Lisa Hanawalt came onto the comics scene with 2009’s I Want You, a comic book first put out by Buenaventura Press and then self-published, which established a format of tender gross-outs in breakneck shorts. Her 2013 debut book for Drawn & Quarterly, My Dirty Dumb Eyes, refined the formula and played with materials, adding lush watercolors, graphite drawings, and photos of gross ceramic sculptures, incorporated into a story about a depressed animal-headed lady trying to square the esoteric nature of her practice with her self-worth. It was the perfect library book.
Hot Dog Taste Test is a breezy and comfortable sophomore collection, best enjoyed in little sips, perhaps on the toilet. The slick flexi-bound cover, probably a little sweaty in the summer, is casual but nice, like a pleasant slob you can take home to your parents.
The vignettes center around food, the natural world (bugs, horses, otters), family, death, and anxiety, and Hanawalt hits a pleasant balance between joy, and fear of decay. The internet-influenced structure flips between wordless watercolor tableaus, short bits originally posted on Twitter (one about new corporate slogans includes a proposal for Toyota: “You need a fucking car unfortunately”), traditional comics, and longer hybrid pieces with illustrated text. The longer, first-person journalist reports include one on swimming with otters (yes, I am jealous), and a story on following a fancy restaurateur chef around his kitchen.
One bit bothered me, about starting an all-women commune re: a menstrual hut. It's a brief joke and it may not seem like much to many cis readers, but it does mean something to me when I see something that equates women=menstruation. Basically it leaves out people like me in a definition of womanhood in a way that assumes a cis audience, which took me out of the book as a reader. I felt kind of shitty as a result.
Hanawalt’s central thesis seems to be recognizing the animal nature of being human, with unstoppably strange body functions like eating and pooping (which Hanawalt proposes to call “doofing” since it’s “‘food’ backwards”). Her cartoon storytelling, occasionally stiff and confusing in earlier efforts, has acquired an effortlessness over time, surely helped in development by her work as production designer and producer for the Netflix animated series BoJack Horseman.
Her languid watercolors and bug-eyed figures seem to say that yes, we’re all gross and so nervous we’re just about ready to explode. And that’s fine. “My horse knows he’s prey and I’m a carvnivore,” she writes about the horse she’s bought. “He can smell meat on me even when I haven’t eaten since morning… He thinks it’s only a matter of time before he becomes his next meal,” she writes, with a veiny cross-section of the horse’s skull. But, with her own silhouette becoming skeletal and full of blood vessels as well, she says, “But I’m already feasting,” as they ride, streaky purple watercolor marks flying by them.