Playing With Food
Lisa Hanawalt

Artist and author Lisa Hanawalt has a big heart and a perverted, creative mind. Lucky for us, both are on display in her newest book, Hot Dog Taste Test (Drawn & Quarterly), which takes several of Hanawalt’s recurring obsessions (think: horses, plants, breakfast) and weaves them with themes of love and family and making good work. For all of the book’s silliness — we promise you’ll laugh out loud — each colorful page also hints at Hanawalt’s active and sometimes-anxious interior life (a great view of which you can get in her recent talk at the XOXO Festival). Here, she talks with STET about her early days of making art, her favorite ways to procrastinate, and some recent reads.

What’s the first memory you have of making art? When did you realize you could draw?
I remember drawing a cat when I was six or seven and feeling frustrated to the point of tears that my drawing didn’t look exactly how I was envisioning it in my head, because I wasn’t skilled enough yet. By that age, I was already known for constantly drawing during class — I think it helped me focus.

Excerpt from Hot Dog Taste Test

Excerpt from Hot Dog Taste Test

How did you fall into writing? How do you approach writing projects vs. illustration projects?
I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. My parents read to me and took me to the library a lot as a kid, so I became very literate at a young age. In high school, my friend Raphael convinced me to join Livejournal, and keeping that blogging up for close to a decade really improved my writing skills. I learned how to write about banal things in an entertaining way, since I had a small audience.

Hot Dog Taste Test contains so many tiny worlds and narratives. Which part of the book do you hold the dearest?
I like so many parts of the book for different reasons. I like the Argentina travel diary, because it’s about my family. I like the comic “planting,” because it’s so sweet. And I like the more absurd, sloppy pages, like “food photography terminology” and “breakfast facts.”

Was there anything you cut from the book that you wish you could have kept in?
No! I like working with Drawn & Quarterly because they always listen when I feel strongly about leaving something in. There was some convo about whether I should limit the book to more strictly food-themed work, but I like including a large variety of pieces.

Who or what do you think has been the biggest influence on your sense of humor?
My family, and my older brother in particular. He’s very funny and absurd and we watched so many dumb comedies together when we were growing up. We love nonsensical wordplay.

Excerpt from Hot Dog Taste Test

Excerpt from Hot Dog Taste Test

How has your life changed since working on Bojack Horseman? What’s the most useful thing you’ve learned from working on the show?
I had to move back to LA and have a day job for the first time in six years, so that was a big change! I’ve learned a lot about collaborating, and how to think about the bigger picture when I’m designing something — how my decisions will make the work easier or more difficult for other people.

What’s your favorite TV show to watch while procrastinating?
I like Shark Tank, Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, Veep, Steven Universe, UnREAL. I’ll watch old eps of Friends, 30 Rock, or Larry Sanders anytime.

What do you miss most about NYC now that you live in LA?
I miss walking around late at night and feeling safe, especially when I lived in the East Village. It often felt too loud and crowded for comfort, but there was a security in that population density. I really love LA but it’s not built for pedestrians at all.

What’s the last book that you read and loved, and why?
I loved Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series, although I haven’t finished the fourth book yet — I had to take a break because the relationships were stressing me out too much! My favorite writers are Annie Proulx and David Foster Wallace.

What personal or professional project are your most excited about right now?
I’m directing an animated music video! I storyboarded it and I’ve hired some awesome animators. I’m learning how to composite in AfterEffects. It’s all very new to me, there’s been a steep learning curve, but that’s also exciting.

Photo: courtesy Jean Ho. Illustrations: by Lisa Hanawalt, courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.