Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt is a book to take home, understanding that everyone will read it before you and laugh at all the funny parts, teasing, “O.K., but you have to look at this page for one sec.”
Hanawalt is an award-winning illustrator and writer--she won the 2014 James Beard Journalism Award for Humor and several Ignatz Awards for her earlier comics, among others--and she is a producer and production designer for the BoJack Horseman television series.
As a collection, the content is consistent only in its unpredictability. There is no Table of Contents, rather the book opens to a double-page celebration of hot dogs: people stuffing their faces, hands, and dresses with them, while Hanawalt litters the pages with bun-less sausages askew on the ground, paintings of hot dogs on the walls, and a butcher’s image of a pig, labeling each cut of pork not with a name but with a hot dog instead. Yet, the book’s focus is not the titular summer snack. [At left, the author in her element. Photo by Jean Ho.]
From the hot dog bacchanal, it jumps to a page titled “Baking Tips,” which is a colorful list for someone who sounds exhausted with baking (“Bake if you like brown things”), to a seven-page diary account of Hanawalt shadowing Wylie Dufresne and his staff of the Manhattan restaurant wd-50:
7:30: When describing the fourth course, the waiter lists the ingredients, gesturing to different parts of the plate, ending with “And underneath you will find…granola.” I lift the top layer up with my fork to see if he is joking and he is not.
This gleeful frankness pervades Hot Dog Taste Test, and readers uncomfortable with the eventual flip-side to every meal will want to skip over the section labeled “Toilet Comics,” which hilariously illustrates “The Highly Controversial ‘Hover’ Method” (“Practice squats to build strength”) and “Bathroom Problems” (“No wall hooks”), but they will miss Hanawalt at her best, tackling taboos without an agenda and instead making them relatable and shareable.
The written content is so good that it is easy to take for granted the illustrations and artwork, from pencil sketches, watercolors, to photographs of ceramics I am forbidden to mention in further detail on this blog. Hanawalt keeps readers guessing, sometimes switching mediums within the same story or comic (click to enlarge the “Tuca” comic below--love that final list she scribbles!).
Early in the book, Hanawalt claims that she was hired to pitch “New slogans to an advertising firm” in 2013, and the six pages of pencil scribbles of logos and proposed taglines make me wish for a time machine to see the firm review pitches like “United: Fly the Friendly Skies, Escape the Cruel Ground” or “Subway: Food Option.”
In the section titled “Argentina Travel Diary,” Hanawalt illustrates a trip to her mother’s hometown of Buenos Aires, covering travel and horse-riding anxiety, but I loved a two-page sequence first dispelling “spicy” myths of South American food, and then a single page of her family watching, hilariously, Blade II in Spanish (click the below pages to enlarge). The scraps of chips, her father’s smile, the likeness of Wesley Snipes battling a vampire on a flat screen television--the pages showcase Hanawalt’s ability to capture an everyday scene in its absurd, delicious best.
This month, our editors named Hot Dog Taste Test as one of our Best of the Month picks in Comics & Graphic novels, and this week we announced that it was also a selection in our Best Books of 2016 So Far. Congratulations to Lisa Hanawalt and publisher Drawn & Quarterly!
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