NPR Interviews Lisa Hanawalt

“Interview with Lisa Hanawalt” / NPR / Emily Bogle / October 2, 2016

I recently chatted with illustrator and character creator/producer for the animated show Bojack Horseman on Netflix at the Small Press Expo (SPX) in North Bethesda, Md. We talked about her new book, Hot Dog Taste Test, how she got into comics, and advice for new artists.

On her new book:

This book is a collection of work I’ve done over the last 2 years. I did an interview with a professional chef for Lucky Peach magazine, I go to all-you-can-eat buffets in Vegas… there’s a lot of food in there and then there’s a lot of other stuff that’s kind of not really about food. Like comments about birds and about my family. So it’s sort of like a one-woman anthology.

And its hilarious title:

I do really like hot dogs, but not as much as I just like the way “hot dog taste test” sounds. I just like the grouping of words. It sounded funny to me. It kind of gets to my weird sense of humor. 

I was just on tour and I was going to different locations around the country and a lot of them had hot dogs at the signings. Like, “Here’s a special hot dog that we had designed for you for your signing!” But it would be like blue cheese and whiskey soaked meat and I’m like, “Oh, I’m not going to eat that.”

On coming to SPX for 10 years:

It’s a show that I first came to exactly 10 years ago just as a fan. It’s weird now that I can look back and reflect in a little bit on my career and see that 10 years is a long time but it’s also not that long. I hope it’s inspiring to younger cartoonists to maybe look up to me now to see like, okay it did take a while to get where I am, but you’ll get there eventually. It just happened step-by-step. It’s kind of cool to see the cycle turnover and the new comics people coming up now.

On not stressing out:

I’ve slowed down a little bit now that I’m older. I can’t generate work and stay up all night the same way I could in my early twenties, but even if that sounds a little sad it’s not. It’s actually a nice thing to be forced to take better care of myself and to value myself for things other than just making comics. I can relax in the park and I’m still a good person.  I’m trying to de-stress myself and it’s really hard because I’m a stressed-out person. I like to put a lot of pressure on myself.

I’ll watch relaxing shows like the Great British Bake-Off or rom-coms (romantic comedies). I take baths, paint my nails… just you know, stupid little things that seem really frivolous. I’ll go running with my dog sometimes I go horseback riding or anything physical is actually really good way to relax. It’s okay to sometimes just lay on the couch and not draw. I’m still trying to tell myself that.

On keeping a sketchbook:

I do carry a sketchbook just in case. I always have it with me. I don’t always use it but sometimes it’s nice to know I can whip it out if I’m bored during a meeting or anxious or if I’m on a scary airplane flight I can always whip it out and draw people falling. That always makes me feel better for some reason.

I love to draw other people if they don’t notice.  I don’t like it if they notice me drawing. That’s always a risk. I had someone once say “Hey don’t draw me!” and I was like, “oh okay, I’m sorry… it doesn’t even look like you.. I was drawing you as a cat so, relax.”

On becoming a cartoonist:

I studied art at UCLA, but I don’t think you need to go to Art School.  I think for me it was nice to go to a very conceptual school so it help to teach me better how to think in a critical way. We had a lot of critiques where I had to walk people through my work and I think that’s actually super helpful for the job that I do now. I have to stand up in front of people and explain my design choices. But school wasn’t great for teaching me how to actually draw, which is fine–I don’t care about using proper perspective of anatomy or whatever. It didn’t quite prepare me to work as an artist. The school kind of made it seem like, “Well, you’ll just have gallery shows when you graduate,” and it’s not how it works. I had to start doing illustration jobs which they didn’t prepare me for it all, but it worked out.

It turns out it doesn’t matter what you go to school for. It really doesn’t matter at all. I know a lot of people who went to school for philosophy, but they’re not like philosophers now, they’re comedians and stuff, but I’m sure it informed them in some way.  I always tell young people you don’t have to figure out what you want to do right when you graduate. I got in my car and drove around the country for a couple of months and then I just got a job as a secretary for two years and made art on the side and it really helped to have that time to develop my voice on my own.

It takes a long time and there isn’t one direction or path to get there and you can’t really expedite or speed it along in any way.

On humor and her influences

Linda Barry is like the wisest person but also the funnest person to talk to. I got to meet her at Comic-Con this summer and she’s just magical. She’s also a very generous person she makes whoever she’s talking to feel very special. She talks a lot about keeping a sense of playfulness in your work and kind of making artwork the way a child would play with their toys. She’s also really big on going with your gut as far as what you want to make work about and not just following the money or whatever and not just doing a job because it seems prestigious, but just making whatever work your body and mind tell you to make.

I think I developed [my sense of humor] as a defense mechanism. I was always a really shy kid so I wasn’t one to say jokes out loud, but drawing became a way of being funny that felt safe to me. And then when Twitter came along, that made it easier to to make jokes. I’ve always been drawn to comedians.

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