Meet Coyote Doggirl (CD). Half dog, half coyote, all attitude, CD not only marches to the beat of her own drum, but she probably made the drum herself from an animal she personally hunted and skinned.
Lisa Hanawalt’s Coyote Doggirl follows CD and her trusty steed Red through a tireless journey of separation, inner-healing, and good-old fashioned Western revenge. We begin the story with CD and Red being pursued by three dogs on horseback, though we have no context for the pursuit and CD doesn’t seem keen to provide readers with one. Instead, her one-sided conversations are observational and stream of consciousness, and they provide a superficial but witty look at the thoughts of a cowboy whose daily interactions are limited to talking to a horse. When she is suddenly shot in the back by a tribe of wolves wearing traditional Native headdresses, Red runs away and the wolves take CD into their tribe to heal her, admitting that they only shot her because they thought she was robbing them. CD quickly finds herself among friends who love her clothes and teach her how to make the most of the land, and, like a true cowboy, she gets to demonstrate just how good she is on horseback by performing a series of wild acrobatics on the tribe’s many ponies. More importantly, though, CD finally finds a way to talk about why she’s on the run. She reveals that the men pursuing her are seeking “justice” for the man CD dismembered after he unsuccessfully tried to rape her. It’s a highly cathartic moment met with empathy from the wolves, and, fully healed, CD leaves to find Red who has been captured by the dogs pursuing her. CD deftly wins her horse back and returns home only to leave again, this time for good (though the back endpapers hint at a possible happy ending).
If you’re an avid viewer of the Netflix series BoJack Horseman and the artwork in this book looks familiar, I’m happy to report that you are on the right track (and if you don’t watch BoJack you should start immediately). Hanawalt is a producer and production designer on the show, and this book—the characters, the universe, even the tone of voice—feels like an extension of BoJack’s harsh and unapologetic world. Like BoJack, CD is the antihero of her own story: she’s a fast-talking, untrusting survivalist. Not one to forgive and forget—nor one with a strict moral compass to begin with––CD adapts to changing situations and acts out of self-interest, only showing mercy for those who choose to reform their ways and kindness to those who prove themselves allies. The juxtaposition of the brightly colored watercolor illustrations with the Western subject matter might make you think this a “cowboy comic for girls” (see: title treatment) but the content digs much deeper than that, and it certainly doesn’t pull any punches simply because the protagonist is pink and has a pleasure saddle on her wishlist. Coyote Doggirl might share a lot of the same tropes as a traditional Western, but it’s peppered with quick wit, cute clothing, and lots of ass-kicking, making it a modern day Western classic.