Lisa Hanawalt’s got a downright dirty sense of humor. Her new book, “My Dirty Dumb Eyes,” delves into nether regions, the therapy sessions of anthropomorphic figures and a Manhattan Toy Fair “full of serious adults in business suits with corporate accounts.” The book, which is a collection of illustrations and cartoons, features Hanawalt’s whimsical drawing style. It is as if a David Shrigley show was condensed into a blue hardcover book and rainbows were generously applied to it (Shrigley works largely in black and white).
If Hanawalt were to draw an illustration to represent her book, it might be an image of her own head bursting with anthropomorphic animals in bikinis, Ryan Gosling chewing on 246 toothpicks, Anna Wintour riding an ostrich, the entire cast of “The Bachelor” with thousands of clay finger statues — “visual puns, sort of” — and maybe a million plastic horses thrown in for good measure.
“My Dirty Dumb Eyes” blurs the line between childlike and adult humor. Despite being an illustrated book, this is not a book you’d share with your kid brother — unless your kid brother is into dick lizards and erect penises rising among swaying flowers, an illustrative pun on fertilization. This is an adult book for adults who never really grew up and perhaps need some help with transitioning. There’s heaps of Hanawalt’s help, thankfully.
For instance, Hanawalt’s “Tips for Living With a Significant Other” addresses the end of romance — “Prepare for the statistical likelihood of breaking up by labeling your possessions ahead of time” — with humor rather than moroseness. The accompanying illustration is of a table with items — dishes, books, cup — bearing “his” and “mine” sticky notes.
Hanawalt does a decent job of convincing us of her naivety, but we are reminded, as with the sixth illustration in “Tips for Living,” that her art is tongue-in-cheek — she is not as innocent as her drawings suggest. “Learn to communicate openly and don’t let bad feelings fester,” is damn good advice, but the accompanying illustration — of a woman stabbing at an angry-faced breakfast plate while her partner’s breakfast plate resembles a frowny face — is charming and elicits a giggle.
“My Dirty Dumb Eyes” is an inside joke that most any pop culturally-aware person can understand. This is a book for television watchers and moviegoers, for toy lovers and equine enthusiasts, for the artsy-fartsy and the artsy-farty; Hanawalt is a perfect scatological specimen, her humor bodily and strange. “The soldiers’ horses are marching against the backdrop of a firey sunset and one of them is pooping! I see the silhouettes of poops!” Hanawalt writes in her review of Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse.” Sure enough, her illustration depicts the magnificent fecal silhouettes. She finishes her movie review with four out of five horseshoes but others with kisses (“The Vow”), apes (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) or goslings (“Drive”).
There’s a lot to love in “My Dirty Dumb Eyes,” and there are some things that are more macabre and disturbing. Some of Hanawalt’s art inspires awe and fascination rather than laughter — particularly her anthropomorphic animals. One comic, “Control,” shows a cat and horse driving a car. Thanks to the cat’s self-assured reckless driving, an accident transpires. The resulting pileup features the distorted intestinal — literally intestinal — remains of the wrecked vehicles. “Extra Egg Room,” another anthropomorphic comic, is similarly gruesome — dozens of birds lay their offspring inside the shell of a horse bound for the sky.
If it doesn’t make much sense, maybe you’re not in on the joke. We get the feeling Hanawalt is laughing maniacally in her Brooklyn home, making thousands of clay fingers and drawing naked butts with abandon.
Contact Natalie Reyes at nreyes@d[email protected].