Hot Dog Taste Test is a confessional peek into Lisa Hanawalt's anxieties

Writer and cartoon artist says she feels compelled to share certain feelings with the world

Lisa Hanawalt's new book is Hot Dog Taste Test.


Lisa Hanawalt's new book is Hot Dog Taste Test.

When cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt was a kid, she took riding lessons, which turned her already fanatical love of horses into a lifelong obsession. “It was something I glommed onto and couldn’t shake it,” she says. “I tried to.”

Hanawalt’s equine friends pop up throughout all her work, most famously in the characters she designed for Netflix’s first animated series, the cult-favourite BoJack Horseman, starring Will Arnett as the voice of a boozy, has-been sitcom star. Her new comics collection, Hot Dog Taste Test, published by Drawn & Quarterly, gathers many of Hanawalt’s favourite things — anthropomorphized creatures with often gross human foibles and desires, food diaries and lists, interspersed with just the right amount of scatological humour. Many of the illustrated stories first appeared in David Chang’s trendy food-culture magazine, Lucky Peach, including her first-hand account of shadowing chef Wylie Dufresne for a day (referring to the tasty stuffing inside his ravioli dish as “sex cheese”).

Unlike horses, food was not an obsession for young Hanawalt. A self-described finicky eater who preferred plain mashed potatoes, she is now a fearless connoisseur, willing to try anything from spicy pigeon to viscachas, a pickled rodent meat she purchased in jars while visiting Argentina. Food as a theme gives Hanawalt plenty of material, too.

“I can really explore the outer edges of what is even tangentially related to food because it’s such an important aspect of life,” she says.

Hanawalt, who is a special guest at this weekend’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival, is one of those gifted creative types who can write and draw equally well, and has a seemingly endless fount of productive energy, although she says she often goes to bed feeling like she hasn’t accomplished enough. (She also hosts a popular podcast, Baby Geniuses, with her friend, comedian Emily Heller.)

Her work often starts with ideas she’s jotted down or with some absentminded doodles from her sketchbook. She claims she can take on an impulsive “manic persona” when she’s drawing.

While there are no shortage of sly gags, Hot Dog Taste Test also features several sentimental stories, with Hanawalt confessing anxieties over family matters, travel fears, social relations — often times told through the voices of her wildlife characters. While Hanawalt enjoys reading confessional, diary comics, she’s never been comfortable making them, and so it forces her to try to understand why she needs to share certain feelings with the world.

“Maybe it’s that I just want to reach out to the reader and say, Hey, are you like a nervous weirdo, too? It’s OK, we’ll get through this. It’s OK to have these thoughts and feel uncomfortable. And it’s me telling myself that, too.”

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