The McSweeney’s McMullens Q&A with Lisa Hanawalt, Illustrator of Benny’s Brigade.
About Benny’s Brigade, an illustrated book for children: At recess one day, sisters Elsie and Theo spy a nut wiggling on the ground. Out pops Benny—the world’s smallest and most gentlemanly walrus. After the girls learn that Benny misses his home in the sea, they send him sailing in a milk-carton boat, along with a trusty band of adventure-seeking slugs. Together, Benny’s Brigade (as they call themselves) begin their voyage to a truck-sized island paradise, avoiding the salt water as much as they can. Slugs don’t like salt.
About this interview: Elsie (5 years old) and Theo (4 years old)—the daughters of Benny’s Brigade author Arthur Bradford, on whom the book’s main characters are based—interviewed illustrator Lisa Hanawalt via email.
Theo: What’s it like to draw real people, like us?
Elsie: And how did you know us anyway?
Lisa Hanawalt: Your Dad sent me a couple of photos and told me all about you, so I knew a little bit about what you guys looked like and drew the characters in the book to look slightly (but not EXACTLY) like you. It’s hard to draw real people, I’m usually more comfortable doing animal portraits for some reason!
Theo: Did you think Benny was a real walrus, like in real life?
Hanawalt: Not at first, but then he became real for me as I drew him more and more and now I don’t think I’d be too surprised if I found a tiny walrus in a nutshell one day.
Elsie: Do you use crayons or something to draw? How big are those drawings in real life?
Hanawalt: Most of the pages are about 11×14 inches in real life (22 × 14 inches for each full 2-page spread). I drew everything with black pens, then I combined hand-watercolored textures with digital color on the computer.
Theo: In the last picture on the island, which one is Benny? I think he’s the one near the turtle.
Hanawalt: Yup, you found him!!
Elsie: How did you draw those slimy slugs, like did you look at real slugs or something?
Hanawalt: I looked at lots of super-up-close photos of slugs until I had a good idea of what they looked like, and then I tried to draw them even grosser!
Theo: Do you go to work?
Hanawalt: Right now I work at home, so I don’t even have to wear pants at work if I don’t feel like it! But I might try to get a studio space soon so that I can work around other artists.
Elsie: How come you made Gus look like that? Gus at our school looks more like the one with blonde hair.
Hanawalt: I don’t know the Gus at your school, so I decided to make him up from my imagination. I like drawing people of all different colors, it’s more fun for me and I get a bit bored if I’m only drawing one kind of person.
Theo: What kind of clothes do you wear to a wedding?
Hanawalt: I have one yellow dress with ruffles that I’ve worn to at least three weddings, but you can wear anything if it’s special and doesn’t steal too much attention from the bride. For example, a handmade goose costume might work (as long as the feathers aren’t white).
Elsie: I have a friend named Rachel who sometimes sticks pencils in her mouth like that girl in the picture you drew. Also my cousin Ida does silly things like that. Do you stick pencils in your mouth or do silly things?
Hanawalt: Yes, that girl is actually me!
Theo: Have you ever, like, fallen into the water, or jumped into something?
Hanawalt: When I fall, it’s almost always on dry land. I like falling and jumping into water on purpose.
Elsie: Did you ever throw up?
Theo: One time I threw up in a tent.
Hanawalt: I haven’t thrown up in over ten years because I’m super afraid of throwing up! I’d like to know more about the time you barfed in a tent, that sounds awful but also really funny.
Theo: My mom and Dad had to clean it up with some towels. Do you think my dad has a silly face?
Hanawalt: Your Dad has a long, skinny face, it’s handsome but I bet he could make it look really silly if he wanted.
Elsie: There’s a walrus on the island at the end that looks like my mom. Did you know that?
Hanawalt: I didn’t know that! Which walrus?
Theo: She’s the one cooking the pretzel in the poster. I just pretend that. Thanks for drawing the book Lisa! I love you!
Elsie: Thank you Lisa. I love you too.
Theo: But you don’t really know her Elsie.
Elsie: You don’t either, Theo.
Theo: That’s okay, right Lisa?
Hanawalt: Thank you guys! I feel like I love you too even though we’ve never met. Is that weird? Bye!!
Nota bene: McSweeney’s McMullens is our burgeoning children’s books department. You can subscribe to McMullens, and get the next eight books shipped right to your doorstep—all at a very reasonable price indeed. And today on our store site, we’re offering Lisa Hanawalt’s original art from Benny’s Brigade, and Jordan Crane’s original art from Keep Our Secrets. Plus, we’ve got limited edition McMullens posters and book-and-poster package deals. Visit the store site and see what’s available.
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