Coming home from Lisa Hanawalt’s book launch party at powerHouse Arena many months ago, I was cursing myself. I have been dragging my feet to get this book blog re-launched, and here I was missing a chance to feature one of my favorite books to come out this year. I wanted to share with the world how unexpected, absurd, and hilarious Lisa’s work can be. I wanted to show pictures of her crazy animal characters and take close up photos of the neon painted sections. It was killing me.
There was always this book, staring at me from the shelf, probing me to get to work on the new site. That day has finally come! I am so, so excited to finally feature this amazing collection of Lisa’s work. Since this was a momentous occasion, I decided it might be nice to ask Lisa some questions about her work and the book. Hope you enjoy the short interview below and pick up a copy here. (Lisa’s sketchbooks will be featured on the site soon)
Before I met you, I started following you on Instagram. I remember being pleasantly horrified by some of the stuff you were posting. I recall one drawing you posted of a naked woman defecating into a boot. The caption was “Fall Fashion.” So when I first met you at a party, I was expecting this crazy, wild woman. Instead, you were this shy, pretty, well-dressed girl in big glasses. I was kind of confused. I couldn’t believe you were the same person.
Yeah, I think people are surprised at first and don’t recognize me based on what they thought I would be like in their head. A lot of people ask me if I do drugs. I don’t. Well, not really. But I think that’s part of why I draw that way. That is what I am like inside.
Do I just not know you well enough? Do you get drunk and start getting really perverted, and I just haven’t seen it yet?
No, I’m not insane at all. I do say dirty stuff to my friends but I’m not that wild. I’m quite timid and well-behaved most of the time. I admire people who are outspoken and crazy. That’s why I have a lot of friends who are comedians. I really like the bravery, but I don’t have it myself. So my way of getting that out is by drawing. I’m never going to be like that on the surface.
What about your parents? What do they think of you drawing dirty stuff?
I think they’re into it. My dad in particular, well, both of them actually, have expressed that they think it’s great that I’ve found this mode of communication. They are quiet like I am. They’re scientists. We are all sort of well-behaved people.
I did see a picture of your dad posing in a strange costume on Instagram.
A kangaroo costume! My dad is really funny. He likes really bad puns and he’s the one who got me into comics. He used to read me the Sunday paper comics. And they’re both really into the arts and they collect sculptures and paintings.
But when penis topics come up, do you all just laugh together?
They think it’s really funny.There’s only one comic that my dad was kind of not into and that was one about menstruation. He was like “ooo, I don’t like this one. That’s too much.” Ha.
So is there anyone out there who you would be embarrassed by seeing your work?
Some of my older relatives still don’t like it. Like my aunts on my dad’s side. They are not so into it. It’s just a bit much for them, but that’s fine with me. I don’t want people to see if it’s going to make them feel uncomfortable. I want them to have the freedom to say, “that’s not for me.” I totally get it.
What about the celebrities you draw? What if Anna Wintour saw your comic about her?
I would be so excited if she saw my comic! I really hope she’s seen it. But she probably has all these assistants in place just for that purpose. I hope she would feel flattered and know that even though I’m making fun of her, that it comes from a place of admiration. Same with the Martha Stewart piece. I love Martha Stewart. The piece about her being drunk, it’s just showing that she’s so in control. She’s so perfect that you want to break that down alittle, so that’s what that’s about. Not about me not liking her.
You don’t do much personal work, or there isn’t much in this book. There’s one piece that features a (animal) couple talking, and she’s crafting these small fingers and they are discussing the meaning behind doing it. I’m assuming that comic was autobiographical? There’s a photo at the end that shows the real sculptures.
Yes. That’s like a little reveal or something. It’s a joke…
How did that comic get into the book? Of all the personal things you could write about, like your romantic relationships, which everyone writes about, why did you chose this comic to be the one personal piece? Also will we be seeing more personal work from you, or is this something you’re not interested in?
I love diary comics. I love reading them. But when I draw myself as a human, I find it repulsive. It’s too raw. It’s too bare. If someone didn’t like it, I would feel personally hurt by it because it’s me. I need to disguise myself as a moose because then if someone criticizes that piece, I could be like, “well it’s just this character of a moose. It’s not me.” But when I made that piece about the finger sculptures, I was going through those feelings “what am I doing? I’m just making these things and when I die I’m just going to have this pile of stuff I’ve made. What’s the point of it?.” I do have those problems when I’m making work. I start to question myself. Part of getting over that was actually just drawing the story about it. My conversation with my boyfriend totally inspired that conversation between the moose and the cat where it was like, it doesn’t matter if you feel good or bad when you make stuff, just move your hands. That’s something he said. And I thought it was funny, but also kind of sad. I wasn’t sure if that piece would go in the book or not until I finished it. But then I thought “this sort of ties into everything” and it makes the pop culture-y parts of the book, like the movie reviews… it brings them back down to earth in a way, it makes it more personal. It felt like a bit of a risk to have that comic in there. But I think sometimes the things that make me feel the most embarrassed to put out there, end of being my favorite things. I would like to do more personal work and more work that isn’t just funny and silly, but also maybe a little sad. I’ll probably always disguise myself as an animal.
With drawing your human-self, what is that thing that you are afraid of hearing someone say ?
You are just exposing yourself when you draw yourself in that way. It makes it easier for people to criticize you in addition to the work. People who do diaristic comics can grow to deal with that… I guess, I just don’t know if I’m that interesting a person. People who do diary comics often have gone through something crazy: addiction, wild sex with multiple people…I don’t know. They have stories to tell. I just don’t know that my life story is that interesting.
I have certain things that I want to do a story about. I spent two years in LA working in a warehouse as a personal assistant/warehouse worker and that was really bizarre. I kind of want to make it into a story but I’m not sure how to yet.
Your boyfriend is a comedian. I’m wondering how he’s influenced you.
We both really like jokes! and laughing. He’s a really good writer and a good editor. I show him my movie reviews or whatever I’m working on and he can tell me what jokes he thinks are working and which ren’t. I don’t always take his suggestions, but I often do. I also help him by reading his scripts. If he has to come up with gags, I’ll help. I think we help each other a lot.
What about competition?
We only get competitive with Twitter. He gets really mad that I have more followers than him. The other day he was like “I had a really good day on Twitter.” and he was reading me all his tweets and then he read me number of retweets and number of faves on each tweet. It was really funny. He is the opposite of me in many ways. He has days when he’s not confident and needs to be pep talked, but he doesn’t have the same thing I have holding him back from being loud and obnoxious as I do. He’s a performer, naturally. It’s inspiring. He’s not afraid of bad things happening. He says stupid thing out loud.
I wanted to ask something about your process. We were looking through your sketchbooks (a peek inside coming soon!) and I noticed these little lists everywhere, of what I am guessing are the things you think are funny. Does everything start as notes like this?
That’s often how it starts. Scribbles. It’s hard for me to remeber to write things down because ususally when I have an idea it starts with something really stupid that pops into my head when I’m falling asleep. I think “Ah,well, this is important, I’ll remeber it.” But, no. I need to write it down, or else it’s gone.
And this book, how did it happen?
Drawn and Quarterly approached me. At the time, my literary agent and I were already sort of putting together a proposal to pitch around and we sent it to a few different publishers. It was difficult, because I wanted to compile all these different things I’ve done; I wanted to include my movie reviews. The publishers we talked to didn’t know how we could include those and they wanted me to do something a little more focused. One place wanted me to do a book just about Ryan Gosling! One place wanted me to have chapters on cocktails and recipes and night-life. Those are things I really don’t do in great quantities. Drawn and Quarterly was like “we just want this to be the Lisa Hanawalt book.” I was like, “that sounds good.” They let me be in control of it, for better or worse. For a first book, it’s really what I wanted. I wanted it to be 100% my voice, and my weird world.
I’m really happy with it. I think it’s the best thing I’ve done so far. Of course, a lot of the work is old to me now. It’s work I made over a year ago. Now I just want to go onto the next thing. That’s the thing about books though. When they come out, all the critics say you should have done this or that, but I know that already. That stuff is old and I’ve already learned from it. But you won’t see the stuff I’m working on now for like two years or more.
Well, I can’t wait until we do. Thank you so much Lisa for talking with me. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Lisa’s book right here.