Let’s get graphic

Three new comic collections for summer

Invigorate your summer reading list by adding one (or more) of these new comic collections. You’ll laugh—or shiver with spine-tingling chills—all the way to the beach.

Hot Dog Taste Test

Drawn & Quarterly’s Hot Dog Taste Test is author/artist Lisa Hanawalt’s love letter/breakup text to eccentric chefs, tasty travels, pooping and anything else her crazy brain can connect to the culinary world. Disjointed and brilliant, this collection comprises both new work and pieces originally published in her James Beard Award-winning food column for Lucky Peach Magazine. Hot Dog Taste Test reads and looks like Julia Child whipped together a feast for Hunter S. Thompson—using the good doctor’s medicine cabinet as a spice rack. Suffice it to say, there are decidedly more bird genitalia than your average culinary tome.

Hanawalt’s sharp wit bounces from the ridiculous to the satirical as she skewers foodies and humanity in general, while greedily devouring the subjects she puts in check. Infusing the laugh-out-loud ridiculous humor and culinary commentary with personal honesty, Hanawalt explores how food is a part of life’s silly and serious moments. There’s a relatable absurdity here that The Far Side’s Gary Larson would find delicious.

Clean Room, Volume 1: Immaculate Conception

As with comedy comics, horror is a tough genre to crack—too little and it’s laughable, too much and it’s a shallow bloodbath. With Vertigo Comics’ Clean Room, author Gail Simone and artist Jon Davis-Hunt find the right balance—somewhere between creepy and bloody, between getting under your skin and tearing it away. Simone and Davis-Hunt are equally comfortable subjecting their characters to both inner and outer demons in this story that unravels a mysterious self-help guru linked to a string of high-profile successes and horrific murders.

Simone is one of the mainstream comic industry’s best writers thanks to her ability to tell otherworldly stories securely rooted in human emotions. It’s this skill that allows the creative team to dial down the gore—effectively using it in small, strong bursts—while filling every panel with a sense of unease, fear or confusion, which Davis-Hunt amplifies with subtle facial expressions or the way a character carries him or herself. Unfortunately, this first volume (issues 1-6) of Vertigo’s ongoing series raises more questions than it answers and, while this is a natural byproduct of good storytelling, the arc could have used more denouement to round out the setup for what promises to be an engagingly, disturbing series.

Doctor Strange, Volume 1: The Way of the Weird

Though it’s not connected to the upcoming film version of Doctor Strange (opening Nov. 4 and starring Benedict Cumberbatch), author Jason Aaron’s story in this horror/fantasy collection (issues 1-5) is a great introduction to Marvel character Stephen Strange, the doctor with magical powers who might be less familiar to mainstream audiences.

The opening page looks back at the character’s origins creatively and succinctly, and jumps right into the distinct weird world Aaron and artist Chris Bachalo have created. Bachalo’s depiction of the Netherworld and its interdimensional bacteria that cling to unknowing human hosts is visually striking. And the contrast between black-and-white and brightly colored nightmares recalls the 1980s/’90s cartoons Beetlejuice and The Real Ghostbusters. It’s great fun to see just how strange Strange’s world is. In addition to a solid story, Aaron keeps Strange’s eccentricities and rude behavior in check with a tortured rationale, preventing the Sorcerer Supreme from crossing the line from unfriendly to despicable.