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book review

Hot Dog Taste Test

By Lisa Hanawalt

Drawn & Quarterly, 178 pages, $24.95

In many of the strips, lists, journals and doodles that make up Hot Dog Taste Test, Lisa Hanawalt serves as food culture's court jester. She's created a persona that's knowingly foolish (her description of combining wet and dry foods: "slushy mouthfeel"), and she expresses that shrewd irreverence through mismatched hues and visual cartwheels (her watercoloured spreads, busy with weird animal life, look like Dutch still-life feasts as drawn by Richard Scarry). Though the book's most off-the-cuff bits are often the funniest, the most substantial work is reprinted from Lucky Peach magazine – a rundown of New York street food highlights, a dining tour of Vegas buffets or an account of swimming with otters at a nature sanctuary. Along with cuisine, animals are constants in the artist's work (she's probably best known as the designer for Netflix's Bojack Horseman). Throughout, her Dr. Moreau-style beasties – birds, mainly, but with boobs and bums – embody her vision of humanity's barely suppressed animal impulses. Hanawalt's brush turns us all into endearingly dumb creatures of instinct, with basic, pure and ridiculous desires – to eat, to drink, to poop, to squawk.


By Joann Sfar

Uncivilized Books, 200 pages, $36.95

Do not mistake Joann Sfar's profound and sloppily elegant study of the painter Pascin for a biography. Rather than reducing the life of the Jewish bohemian artist to its most significant events, in order to render it pat and digestible, Sfar rather homes in on scenes of little importance, using their casual meandering to preserve some sense of a life's complexity and messy contradictions. With puddles of ink sloshed urgently across the page, Sfar dashes through Pascin's dissolute years in Paris in the 1920s – bar-hopping, brawling, rutting, b.s.-ing and sometimes, quietly, painting. It's an antic backdrop, against which Sfar stages engaging dialogues between the artist and his compatriots – Marc Chagall, Kiki de Montparnasse – about art, religion and, above all, sex. Despite Pascin's frank and uninhibited sexuality, this is hardly some unquestioning celebration of a macho artist's heroic virility: The book may begin with an image of the painter in his studio, shamelessly sans culottes, but here, Sfar pointedly reverses the view from which Pascin painted so many models. The artist – both Pascin and, by extension, Sfar – is now the one bared to our scrutiny.

Someone Please Have Sex With Me

By Gina Wynbrandt

2dcloud, 140 pages, $26.50

Gina Wynbrandt's bawdy, recklessly funny debut collects five of the artist's elaborate fantasies, in each of which her alter ego lusts after pretty boys and muscled man-meat (Justin Bieber, in a dream: "Yo, I've never seen a girl eat so fast… I like it"). Wynbrandt's self-deprecating self-portrait, Gina, positively wallows in awkward sexual desperation: Think Jerri Blank playing Bridget Jones, but considerably hornier. One story sees Gina receive a makeover montage from fairy godmother Kim Kardashian so that she can get with hot guys at the Teen Choice Awards, while another details the painfully long dry spell that is Gina's sexual history, right up to the year 2075, when she finally uses her pension to hire a robot gigolo (he's modelled after Pikachu). Printed in pastel shades of pink and blue, Wynbrandt's cris de crotch are drawn with so much painstaking attention to detail – especially the facial expressions, horrified at a text message disdaining the Biebs, or the very idea of depilatory cream – that the lunatic things that happen in the comics seem somehow plausible, and all the more absurdly honest.