The Hannah K. Lee Interview


Recently nominated in the 2018 Ignatz Awards Outstanding Collection category for her book Language Barriercongrats to Hannah K. Lee! Here is an interview conducted before Language Barrier was announced as a Koyama Press publication, which is content gathered from Lee’s zines Issues and Close Encounters along with new work, exclusive to the book. A couple of years ago, I first discovered this work through these zines as well as in commercial periodicals like The Pitchfork Review. I view lee’s illustrations not only like cartooning/comics but also influenced by graphic design/iconography and typography. Her work begins from these disciplines but becomes more and ultimately something unique after.

Special thanks to Hannah K. Lee for her time doing this interview and providing earlier drafts of her Issues sketches for #2 and #3, offering further insight visually into her process. Graham Willcox color finished the three photos of Lee below, taken at CAB 2015 and TCAF 2014.

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Annie Ishii (right)
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This interview was conducted in 2015 via email.

Chris Anthony Diaz: In Shoes Over Bills no. 2, there’s a dichotomy in the page layout of materialism and desires (shoes) on the left side of the two-page spread and monthly obligations and needs (bills) on the right side of the spread, rendered in your colorful, stylized, retro graphics and typography. It’s a potent expression of what choices a young woman faces, enticed by beauty to spend her earnings on. Like two sides of a debate, one side wooing her to buy gratification in possessions or the other side pitching her to commit to practicality, like eating. How did this zine come about for you and what was the original impetus of this theme? (The dichotomy appears again in Everyone Else Is Younger And More Talented, so it appears to be a theme or expression that you are concerned with.)

Hannah K. Lee: Issues #2: Shoes over Bills was first a smaller chapter of a bigger project I wanted to do called No Money Mo Problems, A “lifestyle guide for impoverished freelancers”. A lot of those ideas were stupid, so I extracted Shoes over Bills and made it its own project. I started it right before I started my corporate day job, when I was learning about boring adult things like money management and regular visits to the dentist.
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(This is a sketch for Shoes over Bills, before it was a zine)
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CAD: What attracts you to product graphic iconography, which is the theme in Mascots no. 3? and please speak a little how it manifests its expression in your graphic illustration, which appears to have a graphic influence of russian constructivism.

HKL: Issues #3: Mascots first came about when I drew portraits of the Zig Zag man and the Chiquita Banana girl. I made the rest of Mascots with the risograph and overprint techniques in mind, which went well with the limited color palettes often seen in product iconography.

Any kind of restriction will force you to find ways to say more with less. When it comes to working with a riso, the color choices are limited and the threshold for showing details is low. As a result, it seems that my work has been becoming more graphic as I exercise more restraint.

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CAD: How do you come up with merging the ordinary and familiar with the fantastic and surreal in your illustration?
HKL: I studied Illustration in school, and we were trained to look for analogs and ideas in weird places to convey a concept, while trying to stay away from cliches. Every project I start begins with words, and then I write down everything that comes to mind that relates to those words. My sketchbook is actually 90% written gibberish that only makes sense to me, instead of thumbnails and doodles.
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CAD: Color (especially red appears consistently and predominately in your risograph publications) and typography are strong facets of your graphic imagery. Where do you find your inspiration and what do you look at regularly?
HKL: Besides the work of other working illustrators, designers, and letterers, I like looking at packaging (fruit boxes and crates, foreign candy), flags, old and ornate rugs/textiles, pop music ephemera, Tumblr teens, fashion, clever logos, bad logos, old calligraphy, illuminated manuscripts, those kids’ Golden Books, I like to absorb and/or pick apart everything.
When it comes to certain jobs that require a lot of research, I look at the design and illustration of that particular era and let that inform how it’ll turn out. For example, I just did a piece about the origins of ska, so I looked at a lot of 60’s album art coming out of Kingston.
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CAD: How has risograph printing affected your published output in these three publications: Mascots and Shoes Over Bills and Everyone Else Is Younger And More Talented?
HKL: Someone told me once that if I make something to sell or to promote myself with, it’d better be something the recipient would want to keep. So with that in mind, it should be useful, meaningful, beautiful, or at least 2 of those.
I like working with the risograph because it’s an efficient and cost-effective way to make your zine beautiful. There’s a resurgence going on in zine culture that’s very much about thematic or narrative self-expression and considered presentation. Despite my recent output though, I actually don’t think it’s always necessary to make your zine pretty! With a good idea or story, sometimes a xerox is all you need.

San Diego Comic-Con International 2018

My first Comic-Con ever! So my apologies, I tried my best to take as many photos as possible, but this show is overwhelming, yet a lot of fun. Also, I lugged around too much stuff to get signed, which i brought — yes excuses! Anyways, this is all I ended up with despite going in with a more extensive list of cartoonists I wanted to photograph! Oh well, hopefully next year I end up taking more. San Diego Comic-Con International 2018, downtown San Diego Convention Center Exhibit Hall, Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Love & Rockets banner decorates the Fantagraphics Books table

During his signing time, Jaime Hernandez hijinxs! In Locas moments of mischief and glee, notice how Jaime’s characters take after him here!

Maggie, young and bleached blond

Hopey

Jaime Hernandez: one half of Love & Rockets. The rubber band he fired hit his sister-in-law Carol Hernandez!

Viv

Penny Century

My favorite Jaime cover so far of the new version of Love And Rockets, very cinematic and montage-like. Love the wide-screen design of the three panels! (Based on the top panel, I think Jaime could do a nice adaptation of Dune!)

Gilbert Hernandez: one half of Love & Rockets and Assassinistas for IDW Publishing

Gold Sharpie pen looks great on black hardcover of Love & Rockets Volume 15 of the original series!

Awesome signature Gilbert, thank you!

For my friend David

Comic-Con badge and gift bag area as well as the autograph pavilion

Comic-Con 2nd floor entrance area

Noah Van Sciver: Blammo, Fante Bukowski, Disquiet, Constant Companion sketchbook, Saint Cole, Johnny Appleseed, The Hypo and Now contributor

Paid sketch in Disquiet of the father character from The Lizard Laughed short story — in my opinion, Noah’s greatest story, which won me over and made me a permanent fan of his comics!

Taken in downtown Columbus, Ohio during CXC 2016, my photo of Noah appears with a cool color tint on the letter page of the newly released Blammo 10!

My photo of Noah taken in downtown Columbus, Ohio during CXC 2016 appears in the French release

Italian release

Manuele Fior and Noah Van Sciver signing

Manuele Fior: Blackbird Days, The Interview and 5000 km Per Second

Thank you for the awesome painted sketch Manuele!

Sammy Harkham: Crickets and Kramers Ergot anthology

Sammy did a “Tonta” title to go with his Locas pin-up, but it was let off in the final printing for whatever reason. So he did it again here to complete his piece

Sammy finally joined others in the Fanta 40th anniversary book

Geof Darrow: The Shaolin Cowboy, Hard Boiled and Big Guy And Rusty The Boy Robot

A large and affordable original from Geof Darrow, which epitomizes the detail and type of characters in his work

Writer Tini Howard (left) and cartoonist Gilbert Hernandez (right): Assassinistas for IDW Publishing

Tracy Hurren, editor of Dirty Plotte: The Complete Julie Doucet and creative director Tom Devlin of Drawn & Quarterly

Sienna: Blue Hare Comix and Mission: Comics & Art

My very tasty and affordable after Comic-Con dinner at ¡Salud! Barrio Logan

Seconds at ¡Salud! Barrio Logan, this time ceviche and another margarita! See you next year!

 

MoCCA Arts Festival 2018

Held during the weekend of April 7-8, 2018 at Metropolitan West and Ink48 in New York City

 

Jaime Hernandez

Leslie Stein and Jaime Hernandez

Leslie Stein and Jaime Hernandez

Leslie Stein sketched a beautiful watercolor in my sketchbook of cartoonists, only 10 pages left until it’s filled which i started in 2012!

Hazel Newlevant and Julia Gfrörer

Kevin McCloskey and Jaime Hernandez

Jaime Hernandez

Matthew James-Wilson

Patrick Crotty and Jane Mai

Patrick Crotty, Wren McDonald and Jane Mai at the Peow! Studio table

Ann Telnaes

J.t. Yost

Gary Panter

Jaime Hernandez and Marc Sobel

Paul Karasik

Mark Newgarden

Mike Mignola

Emily Silva of Fantagraphics Books

John Cuneo

At his Fantagraphics Books signing, John Cuneo sketched in his new book for fans

JooHee Yoon is the cartoonist who did the beautiful MoCCA Fest 2018 program cover

Robyn Chapman of Paper Rocket

Robyn Chapman, Colin Lidston and Mike Diana at the Paper Rocket table

Max de Radigués and Anna Haifisch

Mike Diana

Max de Radigués

Gregory Manchess

Jaime Hernandez

Leslie Stein

Gregory Benton

Anna Haifisch

Tom Daly

Bill Kartalopoulos

Liz Suburbia

Jaime Hernandez Talk with Jordan Crane at The Last Bookstore

Jaime Hernandez in conversation with Jordan Crane for Fantagraphics Studio Edition: Jaime Hernandez, published by Fantagraphics Books. The Last Bookstore, old downtown Los Angeles, Monday, December 11, 2017. (Click images for different external links related to Jaime Hernandez and Jordan Crane.)

 

Jaime Hernandez at The Last Bookstore in old downtown Los Angeles

Jordan Crane at The Last Bookstore in old downtown Los Angeles

Jaime Hernandez at The Last Bookstore in old downtown Los Angeles

Jordan Crane signed at The Last Bookstore in old downtown Los Angeles

Charles Forsman at Comix Experience

Charles Forsman toured for I Am Not Okay with This as well as for the hardcover release of The End of the Fucking World (which also premiered recently on Netflix as an 8-episode live action series), both published by Fantagraphics Books. Bay area stop was at Comix Experience in San Francisco, Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Click images for different external links related to Charles Forsman.)

 

at Comix Experience in San Francisco

 

at Comix Experience in San Francisco

 

Tom Gauld at Booksmith and Pegasus Books

Tom Gauld toured for Baking with Kafka, published by Drawn & Quarterly. Bay area stops were at Booksmith in San Francisco, Tuesday, November 7, 2017 and Pegasus Books in Berkeley, Wednesday, November 8, 2017. (Click images for different external links related to Tom Gauld.)

 

at Booksmith in San Francisco

Tom Gauld signed for a Booksmith regular, San Francisco

at Pegasus Books in Berkeley

at Pegasus Books in Berkeley

in conversation with Matt Silady at Pegasus Books in Berkeley

at Pegasus Books in Berkeley

Comic Arts Brooklyn 2017

Comic Arts Brooklyn, Saturday, November 11, 2017, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York (clicking image will take you to the cartoonist’s link)

 

Comic Arts Brooklyn at Pratt Institute

Gabe Fowler and Patrick Kyle

Comic Arts Brooklyn founder Gabe Fowler

Courtney Menard

Frank Santoro and Simon Hanselmann

Nicholas Offerman and Ethan Rilly

Chris Ware and Tom Spurgeon

Tracy Hurren and Jessica Campbell

Jane Mai and Saicoink

Charles Forsman

Hannah K. Lee and Annie Ishii

Connor Willumsen, Anna Haifisch, Dash Shaw and Joe Kessler

Julia Gfrörer

Eva Scalzo and Kevin Scalzo

Patrick Kyle and Ginette Lapalme

Adrian Tomine

Olivier Schrauwen

Robyn Chapman

Chris Ware

Simon Hanselmann

Aaron Cockle

Julia Gfrörer

Nicole Rifkin

David and Kevin Scalzo

Colleen Tighe

Emil Ferris

Simon Hanselmann

Simon Hanselmann

Tom Van Deusen

Sally Ingraham

Gary Leib and Doug Allen

Lala Albert

Ethan Rilly (Hartley Lin)

Hannah K. Lee

Gary Lieb and Doug Allen

Adrian Tomine

Patrick Kyle and Ginette Lapalme

Chris Ware signed his latest, Monograph

Noah Van Sciver and Joseph Remnant’s Secret Headquarters Signing

Noah Van Sciver and Joseph Remnant signed at Secret Headquarters in Los Angeles, friday, October 13, 2017. All photo color by Graham Willcox

Noah Van Sciver

Joseph Remnant

Joseph Remnant signed his new book Cartoon Clouds and Noah Van Sciver signed his new book Johnny Appleseed, written by Paul Buhle, and Fante Bukowski Two

Sam Spina and Noah Van Sciver

Jon Vermilyea (right) was pouring the good stuff seen on the background shelf!

Noah Van Sciver and Joseph Remnant at Skylight Books Annex