Coyote Doggirl is just what she sounds like—a girl who is part coyote and part dog with a take-no-shit attitude towards life. She’s bright pink and makes her own clothes and tack from leather that she tans herself. Solitary, but not unfriendly, Coyote prefers the company of her horse Red, living a life of one-sided conversations and taking trips into town only when necessary. However, something has disrupted her simple life and has her on the run from three men who are ceaselessly pursuing her. Just as it seems that she’s losing them, Coyote is struck by arrows and separated from Red. A group of Native American wolves pick her up and allow her to rest and recover with them, not out of kindness, but because they are quite impressed with her handmade leather crop top. While Coyote becomes friends with the wolves, she still seeks to be reunited with Red, knowing that she must also face her pursuers in order to return to her peaceful life.
Coyote Doggirl is a Western of sorts, but if you’re unfamiliar with Lisa Hanawalt’s style then you have no idea what kind of strange adventure you’re in for. While Coyote Doggirl doesn’t have a very involved plot, the events are revealed in an intriguing way that keeps the reader’s interest. For me, the primary joy in Coyote Doggirl is in the time spent with such a likable character. Coyote is an impish and somewhat immature character who rides horses freely and with exuberance. She doesn’t need stirrups or spurs; it’s clear that for her, riding is more of a partnership or a performance than an act of discipline or training. She performs acrobatics while riding, jumps off a horse’s back into a river, lies down across a horse’s back while throwing her middle fingers in the air. Coyote is the kind of person who laughs at a joke long after it’s told, so you can tell she’s still thinking about it. She may dwell on things but doesn’t let them get to her, keeping a fairly positive attitude. Her worst enemy is potentially boredom. Semi-serious scenes are punctuated with humor to keep the mood light. In a scene where one might expect soothing or reassuring words from a wolf to Coyote, the wolf says instead, “Do not be a bitch.”
Hanawalt’s art style is iconic—folks familiar with her previous works such as My Dirty Dumb Eyes, Hot Dog Taste Test, and her designs for BoJack Horseman will see the similar anthropomorphic animal characters in Coyote Doggirl. Fans may also notice the resemblance between a scene of Coyote riding Red and the striking final spread in the story “Caballos Con Carne,” which appeared in Hot Dog Taste Test and is also free to read on Hanawalt’s website. The art is watercolor and ink with that Lisa Hanawalt twist in execution—well-defined butts, tongues sticking out, and a highly expressive protagonist. Her color palette aptly captures Coyote’s fresh and adventurous mood, and wonderfully sets the tone for this modern Western adventure. The endpapers of the book are fantastic; you won’t want to cover up a single inch with processing labels or barcodes. The front half provides a map contextualizing where Coyote lives and the extent of her travels. The back half shows her atop Red, presumably riding towards her future—though this is cleverly concealed by a paper sleeve around the back cover which hosts the summary, blurbs, and ISBN.
I’m a sucker for attention to detail and Hanawalt provides. She always sneaks something into the verso of the title page. In a previous book she asks, “does anybody read all of this? Who are you?” The copyright statement for Coyote Doggirl makes it clear that “we will have no bilkers, scoundrels, varmints, bunkos, flannel-mouthed coffee boilers, owl hoots, nor skinflints ’round here neither.” If you’re one of the above, then this might not be the book for you after all.
While Coyote’s character will surely be popular with teens, librarians wishing to shelve this book should be aware of the following “adult” content: some violence, swearing, sexual content (Coyote dreams of making a “pleasure” saddle with various dildos attached), and dirty humor (in one scene Coyote draws a horse with prominent genitals to make some kids laugh, which she sheepishly censors when an adult shows up).
by Lisa Hanawalt
Drawn & Quarterly, 2018