The "Hot Dog Taste Test" Illustrator Shares How to Be a Successful Artist
Turning a passion into a career is easier said than done. In a competitive world of too much noise, we always find it encouraging to encounter a creative woman whose work cuts right through the clutter. This can be said about the quiet genius of Lisa Hanawalt, the cartoonist who has garnered legions of fans through her funny artwork depicting witty observations and animals in compromising positions. And now, as production designer of the animated Netflix series BoJack Horseman, Hanawalt has succeeded in turning her love of drawing horses into a bona fide job after getting her start drawing for magazines like Lucky Peach and The Believer.
In her newly released book, Hot Dog Taste Test (Drawn & Quarterly), Hanawalt explores her twisted takes on food culture into a colorful, illustrated masterpiece of a comic book. (One page depicts a list of “sassy” versus “earnest” foods; another shows a visual guide to choosing wine.) We caught up with Hanawalt to discuss the advantages of being your own boss (as opposed to being someone else’s boss), the worst job she’s lived through, and her advice for aspiring artists. Hot Dog Taste Test is out now.
MYDOMAINE: There's a lot to discover in your book—it's like part diary, part inside your brain. How did the concept for Hot Dog Taste Test come about?
LISA HANAWALT: It came about in a backward way. I looked at all the work I'd done over the past few years, and so much of it was food-themed that it made sense to make that the unifying concept. A more honest description might have been, "Here's a whole bunch of things I've been doing lately, mostly food," but that's not as tidy.
MD: How would you describe your own relationship with food or food culture?
LH: I enjoy good food and sharing food with good company, but I'm not the most proactive foodie. It's not quite my hobby. I'm a lazy and reluctant cook.
MD: What's your favorite comfort food, and is it illustrated in the book? How do you make it?
LH: I love spicy chicken tortilla soup. It's not in my book, but it's so easy to make. You just need a can of San Marzano tomatoes, a bunch of vegetables, and chicken (or beans). A can of hominy is great if you can find it. Add peppers, cayenne, cumin, and any other spices you like. You can add noodles or rice if you want a heartier soup. Slice up corn tortillas and fry them into homemade chips to dip in the whole deal. It's so good!
MD: Where do you think you got your sense of humor and drawing abilities from?
LH: My whole family has an absurd sense of humor, and we love terrible puns. I also use jokes as a way of coping with difficulty. I've been drawing a lot since I was a child, so I think that ability is largely due to practice. I remember being really frustrated when I was 6 because I was envisioning this perfect cat drawing, but when I actually tried to draw it, it didn't look anything like the cat in my head. That's still the goal—to make things look on paper the way they appear in my imagination.
MD: What is it about your work that you think resonates with readers?
LH: I think it goes in weird directions in a way that is hopefully entertaining and unexpected. And I'm pretty candid about anxiety and negative thoughts in a way that I think a lot of people can relate to. A lot of us are uncomfortable and afraid, and could use a good, absurd laugh a lot of the time.
MD: You've made a successful career as an illustrator. What would be your advice for women trying to pursue her creative passion?
LH: Make a lot of work, don't worry about style (that comes later, and you can't force it), and make work about things that interest you and are personal to you. Be kind to and boost other women, of course.
MD: How has your life changed since BoJack Horseman?
LH: It's nice to have a steady job where I feel like there's room to grow and learn. I've started horseback riding again. Something about drawing a horse all day at work made me feel like it was time to get back in the saddle.
MD: What was the worst job you've ever had?
LH: I worked at a dog kennel, and I expected to spend all day playing with puppies, but in reality, it was just hours and hours of waste management. So much poop! Everywhere!
MD: What have you learned about yourself (and as a boss) through collaborating with others and working alone? Do you have a preference?
LH: I prefer to work alone and have complete creative control over everything, but that really puts a limit on what can be accomplished! I enjoy being part of a team much more than I ever expected. I don't love being a boss, only because I'm more comfortable collaborating than commanding. But I'm getting better at it. It helps that everyone working on BoJack is so passionate about the show. It's really a joy.
MD: What are you most excited about in life right now?
LH: I'm excited about animation—I'd like to write and direct more. I want to get better at traveling. I want to be braver at horseback riding.
Inspired by Hanawalt's creative pursuits? Pick up her book below, and let us know what creative outlets you're exploring.