Go West, Young Pink, Crop-Topped Ladydog
You know you’re not in for a conventional Western when it starts off with a hand-drawn map separating “Good Guy Woods” from “Bad Guy Forest.” But don’t be fooled: Lisa Hanawalt’s Coyote Doggirl isn’t interested in the black-and-white heroes-and-villains morality of the genre. Rather, this trippy, funny, mythopoetical-by-way-of-Roz-Chast journey charts the ways in which everyone is damaged, internally and externally.
Outside of comics, Hanawalt is known as the artistic hand behind the genre-and-species-crossing Netflix hit Bojack Horseman. Inside, she’s equally acclaimed for her hilariously personal catalogue of quirks, Hot Dog Taste Test.
Coyote Doggirl contains several of the listy, detailed fun pages of Taste Test. But it doesn’t go as dark as Bojack, with the exception of one harrowing and highly contemporary episode of violence. Its eponymous pink coyote-headed heroine is an archetypical Western loner. She’s content to work on her custom-modded designs for halter tops and saddles (including one delightfully rated-X model), but mostly just to ride.
And ride she does, on her trusty steed Red, through a watercolored, brightly-hued palette of familiar Southwestern beauty but also quite a few injury-induced dreamscapes. Doggirl is strong, but hardly silent, constantly offering observations to Red like, “I am only controlling you in theory” and “It is so flattering to be sniffed by a tame animal.”
Without divulging too much of the plot, that ride soon goes awry after an attack and then convalescence at the hands of Native American-esque wolves (a wry and contemporary subversion of Dances with Wolves), the disappearance of Red, a journey of self-semi-discovery, and the inevitable showdown with a gang of idiot hoodlums.
The comic doesn’t quite upend these well-worn tropes so much as use them as a playground to showcase Hanawalt’s singular, arch voice. More often, Doggirl turns inward than towards the majestic landscape. Her encounters with antagonists and enemies-turned-allies take a few surprising twists, but the most memorable turns are Hanawalt’s trenchant observations and crackling one-liners that end tiny episode after episode.
Coyote Doggirl is a memorable, beautiful, and often side-splitting entrant in the comics tradition of “unleashing the weirdness of the West.” But unlike with the ones that do that through supernaturalism and violence like Preacher and The Sixth Gun, Hanawalt’s weirdness was within her, and us, all along.
COYOTE DOGGIRL, by Lisa Hanawalt
(Drawn & Quarterly, August 21, 2018)