The Works

Hot Dog Taste Test

A review of Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt

Published on July 8, 2016

“I wish more food writers would write about going to the bathroom,” declares Lisa Hanawalt in her new comic book, Hot Dog Taste Test, shortly after giving her thoughts on the sanitary installations of a restaurant, “because it’s funny and interesting and it’s the inevitable result of all of this.” This encapsulates Hanawalt’s approach in this book: irreverent, funny, silly, and insightful.

Lisa Hanawalt cut her teeth in Brooklyn as part of the now defunct legendary all-women’s comic studio Pizza Island with luminaries Kate Beaton and Julia Wertz, among others. Her illustrations and writing, published both in print and online, have included regular movie reviews for the website The Hairpin. Her output there became My Dirty Dumb Eyes, her first book published by Drawn & Quarterly. She is also the production designer of the Netflix animated series BoJack Horseman. More recently, Hanawalt has been the author of a food column in the culinary magazine Lucky Peach (a quarterly by McSweeney’s), for which she won a James Beard Journalism Award. That column forms the basis for her new book.

Hot Dog Taste Test is not a graphic novel per se. It is rather a smorgasbord of vignettes, sketches, one-page comics, full-page panels, lists, and longer pieces – travelogues and food adventures. Hanawalt’s idiosyncratic, absurdist, and scatological humour permeates everything. But her love for food and the affection and curiosity she has for her subjects and themes quickly become clear. In “On the Trail with Wylie,” she spends a day with the star chef Wylie Dufresne, revealing the details of his hectic routine. Her witty and hilarious descriptions don’t follow the conventions of typical food writing (she describes one unidentified ingredient as “sex cheese”) and she has no regard for the tired class signifiers or occasional pomposity of the genre. Hanawalt processes the experience through her singular mind and what comes out is a distinctive, exciting narrative that is strange and deeply personal.

Despite its fragmented nature, Hot Dog Taste Test feels unified through Hanawalt’s use of her signature devices: the unexpectedly absurd (real or imaginary); constant references to physiological functions; random information that is logically irrelevant but that adds colour and punch; and, finally, the presence of Hanawalt herself as a goofy and charming character throughout the book.

It feels like one big riotous trip.

Hot Dog Taste Test
Lisa Hanawalt

Drawn & Quarterly

The reader also discovers Hanawalt’s love of animals. They are everywhere, as anthropomorphic characters in surreal stories or as more realistic representations, such as in a piece about a visit to a sanctuary where she swims with otters, or in another about a trip to Argentina where she rides horses, her favourite animals. These stories reveal the other strong note in Hanawalt’s work, a sense of melancholy and lingering anxiety, a certain nostalgia and sadness that paradoxically make all the goofiness sharper and funnier. She talks about her fears (of flying, of riding, of someone opening the bathroom door when she is inside), her loves (food, her family and boyfriend, horses), and does not avoid heavier themes, like relationships, death, and her ancestors’ tragic history. Somehow, it all feels, text and images, harmonious and fitting.

The illustrations range from simple monochromatic sketches to delicate, elegantly coloured line drawings and vivid water- colours. Even in a single piece Hanawalt sometimes mixes various styles with different purposes; she follows her intuition more than any particular rule, and her intuition works. The art is fluid, never stiff. The themes here help – food and animals tend to be eye-catching and the author is clearly delighted in drawing and colouring them, combining unusual details and more accurate representations with gorgeous results. Hanawalt has mastered the perfect blend of text and image and it feels like one big riotous trip. And for all its hilarity, Hot Dog Taste Test also gives us tender moments and a reflection on our own human absurdity. mRb


Eloisa Aquino is originally from Brazil, where she worked as a journalist and translator. She currently lives and works in Montreal running the micro press B&D Press.



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