My Dirty Dumb Eyes is "hilarious and sexual and weird and dark"

“Dick Pics: Lisa Hanawalt Shows off in My Dirty Dumb Eyes” / The Portland Mercury / Alison Hallett / May 29, 2013

MY INTRODUCTION to Lisa Hanawalt came in 2010, when the Mercury ran one of her illustrations on our cover: In a piece resembling a weirdly sexy interspecies bar brawl, a cat-headed woman in high heels kicked a dog-headed man in the junk. Since then, Hanawalt has racked up increasingly high-profile illustration gigs from the likes of the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and McSweeney's. Hanawalt's work is hilarious and sexual and weird and dark, yet always kind of cheerful and friendly, too. That range is shown off to great effect in the excellently titled new collection My Dirty Dumb Eyes, just released from Drawn and Quarterly.

The glossy, bright-blue hardcover could pass for a kids' book—there's a golden retriever shooting helicopters out of his eyes! Fun!—but a cursory glance at the book's contents reveals a distinctly adults-only affair: here's a comic titled "Sex Fantasies Inspired by Movies" ("The Hulk is trapped in a room containing nothing except my butt"); here's a tiny drawing of chef Wolfgang Puck pleasuring himself with a piece of pizza; here's a pretty watercolor bouquet of purple flowers and purple penises.

My Dirty Dumb Eyes collects movie and TV reviews, standalone art pieces, and gag strips, like three full pages dedicated to surprisingly detailed portraits of animals wearing silly hats. Buried among the dick jokes are quieter strips based on Hanawalt's own life.

"The stories where people are animals are the most autobiographical," Hanawalt explained in a phone interview. "There's one where She-Moose is making these stupid sculptures, and she's crying in bed, and [a cat-headed man] is consoling her, telling her it doesn't matter whether she feels good or bad when she's creating something... That came directly out of a conversation I had with my boyfriend, who unfortunately has to listen to me moan and groan a lot about what I do."

Hanawalt co-hosts the comedy podcast Baby Geniuses with stand-up Emily Heller, who recently appeared in Portland at the Bridgetown Comedy Fest. But while Hanawalt's work is full of jokes and visual gags, she doesn't see herself trying stand-up comedy any time soon.

"For the most part, being funny through drawing is much easier," she says. "I got good at drawing quite early on, and I quickly realized it was a great way to entertain people around me, and to make my brother laugh, and my friends laugh. It's always felt like a superpower I had. I was a super shy kid, and I was too shy to tell jokes verbally, so drawing was a way to get through that."

The final two pieces in My Dirty Dumb Eyes contain subjects Hanawalt says she's been drawing for years: horses and car crashes. In the first piece, colored in soft reds and greens, a cat and a horse bicker as they drive down the freeway (the cat's the driver; the horse is backseat driving like an asshole). The final piece is a beautiful, two-page spread of a car crash, red and green cars crumpled together, spilling intestines from under their hoods. The cat and horse story is the newest piece in the book, and the car crash illustration is the oldest; but like the rest of this great collection, they fit together seamlessly, a talented artist's long-time fixations paying off big.

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