Introducing Lisa Brown, Illustrator & Writer: Nola Studiola week 6


For the Studiola, Ms. Brown graciously provided the photo that accompanied her kid’s birth announcement, “8+” years ago.

The caption read: “Daniel: gin, Lisa: vodka, Baby: breast milk.”

It was this past February that I first linked the name “Lisa Brown” to a certain distinctive illustration and wit that most often pops up for fun book lovers in the Baby Be Of Use series. This aesthetic energy planted itself in my consciousness a few years ago when I first came across these McSweeney’s publications, and Brown’s work, like many artists we rely on like nightstands in our mental houses, often waits to be explored more explicity for when we poke at the influences on our creative processes during Studiola chapters of our lives. (Why am I using the royal “we”? I do not know.)

This is a series of baby books that are really hard to forget once you’ve seen them, and give childless, gin-swilling types like me the encouragement we need to send our child bearing friends onesies that are bejeweled and say things like “Cajun Yard Dog”  with an alligator knocking back breast milk malt liquor, or large, stretched out sleeveless tanks with “Fish Naked” written across in jaunty pink writing. (Psst–just order the Baby Be Of Use bundle for your new parent friends and save a lot of time pawing through 3 month size tags, and wondering, “Gee, would Sara and Joe think a Heineken logo on their baby’s onesie is funny or not?” and “Wow, how big will Baby be once I find an envelope, their mailing address, and hunt down a stamp–stamps?–for said onesie?” )

And, thanks to Lisa Brown, people like me feel righteous enough to send texts to new parents like “Ill brng 3 bttles of wine. Do u have babysittr–say yes cuz its not me.”

Because of Lisa Brown, people like me think that parents should and could keep their former non-baby attitude and lifestyles, and because of Lisa Brown, I am somewhat impervious to all signs to the contrary. I take a long time explaining to newborn babies in my cards to them all the reasons why their felicitations are belated, as if they are logical thinkers who need explanations. I also feel like if I ever have a kid, there is someone out there in the universe using her art and her humor to encourage me to stay in touch with my hilarity and not try to be a new/different/alternate person in order to be “parental.”

Yes, I have heard that children change you and you want them to change you and it’s a Situation, capital S. I’m not a complete idiot. Lucky for me, though, I had a mother who willingly put double-D sized bras on her head and danced around in K-Mart for my amusement, so maybe that’s all I needed to say to express how much Lisa Brown hits the spot.

But Brown’s B.B.O.U. bundle, as “jokey” as it is, also prompts me to do a lot of thinking about Serious Feminist Stuff.*

But I was telling you about linking Lisa Brown’s name to work of hers I had seen. So, in February, I read Picture the Dead, her collaboration with Adele Griffin–an illustrated young adult novel set in the Civil War. I found it just as delicious as an Anthony Monday & Miss Eels mystery by John Bellairs, who was my favorite author growing up. For this girl, nothing could make more sense or guarantee more adventure than an introverted pubescent boy and an elderly librarian spinster solving ghost capers tucked in dusty, porcelain oil lamps.

I read Picture the Dead the week after Baton Rouge lost five people in a horrible car wreck; one of whom was my friend and fellow writer Ryan Gibbs. The book had arrived a few weeks before after a Google search for inspiring reads revealed Ms. Brown’s name on the book, and it sat on my bookshelf until the days after his death, when I found myself pacing my very large backyard every day, lighting daytime fires in our makeshift fire pit, and crying while sitting in the center of a square of rocks I had collected behind the garage. The book and its subject, spirit photography, was very (to use a word that Tyler hates) nourishing for me.

I am not quite sure why this book was the only thing I wanted to read for a couple of weeks after this event. I think the handwritten notes which foreshadow bits of the story, as well as the illustrations, spoke to my need to make sense of things non-linearly and non-chronologically and non-logically in this place of grief. You can see some of the images of spirit photography on their tumblr here.

I immediately sent Picture the Dead to my cousin Christel for her birthday; she’s a fellow ghost story lover and my very own Nancy Drew (that’s how I think of her).

And so, when Tyler and I first conceived of my Nola Studiola blog as a place where artists I have never met might share their thoughts, Lisa Brown was at the top of the People Who Don’t Know Me At All list. I’m honored that she is taking the time to participate–without having met me at all.

Ms. Brown is NYT bestselling author and/or illustrator of a growing number of books for children, teens and new parents, including How to Be, The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming, and Baby Mix Me a Drink. She sporadically draws the 3 Panel Book Review cartoon for the book section of the San Francisco Chronicle. Lisa lives in San Francisco, California with her son and her husband, who is rumored to be Lemony Snicket.

Her newest books include Picture the Dead, a Civil War-era illustrated ghost story for young adults written in collaboration with award winning YA author Adele Griffin, and Vampire Boy’s Good Night,a picture book about some little ghouls.

Beginning of large parenthetical here:

(As Nancy Friday began reminding us in the early 90’s, halfway-there toward workplace parity does not the Be All End All of the women’s movement make. There is much juggling and cover photos of 4 year olds breastfeeding before we can begin to reconcile our newfound financial amelioration with the fact that we, not penis owners, gestate the baby humans. I am aware that I have lived for the past 5 years in the NUMBER ONE worst paying U.S. city for women, meaning the LEAST parity in the workplace.

Just because this small digression has hit upon something some of you might not know, here it is in bold:

1. Baton Rouge, La.

  • Women’s pay as percent of men’s: 63.4 percent
  • Median income for men: $51,103
  • Median income for women: $32,385

Data analysis from 24/7 Wall Street.

I am glad there is a newly hired and pregnant CEO of Yahoo today as I type this, that this can happen in my lifetime, though female financial bigwigs are careful to remind us that Yahoo is desperate and in the “weirdo, not very valuable brand” crapper, and that Marissa Mayer is taking on a serious challenge by taking the job, and so it is not a particularly large milestone for workplace gender parity.

Here’s the thing: this week, Nola Studiola hosts an illustrator and writer who prompts me to find income data. Not even National Organization for Women can make me spend a half an hour sleuthing that stuff out. Baby be of use is lighthearted, I know. But also, I love how it nudges me in unspoken tension areas about balancing motherhood and personhood and femalehood. There they go, humor and art, making us think again.)

2 thoughts on “Introducing Lisa Brown, Illustrator & Writer: Nola Studiola week 6

  1. I don’t want to come off as gauche, but I enjoy the phrase “penis owner.” It makes me feel like I actually had a choice in the matter. Also, its just like owning a home. The most difficult part is the constant maintenance.


    1. Ha, ha. I can only imagine. Truly. Thanks for stopping by, Vikas!! Yeah–“We’d love a jacuzzi, but we need a new roof” translates to….Oh, forget I asked.


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