Interview – Lisa Hanawalt
– by Shawn Conner
I came across Lisa Hanawalt‘s My Dirty Dumb Eyes (Drawn & Quarterly) completely by accident, displayed on a table near the Graphic Novels section of my favourite Seattle bookstore. It wasn’t until I noticed that every time my girlfriend opened it she started literally crying with laughter that I awakened to the power of this collection.
For, within these pages, are illustrated movie reviews (including The Vow, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Driver) and reportage (“The Toy Fair”) ; simply drawn gag strips (“Tips for Living With a Significant Other”); ornately drawn, surreal, vignettes featuring anthropomorphic animals (“Extra Egg Room”); absurd juxtapositions and crazy imaginative leaps (see a page from “North American Wildlife and Hats”, below) and more. Much of it is beautifully coloured, some of it is side-splittingly funny, and it all adds up to evidence of a singular talent.
I talked to Hanawalt, who lives in New York City but is originally from Palo Alto, shortly after she got back home from a promotional appearance at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. When I reached her, she was in the midst of colouring a comic, which led me to wonder…
Shawn Conner: Is it a movie review that you’re working on?
Lisa Hanawalt: I’m not really doing movie reviews anymore. I got bored of them. I’ve done five. I’ve figured it out. I want to try something new.
SC: Like theatre reviews?
LH: (indulgent laughter) No. I want to try more written essays that are illustrated, similar to the movie reviews but with more personal subject matter rather than responding to something that somebody else created. I feel like that limits it to just recapping or criticism, which I’m not that interested in. It doesn’t have the lifespan of something I’m creating from scratch.
SC: Was this your first Comic-Con?
LH: I’ve been about five times. I went to my first one in 2004. I went just as a fan.
SC: What brings you back?
LH:I used to go every year with Buenaventura Press back when I was being published by them [in 2009 Buenaventura published the first issue of Hanawalt’s comic I Want You]. I would sell my mini-comics, then I was selling my published comics. Then I didn’t go for a couple of years because I didn’t have anything to promote. This was just part of my book tour.
I’ve found it’s a lot more fun if I’m not just behind the table and I can walk around. It’s fun to look at the spectacle of it and geek out over little things.
SC: I think you did a signing with Tom Gault? I loved his Goliath book from last year.
LH: It was really fun hanging out with him. We got to do a panel too, about humour in comics, which is always a difficult thing to talk about. The best you can expect from a panel like is to get a couple of honest statements about the creative process, and then hopefully some jokes. All that considered, I think we did pretty well.
SC: My girlfriend splits a gut every time she opens My Dirty Dumb Eyes. There’s this gut-level connection that makes me think you’re not necessarily trying to be funny, this is just how you think.
LH: Yeah. I mean, I like it if my work is funny. I think a lot of the laughter comes out of recognition or surprise. Not necessarily ‘cos there’s a punchline.
SC: The absurdity too.
LH: Yeah, sometimes it’s just a random juxtaposition of things that makes people laugh.
SC: There are lots of animals in your work. Did you grow up around animals?
LH: I’ve always liked them. I grew up having a cat but I went out of my way to be around more animals. For me it’s a hard question to answer, like asking someone why they like French fries. I just find them really interesting. I relate and respond to them.
SC: And fun to draw?
LH: Definitely, if I’m just sketching and enjoying myself the first thing I’ll draw is a dog or a horse.
SC: Is it easy for you to sketch just for its own sake or do you feel like you should be working on a project when you do that?
LH: Lately it’s harder to know that I’m just having fun, and that will be worthwhile and will result in work later. Sometimes I do feel a little guilty, like Oh I shouldn’t be sketching, I should be working on an actual project. But whenever I do [sketch], it always results in something that I use later. It’s definitely very important.
SC: What drew you to comics in the first place? Did you grow up reading comics?
LH: My dad used to read the Sunday funnies to me every weekend. I’d read The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, I always liked drawing. I started when I was very young. I always put writing and drawing together even when I was in art school, I did a lot of writing then too. And I did comics on the side.
When I was in high school I started reading stuff like Renee French, ‘cos my brother got me a copy of Marbles in My Underpants, which was my favourite book ever. Then I started reading Tony Millionaire. And Phoebe Gloeckner‘s A Child’s Life was a huge deal to me.
SC: Both Renee French and Gloeckner do some pretty disturbing stuff.
LH: Which blew my mind: Oh, You can just draw anything in a comic. You can make it so distorted, and write about horrible things that happened to you. I found it very therapeutic when I was that age.
SC: How do you like having a Canadian comics publisher?
LH: I love it. D & Q is like my favourite comic publisher so I’m really happy to be with them. They were super-easy to work with. They let me do whatever I wanted.
SC: You also co-host a podcast, Baby Geniuses.
LH: Yeah, with Emily Heller. Emily is a really excellent stand-up comedian, and she asked me to co-host and I said yes. I didn’t know if it would actually happen but then she made it happen. I was more of her sidekick at first because she took the reins and knew what she was doing. But more and more I found that I really enjoy it.
SC: Do you get a lot of readers out of the podcast, or vice versa?
LH: I don’t know, I think it’s half-and-half. We have a similar number of fans, I’d say. There’s been a lot of cross-over.
SC: Have you ever tried stand-up?
LH: No. My boyfriend’s a stand-up comedian as well. I have a lot of friends who do it. I think it’s very admirable. But I don’t think I could do it.
Visit Lisa at LisaHanawalt.com
Follow her on Twitter/Instagram: @lisadraws