She won the Ignatz Award for Best Minicomic in 2009 and Best Comic in 2010. In 2014, she was awarded a James Beard Award for Humor. But chances are, if you hear the name Lisa Hanawalt today, you know it from her role as the production designer and producer of “BoJack Horseman.” The acclaimed Netflix animated satire features anthropomorphic animals living alongside humans and dealing with very human, very depressing problems.
The same anarchic spirit, masterful sense of design and color, and outlandish sense of humor that made “My Dirty Dumb Eyes” such a success can be seen in Hanawalt’s newest book from Drawn & Quarterly, “Hot Dog Taste Test.” Much of it is focused on food (or food-related topics), and the book also features ceramics, paintings, short comics and a lengthy travelogue about a family trip to Argentina.
Hanawalt spoke with CBR News about returning to comics with a new work, the many hats she wears on “BoJack Horseman,” eating in Los Angeles and much more.
CBR News: How do you describe “Hot Dog Taste Test”?
Lisa Hanawalt: This is a collection of comics, artwork, and illustrated essays, all loosely related to the subject of “food!”
I ask that to start with just because, like your first book and your comics before it, it’s a collection of different kinds of work. There’s articles from “Lucky Peach” and paintings and comics and a travelogue. What do you like about this kind of eclectic collection of everything you’ve been doing?
This style of collection reflects the way I work; an eclectic approach that tends to circle back around to a lot of the same subject matter (animals, bodies, etc). I like how my books have this playful, “one-woman anthology” feel.
You have a number of longer pieces like “On the Trail with Wylie,” “Otters,” “Goodbye To All That,” “Lisa Las Vegas,” which are these heavily illustrated articles. Why does that form interest you?
In this format I can get more descriptive with my writing without worrying about cramming it all into panels and speech bubbles. It saves a lot of time too — making twelve drawings to highlight and punch-up ideas in my text is much faster than illustrating every few sentences, the way I’d have to with a traditional comic.
You won a James Beard Award for “On the Trail with Wylie.” You’ve been nominated before, but for those of who don’t regularly attend these things, what are the James Beard awards and what is the ceremony like?
I’ve gone to the awards in person twice! The JBAs are great because a) for some reason it’s fun to see people who are big deals in an industry I’m not super heavily involved with, b) there’s lot of fancy food and drinks, and c) Martha Stewart, the queen, often presents an award and she’s just saucy and fabulous. She wore very glittery, perfect pants last time.
Also, last time I went I won a super fancy Breville blender?! I gifted it to my brother and his girlfriend. (It turned out to be a selfish gift, because now I expect them to blend me an awesome margarita every time I visit.)
Did you get to dress up, give a long speech when you won and get played off?
I’ve gotten slightly dolled up the years that I’ve gone, yes. My M.O. is to wear a pretty dress a size too big (so I can enjoy the snacks).
I was sadly unable to attend the ceremony the year that I won, but I’m actually very nervous about making speeches, so I’m relieved Peter Meehan was there to accept on my behalf!
There are also photos of very weird looking ceramic creatures. Is that your work?
Yes, that’s my work! I had a membership at a pottery studio for a few months last year.
The longest piece in the book is “Argentina Travel Diary” which is different from much of what I’ve seen from you. Could you talk a little about why you decided to do this and what your goals were?
I’ve always loved diary comics and travelogues, but personally I find them very challenging to make — I’m always questioning whether I’m interesting enough to warrant illustrating my IRL experiences, and I don’t always feel comfortable exposing myself to my readers that way. But that’s why I did it, as a challenge. In the end I’m glad, because I think it came out very earnest, but not in a crappy way? And traveling is so fun but also introspective, it naturally lends itself to being narrated & illustrated.
Did you run anything past family members?
Yes, I had my mom read it to check facts and she also made a couple of helpful suggestions. I asked my brother if it was OK to write about certain details. I didn’t want to make the mistake of telling somebody else’s story for them, I’m very protective of that. My partner Adam read through the comic a few times to make suggestions and reassure me that it was worthy of publishing. I trust his opinion above all others.
You have some great food pieces about New York and Las Vegas but none about Los Angeles in the book, which is a great food city. Have you been making more food pieces recently?
L.A. is probably my favorite city for eating, thanks to Koreatown and all the treasures in San Gabriel. But that’s been pretty well-covered; I haven’t come up with a unique take on the cuisine here yet. This might seem silly but I love how L.A, is such a forgiving place to have dietary restrictions — there are so many vegan options and fresh salads everywhere. It’s great.
One project that I know you’ve been working on for a few years, but isn’t included in the book is “Coyote Doggirl.” You’ve been working on it between other projects for a while, but for anyone who hasn’t encountered it, how would you describe it?
“Coyote Doggirl” is a western adventure comic I started drawing a few years ago, because I love western genre stuff but wanted to make something tailored more to my interests (more focus on the horses, a weird and canine female protagonist). I’ve slowly been working on it and hope to finish someday.
Later this summer, “BoJack Horseman” is back for a third season. You were the production designer for the first season and you were also a producer in Season Two. Did you try on another new hat this season? (And if so, what would the hat look like?)
I’m wearing those same hats, and then also a third hat which looks like this:
This isn’t a question, but I had to mention that I love the backpage illustration of “doof trucks,” which is a joke people may not get if they didn’t read the book closely.
Thank you! Those endpapers are a good reading comprehension quiz.
“Hot Dog Taste Test” is available now from Drawn & Quarterly.
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