I produce in my free time.
The first art, writing, is a skill at which I am no means a master, though I am truly attempting to learn and improve. I have several 200-page manuscripts that (thank God) will never see the light of day, but I am currently working on one that I think shows a little promise and a little improvement in my skills. Someday I hope to publish and establish myself as an author. For the moment, there is schoolwork in my way.
I guess I can include a sample of my writing for reference?
“When did you find out?” I ask. I thought I’d hidden it so well. I covered my tracks, deleted my emails and texts, and came up with clever excuses for every one of my absences—but now here she is, telling me she already knows.
“July, more or less. And yes, I know you thought you hid the truth from me. But you disappear for a day or two multiple times a month, you come back with a bunch of minor injuries and dirty laundry, and you’re wearing the necklace with the symbol of your bounty-hunting gang. It’s not hard to figure out.”
Oh, Lord, be with me. She knows. She already knows too much.
I hang my head as if ashamed. “I’m sorry. I’ve been lying to you for so long, and that was wrong of me. Can you forgive me?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t want anyone to know either, if I was you.”
I try to make eye contact. “Do you think you can…could you ever understand why I am like this? Who I am? What I do and why I do it?”
She takes a deep breath, but she finally nods. “Yes. I can understand what drives you to this. And I want you to know that I still care about you, I still want to be friends, and yes, I do forgive you for everything I know you’ve done.”
The condolence is a nice thought, but it won’t stand. I know her, and I know what she’s like. It’s a miracle she’s managed to keep it quiet for this amount of time; I know no binding pledge could hold her. Eventually the weight of the secret would crack her, and I would be ruined.
No. She must fall, for I cannot.
I draw my pistol from the back of my belt and set the barrel on her forehead. “Then I hope you can forgive me for this as well.”
The other art I do is drawings for the Hawkeye Initiative. If you haven’t heard before, it’s a project where authors take the ridiculous costumes and poses in which female characters are placed and swap them onto the male characters. The point is to prove that sexualizing female characters isn’t empowering them but is instead demeaning them and removing their agency.
I do all my drawing pen/pencil and paper, as I have neither the programs nor the budget to do digital art yet. Someday I will, but until then I’ll continue with traditional methods.
Below is one of my preliminary sketches, a drawing of Captain America in a Danger Girl pose.
And next is one of my finished pieces, a DC “Bombshells” cover where the girls are swapped with Iron Man, Captain America, and Hawkeye.
As you can see, I have a lot to learn about, including drawing backgrounds, drawing swishy fabrics, and shading. I decided to go with more basic colorblocking for this one rather than accidentally ruin it by failing the shading. Someday I’ll redo this and it will be better.
At one point, though, I did have PhotoShop access, and I came up with an asexual Captain America shield.
The love that Tumblr aces found for this image was a beautiful thing.
What inspires you?
The impact I have on other people is really what keeps me going. I believe the Hawkeye Initiative has been really eye-opening for a lot of people, especially guy nerds. We’re so used to seeing all the ladies being sexualized that we barely think of it, until all of a sudden there’s Hawkeye or Wolverine or Thor or Hulk or Iron Man in that same costume and we realize that there’s a huge difference between a usable superhero suit and the glorified underwear the ladies have been crammed into. We’re so used to the binary gender standards in our society that we don’t even notice it anymore, and we have no thought for how harmful it must be to all the girls out there who are watching these same movies and reading these comics. We’re teaching the little boys that it’s okay to see women as a piece of sex in spandex, and we’re teaching little girls that their value comes from how sexy they are. Both of those teachings need to be demolished and spat on.
Of course, it’s not good to sexualize anybody. I understand that my art walks that fine moral edge. But I also believe that the absurdity of seeing these guys in bikinis points out the fact that this is how we’ve treated women for years. Women are amazing human beings who have so much more to them than their body parts. It’s high time we started treating them as equals.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
My dreams and ambitions are all over the place—in fact, I still don’t know what I want to be. The artistry thing has never been a dream—I just came across the Hawkeye Initiative and went, hey, this is a good thing that needs doing.
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?
There is almost always someone or something in the appropriate ace colors in every piece of art I do. My pride is hidden, but it’s there.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
Don’t ever let anyone rain on your parade. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re inferior, that your work is worthless, or that you’ll never succeed. Don’t let anyone mistreat you like that. And that “anyone” refers to you yourself, too. You are your own worst critic. While the other people are going “holy COW that is beautiful and I love the lines and the style,” you’re going “oh ew that color is wrong and I didn’t want that to look that way and the eyes are uneven ugh this is awful.” That’s not accurate. You’re not an accurate judge of your own skill. You are almost always better than you think you are.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
I just go by asexual. I feel no need to break down my personal attraction any farther, because I simply swing in no particular direction and that is that. I’m not straight, I’m not gay, I’m not bi, pan, skolio, or anything else. I’m ace.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
The Tumblr “Ace Discourse” is a terrible thing that should never have started, ever. I’ll admit I didn’t handle it well at first—I picked fights, yelled, and was suicidal for a while. Now I ignore it. Like any hateful ideology, eventually it must collapse under the weight of the pain it causes. There are other people who can fight it; I can’t sacrifice myself like that right now.
I also face prejudice from my church—they’ve openly told me they’d rather I be gay, anything but ace, because then I’d at least be having sex and obeying the Lord’s commands. And my family at large would happily disown me if they knew I was anything but straight. They wouldn’t care even if I was a “cishet ace”—any deviation from “marry straight and procreate” and any ties to the queer community, and out I’d go. Running this blog is dangerous for me, which is why I go by initials and can’t out myself.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
Most common? I’m not sure. There’s a lot. I’m not so much bothered by the plant jokes and asexual reproduction puns—I’m bothered by the stuff that’s there to legitimately harm, scare, and hurt asexuals.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
You are fine exactly the way you are. Exactly. The way. You are.
You’re not broken, confused, a fake, a poser, an attention whore, or whatever else you’ve been called.
And whatever labels seem to fit you now, use them. You can change them. They’re not set in concrete. I’m not judging you for however you change now or in the future. It is fine to change and fine to stay the same.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
I run a Hawkeye Initiative sideblog at cj-does-art, where I post preliminary sketches and pieces of work as I inch toward completion. I also have a main blog at hi-def-doritos, where I post garbage and entertain myself. I have no particular writing blog, as I don’t want my writing stolen. If you’d like to get in touch with me, feel free to drop a line! I’d love to talk and I promise I don’t bite.
Thank you, CJ, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.