Lisa Hanawalt describes her new comics collection My Dirty Dumb Eyes (Drawn and Quarterly, May 2013) as a “grabbag.” The Bay Area raised, New York based artist has been putting out zines, floppies and web comics for years but My Dirty Dumb Eyes is her debut book book; hardback, perfect bound. The book assembles previously published work—from those zines and floppies but also from imprints like Lucky Peach, Saveur, The New York Times and The Believer—along with over 40 pages of new material. Indeed, the collection comes across as a kind of loot bag: a merry miscellany of candy colored comics, jocular gag strips and charming full-page illustrations starring cultural figures such as Anna Wintour, Mario Batali, Ryan Gosling and Wolverine, a zoo of anthropomorphic animals and lots of sexy sex.
I met with Lisa Hanawalt at her Pencil Factory studio loft in Greenpoint, Brooklyn a couple weeks ago. It was a stunning June mid-afternoon so we decided to do our interview outdoors. We walked down to the East River and settled in an unshaded corner of grass by the waterfront. Lisa had just gotten back from one leg of her book tour. The next stride would take her to San Diego Comic Con and that’s where we started…
Have you gone to the Con before?
Yes, a bunch of times.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen at a San Diego Comic Con?
I saw these parents who were walking about with their two sons and they had painted perfect realistic bullet holes in the center of their children’s foreheads; blood pouring out, super realistic. And they just had these smug expressions like, “Yeah, we’re pretty edgy.”
Are you ever felt compelled to dress up?
Every year I want to dress up but I always chicken out. In past years, I shared a booth with Matt Furie and his girlfriend Aiyana Udesen and she would dress up in a Star Trek uniform one day and a nurse costume the next. It was amazing. If I could somehow get a sexy moose costume, I would totally do that.
You draw a lot of mooses (meese?) and horses. Did you ride in your youth?
Yeah, I did. I started when I was eight and I took lessons off and on for a long time. I would quit when I got too scared. You know, I’d have an accident and I’d get scared. I don’t really ride anymore. Although last month, I did go horseback riding in Woodstock. I was on this super old horse and we were just plodding around but it totally reignited my obsession. I’ve had dreams about horses almost every night since.
You must dream vividly. I feel like I read about your dreams on Twitter a lot.
Which is funny because I think that dreams are such bullshit.
What do you mean you think they’re bullshit?
I just think dreams are boring and that they don’t necessarily mean anything. I’m not interested in dream analysis. Dreams have nothing to do with real life.
Are you of the camp who believes that dreams are just recycled mish-mash from the day?
Yeah, sure. If you’re stressed, you’re going to dream a certain way. I’ve heard that if you have dreams about your teeth falling out that means you’re worried about money. I never used to have that dream but I have been lately, ever since I had a slew of dental problems, and indeed I was hemorrhaging money on this one tooth that is still not fixed.
Wow. That’s an amazing literalization of a standard dream symbol. So dreams are bullshit. Moving on. Did you read comics as a kid?
Yeah, I read the Sunday paper. Garfield, The Far Side—those were my favorites. My dad had these comics by B. Kliban. He’s most well known for his cat drawings but he also made these fucked up ‘70s cartoons that I read when I was probably too young to be reading them. That was a big influence.
Were these like sexy ‘70s underground comix?
Some of them were sexy. Some of them have naked people crawling around. They’re grotesquely drawn with a lot of puns, a lot of wordplay and absurdity. Surreal stuff.
Have you always drawn with words and images?
I’ve always paired words and images. I think just from reading comics, I learned to associate art with words. I would draw little comic books when I was young. Like, I drew one about a horse and a donkey that lived together. They were roommates.
Have you always had such a lewd sense of humor?
Pretty much. I mean, I didn’t start out drawing dicks and stuff. I was pretty well-behaved as a kid. But I’ve always been interested in sex. I remember stealing my parent’s copy of The Joy of Sex and looking through it. I just think it’s interesting and funny to think this way.
Do you only see this way when you’re illustrating or does it extend to your everyday life? Like, if you were at a house party and you were meeting a bunch of new people, do take in the scene with “Dirty Dumb Eyes”?
Uhhh… If one of them is wearing a see-through shirt or something, I’ll think that’s funny. I guess I’m drawn to what’s overtly sexual. If two of my friends are dating, I’ll imagine them having sex. I feel like everyone does that though but maybe not everyone admits it.
Maybe. I feel like people are starting to admit to this stuff again, like there’s a renewed discourse about sexuality.
It’s weird how things become more conservative and more liberal in waves. You’d think it would be just more and more liberal, as in a straight line, but it’s not. If you watch movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s, a lot of them are shockingly lewd, like tits everywhere, even if they’re just comedies. Like, I watched Slap Shot recently and I was like whoa this is really out there, really raunchy. I feel like society pulled back for a while but now we’re going forward again, with shows like Girls. We’re becoming more comfortable with overt sexuality again, which I think is a good thing.
Absolutely. And we’re also seeing more individual lead sexuality, like the selfie. People are putting themselves out there. Do you like Miley Cyrus?
I was just thinking about her! I saw her video [We Can’t Stop] last night and I found it strangely upsetting and depressing. Maybe I was just in the wrong mood for it. My boyfriend liked it and was laughing through it but it made me sad. It’s just hard to say how much ownership she has over what she’s doing or whether it’s everyone around her being like, “Now you’re going to be a sexual, mature adult and the way you’re going to show that is by humping a mattress in front of a camera crew all day.” It makes me sad that female pop stars always have to up the ante in terms of how sexual they are whereas male pop stars don’t have to.
What bothers me is that she seems to be appropriating a kind of queer or alternative/liberated looking female sexuality but it’s maybe missing the parts of that that are subversive.
Right. She looks fantastic but it’s all surface. Everything that she’s doing is still for the male gaze.
So this is the first hard book you’ve put out.
Yeah, it’s hard. It was going to be less hard and they decided to make it harder.
I like the plastic cover. It seems like you could take it all sorts of places. One of my favorite pieces in the book is your series on Anna Wintour, which I think is one of the only good things ever written on her.
Thank you. I love her. I love Devil Wears Prada, that’s such a guilty pleasure film. And I loved The September Issue. I’m so fascinated by Anna Wintour.
What about her?
She’s just so… impenetrable. Women are expected to be warm and put others needs before them and women who aren’t like that—women who are extremely successful and who sort of come across as a cold bitch—they fascinate me. I have immense respect for Anna Wintour. She’s amazing. She has so much power.
She absolutely has power.
I love that. She’s such an alien person to me because I’m such a softy. In some ways, she represents what I wish I could do: to conceal all of my humanity and all of my needs and my emotions and just get what I need to get done done.