Updated: Jul 17, 2020
In recent years, the number of people choosing to adopt a vegan lifestyle has skyrocketed. When I first went vegan in 2006, most people I met didn’t even know how to pronounce the word. Now vegan products represent a multi-billion-dollar industry, $12.69 billion according to an article from healthcareers.co. Our ever-increasing ability to share information and ideas has played a major role in this increased interest in veganism. Individuals and organizations can share environmental statistics, health information, photos of animals in laboratories, factory farm investigation videos, vegan recipes, etc. across the world, in the blink of an eye. But what about those of us who are inclined toward more creative endeavors? How do we contribute to the cause in a way that aligns with our skills and interests?
Many celebrities have been using their fame to raise awareness, for example, Joaquin Phoenix’s iconic Oscar acceptance speech. Filmmakers have put out a wide range of documentaries about the negative effects of animal industries on human health, the environment, and animals. In addition to the slew of vegan cookbooks, there are books about the subject from every possible angle, philosophy, religion, economics, feminism, environmentalism, racial justice, gender equality.
I spoke with Elise Hartman and Matt Loisel, two artists whose work I greatly admire, to get their perspectives on using art as a tool to create a better world. These two people have very different styles and strategies for presenting their messages to the world but both do a remarkable job of capturing their audience’s emotions and inspiring them to think about the ways our society treats animals, the planet, and each other. Elise is the owner of Dark Fairie Creations, and Matt writes the vegan, horror graphic novel Murder.
Elise Hartmann of Dark Fairie Creations, makes mixed media folk art, ranging from illustrations, to jewelry, to décor. She was vegetarian for many years but was inspired to go vegan sixteen years ago, after reading the book Mad Cowboy, by Howard Lyman. Elise studied graphic design in college but did not discover her true passion until a decade after graduation.
Though the aesthetic of her work is whimsical and lighthearted, there is often a deeper message, whether about animal rights, environmentalism, or social justice. Even the pieces that don’t display an obvious message, reflect a sense of deep emotion. She says that the eyes of her illustrations tell the story of the heartache she has experienced in her life.
Elise is also a witch and feels that paganism, veganism, and connection with nature go hand in hand. “Not only do I disagree with the harming of animals but also the harming of the planet,” she says. “I see so much disrespect for the planet, the animals and even the people every single day. With my art I try hard to put my emotions onto paper in hopes that I can reach someone . . . make them choose kindness and love over, hate, cruelty and apathy.”
Matt Loisel writes Murder, which he co-created with his wife, Brittany. The idea started when the two owned Lazy Millenial Farms, California’s first certified veganic commercial farm. They originally had the idea of using comics to help customers get to know the staff. After selling the farm, they were still interested in making comics and the original concept evolved into Murder. The series follows The Butcher’s Butcher, as he tries to protect both animals and humanity. One species at a time, domesticated animals have begun communicating with each other telepathically, and he is the only one who can hear them. Of the sometimes intense nature of the topics covered in the series, Matt states that he knew he would be, “Treading a fine line of tastefulness,” but the use of the horror genre allows him to, “expose the ferocity and callousness of our food system.”
Though they had both previously been vegetarian, Matt and Brittany both went vegan after watching the documentary, Cowspiracy around five years ago. Matt says they have not looked back since, and that he doesn’t bother keeping track of how long it’s been, stating, “I’m never going back to eating animal products so who cares.”
In addition to animal rights issues, Murder also covers issues of race and social justice. “I think a lot of vegan activism is generated by white people, from a white perspective,” Matt says. “Despite Black people being the fastest growing demographic to go vegan you wouldn’t know it by the representation of the movement. But it’s changing and that change will accelerate as the BLM movement gains steam. Vegan activism can take on an ‘All Lives Matter’ kind of ‘colorblindness’ that does little to persuade or attract BIPOCs.” In the upcoming issue of Murder, Matt will discuss the intersection of veganism and race with author, researcher and lecturer, Christopher Sebastian. Matt also has a story in the Paranoid American History Anthology series, to be released in September. The story, “Cracking Up,” is about the American government’s involvement in the introduction of crack cocaine to Black communities.
It seems clear that the vegan movement will only continue to grow, and artists may well play an integral role in that growth.
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