Cookies, Collecting, and Poop—A Chat with Lisa HanawaltWritten by Kelly McClure
Lisa Hanawalt is a Brooklyn-based artist whose first major book, My Dirty Dumb Eyes, comes out on Drawn & Quarterly in May. Her work has appeared in The Hairpin, Vanity Fair, The Believer, and she illustrated a book about farts once. I thought it would be a good idea to meet Lisa for coffee at Cookie Road in Greenpoint to talk about her life, and to also make sure and point out that I knew a lot about her—even prior to our interview, because I’d been stalking her on Twitter and Instagram for a month.
Kelly: So, you’re going on a book tour and I can’t imagine what that’s like.
Lisa: Me neither! I’ve done conventions a lot, and for my previous job I used to have to go to conventions to sell camera equipment, so I’ve kind of had a little bit of training in how to engage people and sell things to them even though I’m super shy.
Kelly: The funny thing about all that though is that, OK, so you’re sitting at a table, and you see someone walking towards you, and then there’s maybe that awkwardness where you have to sit there and stare at them, or have some sort of smile, until they bridge the distance from where they were to where you are.
Lisa: That’s the most awkward part, where someone’s coming towards you but you’re too far apart to start talking, but you have to acknowledge them in some way. I probably come across as a little aloof because I just don’t know what to do. What’s even weirder is when they’re nervous to meet me, because I’m like “ME! You’re nervous to meet ME?” There was this one girl who came up to me during Comic-Con and she had this stack of books, and she was so nervous that the books started to topple to the floor. I just started asking her questions about herself.
Kelly: Well, the level of social anxiety is so severe that sometimes it’s nerve-racking just to leave the house.
Lisa: I completely relate to that. Just interacting with a cashier at a bodega is such an awkward, intense experience for me.
Kelly: This book is kind of your first major solo thing. How did you get hooked up with Drawn & Quarterly as the publisher?
Lisa: My agent, and I sent them a proposal and they said yes. Thankfully. We had sent proposals to a few other places too, but people kept wanting to change the book, or add things. One place was like “Can you do a chapter on cocktails? Or nightlife?” One company wanted me to do an entire book about Ryan Gosling, but I don’t want something that people will just pick up at the checkout aisle and then it’s tiresome after one week. Drawn & Quarterly were the first to say that they just wanted the book to be my vision.
Kelly: You’ve drawn Ryan Gosling a few times, and you sell some prints of those drawings on your Etsy shop. If Gosling ordered one, would you include a little note to him, or would you be like “That’s cool, whatever?”
Lisa: Oh, I would definitely write to him. I don’t know what I’d say. I’d probably try to make a drawing for him or something. I’m such an ass-kisser. I’d totally suck up to him.
Kelly: Do you collect anything? Do you have any weird collections? And this question comes from lurking and seeing a picture you had posted of your desk, and it looked like you had a lot of cool stuff. I always love seeing pictures of people’s workspaces, and apartment interiors in general.
Lisa: I used to be a big time collector of everything I was into. I collected plastic horses, and Legos, and I got really into the Beatles at one point so I collected Beatles stuff. If you go to my childhood bedroom you can see all these different obsessions. And now I’m trying to pair down and own less stuff, so I don’t collect many things, but I definitely have that need to hunt for things. Maybe someday when I have more space I’ll get back into it. Also I feel like when I was more into collecting I was a lonelier person. I was single for like six or seven years, living in LA, and I just had crazy crap around me all the time. And now I live with my boyfriend, and a dog, so stuff is less important to me than it used to be.
Kelly: So you have a dog, and this is something I’ve thought about more than twice (not specific to your dog, but in general)—I’m wondering if your dog suddenly turned into a human, and made its way out into the general public, would you be able to pick it out in a crowd?
Lisa: Would she have human intelligence? Or would she be just as smart as she is now? If she were as smart as she is now I’d be able to pick her out because she’d be like “Durrrrr.” She’d be like out in the middle of the street taking a crap. If she had human intelligence I think she’d be like me. I know it’s cliché to say that people resemble their pets, but me and my dog are really similar.
Kelly: Would you describe yourself as an introvert or an extrovert?
Lisa: I recently decided that I don’t believe in that binary. I think people can be more introverted versus extroverted, and vice versa, but I don’t think you’re one way or the other. I’m the kind of person where if I go into a social situation, like a party or something, I do feel like I’m getting into a cold swimming pool and it takes me a while to warm up, but then after that I love to talk to everybody and am like a social butterfly. I think it’s just what you’re used to, and what you like. Generally I do like to spend a lot of time alone, and I do tend to feel exhausted if I’ve been spending a ton of time around other people, so I guess I lean more towards introvert, but yeah. I’m also a little bit of a ham inside.
Kelly: When you’re drawing, do you ever have instances where you have an idea in your head, but it’s difficult to fully translate that out into the image that you’re drawing?
Lisa: That’s the hardest part because you’ll have this perfect picture in your head and think, “I know exactly what this is supposed to look like,” but you just know that the second you start drawing it’s gonna change. I’ve just learned to not worry about. You have to sort of just start drawing to get the bad stuff out of the way, and hone it into something even better than what was originally in your head. That can really paralyze me if I think about it too much.
Kelly: Your captions for the things you draw are often just as funny as the drawings themselves. Do you have a background as a writer?
Lisa: I don’t, but I’ve always written a lot. I used to keep a LiveJournal. [laughs]. I got used to writing about my life every day, and I wrote about it in the funniest way possible, and I think that was good practice in translating real life stuff into funny stories. I’m still not the best writer, and I always think I should write more, but it is important to me that the writing be just as good as the drawings in my work.
Kelly: I saw on your blog that you hate drawing shelves and grocery store aisles. Is that because they’re particularly hard to do, or because you just generally hate it?
Lisa: Anything that is very geometrical, or receding into the background in a way that requires proper perspective, I just hate. I just get so bored with it. And it’s difficult to draw loosely and get it right. Where as if I’m drawing an animal, I can draw the weirdest version of a dog, and you still know it’s a dog, but with shelving if I do it in a loose way it just looks lazy.
Kelly: I listened to a podcast called Butt Talk that you were on and you mentioned that you would prefer if people never knew that you pooped, ever, and I can really relate to that. I guess this isn’t even a question, but picture Ryan Gosling or Angelina Jolie pooping. Like, just picture it.
Lisa: I think about Obama pooping all the time. I think about it at least a couple times a week. It’s amazing to me that he poops.
Kelly: There’s an app for everything and a thing for everything, there should be a thing in public restrooms where there are just noise buttons on the wall. So you can sit there and hit noise buttons while you poop.
Lisa: Like in Japan! They do everything better there. My favorite is when I’m in a restaurant or a bar and they have music playing in the bathroom, because some places do that. That’s the best!
To check out Lisa’s work, order prints, or get the dates of her upcoming book tour, go to lisahanawalt.com.