The A.V. Club recommends Hot Dog Taste Test

“ BoJack Horseman producer serves up funny food in Hot Dog Taste Test” / The A.V. Club / Oliver Sava / August 9, 2016

BoJack Horseman fans going through withdrawal after the conclusion of the third season can satisfy their craving for more of the show’s absurd, pun-filled humor by checking out Hot Dog Taste Test (Drawn & Quarterly), the second collection of comics by BoJack Horseman producer and production designer Lisa Hanawalt. It’s a strange, silly assortment of comic strips, sketches, painted illustrations, text pieces, character/prop designs, and photographs of pottery and plates of food, which all add up to a fascinating exploration of Hanawalt’s various creative impulses and multidisciplinary artistic talent.

Hanawalt makes food funny by placing familiar foods in ridiculous new contexts. The book begins with a painting of a dog show for hot dogs, in which proud owners parade their hot dogs in front of judges that evaluate them for size, texture, and taste, a visual that sets a cheeky, off-kilter tone for the rest of the collection. “Banana Embellishments” presents options for using a banana as a fashion accessory, “Snack Realism” combines flavored snacks with the thing they’re flavored as (popcorn mixed with popcorn jelly beans, for example), and “Holiday Food Diary” breaks down what goes into the creation of an imaginary feast composed of nonsensical ingredients. She also spends a lot of time on what happens after this food is digested, and while her fixation on bodily functions may come across as juvenile, she makes a good point that going to the bathroom is the inevitable result of eating, so why is it so inappropriate to talk about?

Hanawalt has a passionate affection for the natural world; she fills these pages with drawings of plants and animals, many of which are anthropomorphized in BoJack style, but that affection doesn’t interfere with her appreciation for the food that comes from the natural world. She’s fascinated by how people interact with food and how it connects them to their community, two themes that play a significant part in many of the book’s longer pieces. These are the most compelling parts of Hot Dog Taste Test: the time-stamped logs of her experiences shadowing chef Wylie DuFresne and swimming with otters in California, the accounts of her culinary excursions on the streets of New York City and the buffets of Las Vegas, and most substantially, her Argentina travel diary.

The shorter gags in Hot Dog Taste Test are the things most likely to appeal to BoJack Horseman fans, but it’s the longer pieces that show the depth of Hanawalt’s talent as a storyteller. She recounts her emotional reactions to events in evocative, hilarious detail, and her jovial irreverence makes it easy to get swept up in her writing, which doesn’t take itself or anything else too seriously. She does delve into more significant narrative content in her travel diary, and her musings on how ancestry and history can provide meaning in a generally meaningless life are especially powerful because of how they contrast from the rest of the writing in this collection.

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