Interview with Lance Hansen
Talking with the cover artist for Issue 25
In addition to being regularly featured in The American Bystander, Lance Hansen’s writing, cartoons, and illustration has appeared in The Nation, National Lampoon, and MAD. Because Mike G. has an annoying habit of assigning his toughest jobs to Lance—and Lance has a wonderful habit of pulling them off with enviable aplomb, the poor sap was recently brought onboard as one of our Staff Artists. He is (not coincidentally) the cover artist for Issue 25, which also includes his one-pager on the tragi-comic life of writer John Kennedy Toole. You can see more of his work at his website: www.lancehansenillustration.com
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Lance and I sat down to discuss his love for high and low art, why he snuck his daughters into the cover, and what he’s working on next.
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I was looking back at your work in The Bystander, and your first piece was a written piece.
The first piece I did was a little limerick about Trump's kids. Eric, and you know, whatever his name is, Donald Trump, Jr. That was the first thing I ever got in.
How did you get involved? Why did you send stuff?
I was doing some stuff for MAD and I was pitching a lot more than I actually got in. I started writing with another writer, a guy who's primarily a writer, Kitt Lively. And we started writing for things to pitch to MAD. He’s really into all different venues, and he mentioned Bystander.
Do you remember what attracted you initially to The Bystander, made you say, “Oh, this is something I want to be involved with?”
I've always been a huge Jack Handey fan. And I'm a National Lampoon fan. Just the fact that there were all these guys involved. I think the first issue even had Terry Jones. Just seemed to be a lot of people I wanted to be associated with—and a lot of artists also, I mean, great, great artists. Drew Friedman. At first I was, “It's kind of like The Lampoon.” But Bystander’s really its own thing, which I like, a lot. It's kind of if you took the cartoons and Shouts and Murmurs, and got rid of all the long articles that you never finish out of The New Yorker. But Bystander's not only highbrow, there's some more lowbrow stuff that snuck in too. I love the magazine.
Are you a guy that loves a lot of highbrow art?
I wish I was more astute in that sort of thing. I do appreciate art. But I can't say that I'm as knowledgeable as I wish I was.
A lot of your work brings together high art and cartoon illustration, so it’s interesting to hear you say that.
I'm very interested in it—I might have a bit of impostor syndrome, but I am very interested in high art. Hardly an expert at all, though!
What attracts you to bringing high art and low art into conversation?
One of my biggest influences is a cartoonist named Ivan Brunetti, and he's done a lot of that sort of stuff—biography, comics—about various intellectuals. I first read him in the 90s…then he put out the fourth issue of his comic Schizo in the early 2000s, which was a total game changer for me. He started delving into these real people, and doing it in this comic way. Brunetti had sort of pared down his style a lot, and as a result, I started to simplify my own style.
Do you think pared-down cartoons are a particularly good medium for big ideas?
I do, because I wouldn't really be as interested in reading… I see a lot of books about artists, comic books—graphic novels or whatever—about actual artists, and they're drawn in a style I'm not interested in, and it really turns me off. To my eyes it’s art that is more suited for superhero-type material. And, I hope I'm not sounding snobby or something, but there's something about the more simple drawings.
Do you have a theory as to why?
I don't know if I have an actual theory; I don't even know if a lot of people would agree with me. But to me, simple art just resonates a little more strongly. It’s like Sergio Aragonés’ work. He can convey so much with no words. There’s something about pantomime that really, really gets me, and it's kind of the same thing with the more simplified—I don't want to say simplified—but more cartoony style.
For example, my John Kennedy Toole piece in Bystander #25: I think if it was drawn really realistically it would have a totally different tone, because the tragic events of Toole’s life are set up as jokes. Having them rendered realistically would be horrible. I don't think it would work at all.
We also might pay attention to different things, right? I could imagine paying attention to the details, whereas your more abstract, cartoonish form allows you to draw attention to the contours of his life.
That’s a good way to put it, for sure.
You mentioned you were trying hard to get into MAD. What was your relationship like with MAD?
My father had a huge collection, and I was buying new ones all the time when I was a kid in the 80s. I had ones in my collection that were my dad's from the ’50s and ’60s.
I loved MAD. When I was a kid, that's what I would draw. I never was into superhero comics or anything like that. Everything I drew was basically a knockoff of Don Martin, Jack Davis, or Al Jaffe, or what have you. That’s ingrained in my DNA as an artist.
My dad was really into my work—but he had died by the time I got in, unfortunately. I think that would have been…most of the comics that I do, wouldn't be his thing. But I think he would have been pretty, pretty proud about the Mad thing. So I kind of wish I'd gotten into that magazine a couple years earlier.
Working with the guys from MAD, they were great. All great editors, great writers. I mostly worked with the associate Art Director, Ryan Flanders. He's a great, great guy—the guy who did the little strips and stuff. A lot of times I would send them an idea and they'd like it…but they’d send me like fifty changes and it always made the gag better. They had it down to like a science really, it was really amazing.
Can we talk about the cover for The Bystander? Where did the cover come from?
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