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The Eclectic Hotpot That Is Lisa Hanawalt's 'Hot Dog Taste Test'

Lisa Hanawalt offers a smorgasbord of foodie art and humor to suit every taste.

Hot Dog Taste Test

Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Length: 176 pages
Author: Lisa Hanawalt
Price: $22.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2016-06

Lisa Hanawalt is the 21st century’s voice of funny. The multi-talented artist has now produced a beautiful, delightfully delectable book of food-related art and comics that’s a must for the kitchen as much as the coffee table.

Hanawalt has already built herself a reputation as a prolific and multi-vocal artist. The Los Angeles-based artist has won awards for her art, animation, comics, and even for humour in journalism. Active and prolific in a range of mediums, she exhibits her artwork in galleries, produces an illustrated column for Lucky Peach Magazine, and co-hosts a comedy podcast. Her unique artistic vision designed the art for BoJack Horseman, Netflix’s first animated series, for which she’s the production designer and producer. She published her first collection, My Dirty Dumb Eyes, with Drawn and Quarterly in 2013, and has now compiled a second collection of comics and art, Hot Dog Taste Test, that’s due for publication this summer.

Hot Dog Taste Test follows the scrapbook format that’s become increasingly popular among comics artists. It offers an eclectic hotpot of one-off drawings, sketches, lists, reflections, short comics, and longer extended comics most of which are food related in some fashion. Particularly interesting are the extended food travelogues: an afternoon spent with chef Wylie Dufresne at his Lower East Side restaurant; reflections on the best street food in New York City; a day spent playing with sloths and river otters at a wildlife sanctuary; a food and travel diary of Argentina; and a trip to sample the all-you-can buffets of Las Vegas.

With some artists, the scrapbook format can sometimes seem stilted and awkwardly composed, but in Hanawalt’s case it achieves the perfect balance of light-hearted, quirky reflections alternating with more serious bits of comics reportage. The artistic style ranges from cartoonish sketch to gorgeously elaborate full-colour art. A page might be comprised of a simple pencilled list (“Baking Tips”; “Breakfast Facts”) or an elaborate spread full of mesmerizing backdrop items to study.

The success of Hot Dog Taste Test is partly due to Hanawalt’s personality, which comes through loud and clear. For an award-winning artist who works so prolifically in a wide variety of fields, her personality is portrayed with an endearingly honest sense of introspection in the book’s many autobiographical sketches and personal reflections. Her style comes across as down to earth and personal, unabashedly and unapologetically commenting on her social anxieties, irrational fears, and personal shortcomings. "Why am I so afraid of being barged in on while I'm using the toilet?!" she asks, and then proceeds to illustrate her worst nightmares.

This is one reason why readers find Hanawalt’s work so endearing: she’s easy to relate to and her commentary often comes across as an honest and humble reflection of the reader’s own inner voice. Qualities that many of us tend to hide and bury deep within, she pours out unapologetically onto the page. And her quirky sense of humour is irrepressible. While interviewing a public relations officer for her piece on Las Vegas buffets, “we talk to Renata for an hour, which is too long because I only have like two questions and they’re both about guests being assholes at the buffet.”

Hot Dog Taste Test is a delight to read. It’s fierce, feminist, and funny all at once. Turning the page is an unpredictable experience, and this is part of what makes the collection so compelling. It’s perfectly paced, deeply personal, and at times hysterically funny. While other food writers can intimidate the reader out of the kitchen with their admonishments and inaccessibly esoteric knowledge, Hanawalt treats her subject matter with the irreverence it deserves.

Baking tips are simple: “Use chocolate.” “Bake if you like brown things.” “Yogurt makes promises it can’t keep.” Foods fall into categories: spinach is sassy, lemons are earnest, mushrooms unpredictable, and pickles are food with good intentions. Why should you eat breakfast? Let her count the ways: “The person who skips breakfast is bad.” “It’s a meal of dire importance.” “It’s distraction from endless wait for lunch.” “It’s something to look forward to while sleeping…”

Her humour is quirky, and her imagination wild. She engages the flip side of eating, as well: toilet comics are a-plenty.

Hot Dog Taste Test -- adorned with a bright colourful cover reminiscent of a children’s book, but chock full of humour geared more toward adult tastes -- is a surprise delight. Quirky, informative and uplifting all at once, it’s the perfect gift for a foodie or the perfect pick-me-up for a dreary day.

If you’re looking for a new coffee table book for the dining room or the dentist office, forget National Geographic or picture books of Provence. All you really need is Hot Dog Taste Test; there’s something here to sate everyone’s appetite.


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