How 'Bojack Horseman' Production Designer Lisa Hanawalt Is Stretching The Limits For Women In Art
For cartoonist, food writer, and Bojack Horseman production designer Lisa Hanawalt, the artistic process is inherently feminist. "I don't make political cartoons," she tells Bustle,"but I'm strongly opinionated and that comes through in my work." At first glance, many of Hanawalt's illustrations might seem like the joyful, floral watercolor background of some inspirational meme. Look closer, however, and you'll see that, more often than not, she's added penises throughout the petals. "Pretty work has a place, but that wasn't enough for me," she says. And it's this combination of juvenile humor, depreciation, and brazen femininity that allows Hanawalt to stretch the limits for other women creatives, both in Bojack and in her various other work.
In her involvement with Netflix's BoJack, Hanawalt creates media that straddles the line between frills and fangs, allowing her narrative to dig into emotional intimacy while playing outside of the lines dictated to women writers. While the world demands women's stories of self-discovery a la Eat, Pray, Love, Hanawalt is basically writing Eat, Eat, Sleep. And, after flexing her versatile muscles on TV, Hanawalt is ready to serve up her newest book, Hot Dog Taste Test , a piping hot collection of comics devoted to food.
"Food is very visual and is capable of lending itself to a broad range of topics," Hanawalt explains. She initially began pairing the culinary with comics in Lucky Peach, a food magazine heralded by The Mind Of A Chef and Momofuku's David Chang. Her frayed brushstrokes, manic lines, and bright colors fit right in with the publication's bold, irreverent treatment of food. "I started with a series that explored the secret identities of chefs and a year later, I became a regular contributor," Hanawalt says. "It's so crazy." She wound up digging into everything from planting to molecular gastronomy through her illustrated stories.
Female food writers are known as a defiant group. Often, the language surrounding the culinary ("slimming," "skinnylicious," etc) isn't necessarily empowering for feminine identities, and it can result in women's vexed relationships with cooking and eating. Behind-the-scenes, it's not much better. The Restaurant Opportunity Centers United found that 19% of all chefs are women, while VIDA reported in 2011 that coverage of male authors made up 83% of The New York Times Book Review. Lady food writers like Hanawalt are on the frontline of fighting this dynamic and actively reclaim these narratives for themselves via essay collections like Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones, and Butter, and, in Hanawalt's case, comics, an industry where men are employed at six times the rate of women, according to the Ladydrawers.
Something I personally admire about Hanawalt's work is its ability to merge politically-engaged energy with a more introspective sense of the spiritual. This is especially true in Hot Dog Taste Test. What initially began as a "pile of work," the author says, sneakily became a collection of food-themed comics and illustrations. In the book, Hanawalt tells several stories about her heritage, including her family's history of immigration, and researching this more intimate portions of the book ended up presenting a few surprises. "There's not a lot of distance between these stories and me. I tried to keep it light, but it did feel vulnerable," she says. "It's also a lot harder to tell if it's good or not, so i had my mom read it."
Ultimately, Hanawalt is pleased with the outcome of Hot Dog Taste Test. Her favorite section of the book is made up of food terminology pages, which began as a series of scribbles inspired by a friend. But, of course, this sweetness is immediately met with a bit of sour humor. "If I were a food, I'd be suckling pig with apple," she says with a laugh, "because that is the closest thing to being a cooked human."
Sounds like the perfect description for a woman whose artwork, on-screen and off, is simply sizzling.
Images: Drawn and Quarterly