Reviewed by Sally Ingraham.
Lisa Hanawalt‘s new comic Coyote Doggirl (her first graphic novel, just out from Drawn & Quarterly) takes the popular Western genre for a playful spin – but even in Hanawalt’s humorous hands there are bones to uncover in the desert.
I was immediately struck by how Hanawalt’s artwork captures the Southwestern landscape in a way that many artists and filmmakers choose to ignore. She sees the colors! Perhaps other folks will look at this comic and find her coloring outlandish, bright, even silly (this otherwise good review calls it “sweetly artless” and “naïve”) but to me Hanawalt is describing the desert landscape truthfully – or at least, in a way that is true to my own experience of it.
In the Southwest that I’ve lived in, the earth is pink and the sky is purple one minute, and then the earth is blue and the sky is orange the next! Hanawalt’s coloring captures this, while also being an extension of her overall style and a tool for building mood and characterizations.
As for the story, it is amusing and clever and a lot darker in the end than you initially expect. Coyote Doggirl, our hero, is on the run, sharing the lonely trail with her beloved horse, Red. She is attacked and tragically separated from her horse, but jokes and new friendships help Doggirl recover from her grievous wounds. She is soon back on the trail and facing off with the men who are hunting her. The jokes are what keep the comic leaning more towards Blazing Saddles than True Grit, but the seriousness of an average Western does lie beneath the surface of Hanawalt’s seemingly light-hearted tale.
Like most good Westerns, Hanawalt’s comic has stretches of quiet ambling, plenty of desert vistas, and campfires beneath starry skies – interrupted by moments of intense violence and heartbreak.
Doggirl is funny and profane, sews her own leather underwear, eats snakes, and talks to her horse. A lot. I always appreciate a female hero riding into the sunset! Hanawalt doesn’t push too hard against the limits of the genre, but the comic is fresh, entertaining, and absolutely gorgeous.