Lisa Hanawalt has made an impression reputation for herself as a cartoonist and illustrator over the past few years. She won the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Mini-Comic in 2009 for “Stay Away From Other People” and the Ignatz Award for Best Comic the following year for “I Want You” #1. She’s illustrated numerous books including Kristen Schaal’s “The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex,” “Farts Around the World: A Spotter’s Guide” and the children’s book “Benny’s Brigade.” She was a member of the former artists collective known as Pizza Island and is co-host of the weekly podcast Baby Geniuses.
“My Dirty Dumb Eyes” collects Hanawalt’s comic books and various other publications. She has her own unique take on the world, whether reviewing movies, telling comic stories of moose and cats and horses, playing with the indicia of the book or just offering advice for living with a significant other, Hanawalt shows herself to be an original voice in comics. Her book was releasedby Drawn and Quarterly at Toronto Comic Arts Festival last weekend and Hanawalt spoke with CBR News about the collection before journeying to Canada.
CBR News: Lisa, to start, will you introduce yourself and talk a little about your background?
Lisa Hanawalt: Hello, I’m Lisa! I grew up in the Bay Area, my parents are biologists at Stanford University and my older brother is a film director/editor. My family’s liberal and artsy and we like to make terrible puns.
I studied art at UCLA (mostly painting, photography and ceramics). I moved to Brooklyn four years ago because I figured it was time to live somewhere other than California and I was seduced by the NY comics scene. I also met my boyfriend Adam here and wanted to live in the same city as him.
You’ve made minicomics and comics and illustrated other people’s books, worked at different publications and for different publishers. How did you end up at Drawn and Quarterly?
My agent and I were talking with a number of different publishers, but D+Q were the first to offer full creative freedom. My work has always been a strange grab bag of different styles and subjects, so I don’t blame anyone for wanting to squeeze me into a more easily-marketable box, but that’s just not what I’m interested in at this exact moment.
I’m curious about how you think of yourself — as a cartoonist? An illustrator? An artist? Is this something you never think about until an annoying interviewer asks?
I usually call myself a “cartoonist,” but I identify as all three of those titles. They’re all a tiny bit different, but my approach is usually “have fun and make this interesting” no matter what I’m doing.
I love your movie reviews and I hope that some years down the line we’ll get to read a book just collecting those. How did you start crafting these reviews? And do you even think of them as reviews?
Thank you! I began writing those after watching “Transformers 3” in the theater. Of course seeing a Michael Bay movie is such a stupid, overwhelming experience I thought it would be funny to write about it in a journalistic way. It feels lucky that people responded to those. I do think of them as reviews, but I like that the movie itself is just a jumping off point. Especially for “War Horse,” that really felt like just a foundation for talking about horses.
Are we ever going to see a comic or heavily illustrated book that conveys your love of horses? Has some publisher already asked to work on a horse-centered book?
My work tends to go back to horses no matter what. I could definitely see myself focusing on them more in the future, as I get more comfortable writing about myself. That fixation feels so personal, like it’s not sexual at all but it still feels like a fetish because it’s so deeply embedded. I don’t think I’ve been hired to illustrate a horse yet, oddly!
If you could only do one thing, do you have a preference as far as what you like to do, whether comics or illustrations or reviews or do you enjoy getting to do everything?
I like variety. I love making large, semi-narrative drawings (like the “construction” endpapers in my book) best, I think. But I would still need to take breaks to sculpt an ugly finger or make an animated gif or something.
I enjoyed the fact that you even screwed around with the book’s indices and the copyright information. I enjoyed the subtle scratch ‘n sniff of the book. Did you have to push D&Q to be able to do that and how much control did you have over the book’s design over all?
I loved working with D+QÂ because every time I asked, “Can I make this part of the book more stupid?” my editor Tracy Hurren would say, “Of course! Duh!” and I felt very comfortable getting playful with that stuff. I always read the indicia of books I really like — it’s like watching the credits of a movie and hoping for a blooper reel.
You were nominated for a James Beard Award for Humor this year for your piece, “The Secret Lives of Chefs.” Did you know there was a Beard Award for humor before this nomination?
I had no idea there were journalism or humor categories until I was nominated!Â I made that piece for “Lucky Peach” magazine. One of their editors, Rachel Khong, asked me if I’d like to illustrate something and I told her I had this idea about famous chefs — I keep a running list of half-baked ideas on all sorts of subjects and it totally comes in handy in situations like that.
The Beard Awards were last weekend where you sadly lost, but did you go to the awards? Has it given you a few ideas for a future project?
[Laughs] Yes I did go to the book and journalism awards. They were really extravagant, with lavish drinks and food — foie gras shortbread cookies with warm strawberry gazpacho? Blech! — and some of the winners made spectacularly awkward speeches. I didn’t win, but I had a great time and got to sit with David Chang — probably my favorite chef — who high-fived me when I lost and then kept joking about how I had to try harder and do better next time.
I’d love to do a comic about industry award shows sometime, they are always bizarre.
As a final question, I have to ask, how did you decide on the title?
This sounds slightly pretentious, but this book is really about the way I look at things. Seeing the world through my eyes. And I see a lot of really dirty, dumb stuff.
Also “dirty eye” sounds like a euphemism for “butthole,” doesn’t it?
“My Dirty Dumb Eyes” is on sale now.