Interview: Lisa Hanawalt Pt. 3 [of 3]

Categories:  Interviews


We wrap up our conversation with the Stay Away From Other People cartoonist by discussing comedy in comics, fine art, and the reality of the grotesque.

[Part One][Part Two]

Do you find it easier to interact with people now that you’re making comics?

You mean in real life?

Both, I suppose. It’s a platform in and of itself, and you also get to come out to these shows and meet people with common interests.

Yeah, I do really like that. I like it much better than what I saw would happen when I was in college and thought that I would be in art shows and have to go to gallery openings. I’m not very comfortable in that space. But yeah, that’s been really nice.

I interviewed Vanessa [Davis] about an hour ago—she’s got a fine art background. It seems that so many cartoonists who started in fine art are totally disillusioned and can’t see themselves going back to that world.

That’s funny, because now I’m going back to it via comics. I just a show at Giant Robot and a show at Secret Headquarters, which is a comic book shop. I’m not averse at all to showing in gallery-galleries either.

It’s probably because they take such a big percentage, and it’s this whole thing. It’s not always worth it, but I like both.

Do you find that, in the fine art world, more people are trying to put your work in a box? Is comics more freeing in that respect?

Not necessarily. The art world just seems a little…snotty. Galleries openings are snottier than a comic convention. Even though people are competitive in comics, they’re very supportive—they’re very willing to go out of their way to help you out. That’s the first thing I notice. Everyone’s so nice, and no one’s been a dick to me. That’s amazing.

Did you have a similar experience at Comic Con? That’s a totally different beast.

At Comic Con, half the people there have never read a comic—they’re just there for movie stuff. That’s weird, but everyone in general is really nice. They come up and say, “I love your work,” and that’s really great. Art school and the art world in general seems more…competitive.

It seems like a lot people fighting for very few spots.

Yeah. It grossed me out.

Comics seems to still be growing a bit—at least in terms of venues. The art world seems to be shrinking down.

Maybe, yeah. A lot galleries have gone out of business—but then again, so have a lot of publishers. It’s hard for everybody.

Were you surprised when you went to your first comics show and people really got what you were doing?

Yeah. I was so nervous. I was shaking.

Your book isn’t really a traditional, sequential work.

It does puzzle me that people really seem to like it. It sounds dumb, but I’m like, “oh, people really dig what I’m doing. That’s great!” It seems like a lot of people who don’t really read comics tend to pick it up. And that’s great, too. It’s got a wide appeal somehow—I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the animals…

Does it surprise you that so many people can appreciate the subject matter?

Yeah. It’s very personal to me. It’s kind of gross—it really goes there. But I think that people really respond to that honesty, too.

Do you think there’s something honest in the grotesque?

Yeah. I’m not being cynical or ironic. The menstruation list of terminology—that was so gross [laughs]. I almost didn’t want to put it in there. I was worried that people would be horrified. But people really liked it. That was one that people really got. They were like, “I love this.”

I think it’s popular now to talk about that kind of thing in a really open way, but I didn’t do it because it was popular. That’s just how I express myself.

It’s popular in comics?

In general, I think. In comedy too, I’ve noticed. I really love Louis C.K., and he’s having really great year because he talks really honestly about what it’s like to have kids and all kinds of gross stuff. People are really responding to it now.

Do you ever worry that you’re doing gross stuff for the sake?

No. People ask me that, but if it doesn’t feel genuine, I won’t do it.

Even if it’s funny?

It has to genuinely make me laugh. If it’s funny because it’s so gross, I think that’s genuine.

Are there any comics that make you laugh out loud?

Oh yeah.

I read a lot of work where I’ll say to myself, “this is funny.” But I won’t necessarily laugh out loud.

I’m picky. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t like—it just doesn’t hit me. But part of the point for me in making comics is making something that I would want to read. I hope that doesn’t sound conceited.

Well, if you’re going to work on a book, you should making something that you enjoy drawing. I appreciate that you’re sort of cracking yourself up while you’re creating it.

If it doesn’t make me laugh, it’s not worth drawing. That’s basically my editing procedure. Some things I can’t tell whether they’re funny or not anymore, so I have to show them to other people. I definitely need input.

Are you concerned with the distinction between “high-brow” and “low-brow” comedy?

No. If it’s funny, it’s funny.

When I go down the list of comics that actually make me laugh out loud, they tend toward the latter. Johnny Ryan, for example.

Oh yeah. Johnny Ryan, definitely.

Sometimes I’ll feel bad that I’m laughing at some of it.

Oh, but it feels good, because it’s so rare that something is so funny that you can’t help yourself. I’m very comfortable with laughing at that kind of thing. I got called out by someone who’s very close to me. They asked me what was so funny about two cats kicking a dog in the balls? “It’s like 12-year-old boy humor.”

Exactly. it’s funny.

Do you consider yourself to have 12-year-old boy humor?

Not all the time, but sometimes. Twelve-year-old boys are definitely onto something. To tap into that… As long as it doesn’t feel like a schtick that I’m doing. Sometimes it’s hard to find that distinction, so I have to ask people if it’s tacky or cheesy.

Do you have a lot of editors in life?

I have a few people to look at my stuff. Alvin [Buenaventura] has been very helpful.

Twelve-year-old boys are supposed to be the comic book demographic.

Yeah [laughs].

But I assume there aren’t a lot of 12-year-old boys picking up your book.

There are, but there are also a lot of women of all ages, and men of all ages. I’ve been really happy to see the range of the people who are interested.

You don’t have a “type?”

No. I don’t. Which is great. I thought I would.

Who did you think it would be?

I just thought it would be girls my age, because that’s who I am. And since I’m writing to please myself, I thought that’s who would be interested.

Can you point to something specific that you thought that audience would like? The menstruation thing?

No, just whatever I think is funny. And if the people I know and respect think it’s funny, I feel really confident about it. If it pleases me, I’m already there.

Are you hitting on some universal truths about the grossness of life?

Life is disgusting. The comics that I like—R. Crumb—they’re really gross and personal, but they’re really universal. I’m really into him and Renee French and Phoebe Gloeckner—people who are honestly exploring the grotesqueness of life.

–Brian Heater