Coyote Doggirl is Lisa Hanawalt’s third book published by Drawn & Quarterly. Hanawalt, well known for her work with Bojack Horseman and the Baby Geniuses podcast, takes readers on a surreal Western adventure following the titular heroine as she seeks to escape mysterious pursuers across a vivid desert landscape.
The art of Coyote Doggirl will be the first thing to make the reader’s eyes pop. Each page is filled with delicate inking and vibrant colors akin to a watercolor painting. Much like the main character herself, no two pages are even remotely alike, with some being distant long shots that show the beautiful emptiness of the untamed land, while others have the characters in montage against white backgrounds to focus on the jokes or physical antics showing the passage of time. A few pages even show off notes in Coyote Doggirl’s own voice as if clipped from her journal.
Coyote Doggirl is described as “a dreamer and a drama queen, brazen and brave, faithful yet fiercely independent.” She is an embodiment of contradictions and does not care what anyone might think of that. In a land of anthropomorphic canines, she lives on the edge of Dog Town, where all kinds of breeds live together in a rough-and-tough Wild West setting. A tribe of Wolves live nearby in their own village with strong Native American tones.
The story begins with Coyote Doggirl on the run from shadowy figures in the distance. She gives alternately introspective and absurd commentary as she drives her horse onward, reflecting to her trusty steed, Red, “You could easily kill us both, if you wanted to. I am only controlling you in theory.” At other points, she goes as far as to break the fourth wall and tell the audience that the exciting chase “gives me this juicy feeling.”
She flees across the land only to fall under attack by a hail of arrows, leading to a lengthy encounter with the Wolf Tribe. Gradually the story of why Coyote Doggirl is on the run becomes revealed, opening up new levels of characterization and commentary on society’s rules of right and wrong.
With plenty of adult themes and strong language, Coyote Doggirl is intended for mature readers, although its absurdity and hilarity will bring out the adolescent in the readers once more. Its surface gives an enjoyable romp, even flipping through the pages to look at the pictures makes for a fun time of experiencing art.
On a deeper reading, the jokes lead to a giggle-out-loud time, but following the plot and asking oneself the questions posed through the story are what shifts Coyote Doggirl into the realm of literature that will forever hang onto the reader. Taken at any level, Coyote Doggirl is a raucous good time.