Galaman Creator Johnee Lau Creates Art Out of Armpit Humor
Think all superheroes are sexy saviors? Think again. Artist Johnee Lau is the creator of Galaman—the armpit-inspired superhero. He also hosts nightly live Facebook broadcasts, creating impromptu illustrations based on audience suggestions.
How did Galaman come about? Superheroes have one thing in common: When they’re fighting their nemeses or when they’re transforming, they always show their armpits. Superman flashes his armpits at pedestrians when he’s flying; Spiderman does the same when swings from building to building. Even in Sailor Moon—the Sailor Soldiers show their armpits when they lift their arms to get dressed in their superhero costumes. That’s how I came to the conclusion that the armpit is an important superhero feature. So, for my final year project at PolyU, I created the character Ah Man, who turns into the superhero Galaman when he flashes his armpit.
What else inspires you, besides armpits? We tend to avoid talking about “embarrassing” body parts like armpits and nostrils. For some reason, we give them negative connotations and consider them something to be ashamed of. In my work I try to redefine biological features and functions that are generally considered embarrassing, as well as taboo subjects such as transgenderism, so my audience can see these things in a different light. For example indecent postures, adult jokes and nude scenes are things that make us laugh—you wouldn’t say they’re negative. And what makes both adults and children laugh? Toilet humor. Of course, I still create cartoons that are traditionally considered “cute.” My work isn’t all toilet humor.
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What do you enjoy doing most? I love creating animations. The process can be torturous and time-consuming, but the sense of accomplishment is irreplaceable, especially when I look back at what I’ve created from a blank space: A whole new world where characters come alive. But most of all, I enjoy drawing. Eight years ago at a handicrafts market, I started incorporating wordplay into my drawings. People would come to me with topics and I drew based on those topics. My customers paid whatever they thought was an appropriate price. I later began broadcasting my drawings live on the Internet because it’s a good way to gain popularity and be able to see my audience’s immediate reaction. When I draw, I zone out and draw whatever comes to mind. I don’t think at all.
What do you think has been your biggest challenge so far? While I consider myself an artist, I also have to deal with administrative work and commercial considerations. Very often, I have to come up with business proposals for collaborations and think about how to promote my work to reach a bigger audience: This can sometimes distract me from creating new work. Family support used to be an issue. My parents wanted me to get a stable job after graduating because it seemed like the best way forward, but they finally decided to give me a year to try my hand at a career based on illustration and animation. I ended up winning several animation awards. Without my family, I wouldn’t have been able to make it this far.
What happens if you run out of ideas? Will you stop drawing? As long as you have creativity and passion, you can always work in different fields. I don’t think I’ll ever quit, but I might spend more time collaborating with other people. I’ll turn 28 soon, and I’ve been told that we lose our creativity when we turn 30: So I’ve been saving weird and funny ideas in sketchbooks since an early age in case the same thing happens to me. I’ll keep accumulating sketchbooks until I run out of ideas—but by then, I think my bank of ideas will last me a lifetime. I could also become a singer, though, just in case.