With the help of her trusty steed, Red, there’s not much that’s too big for Coyote to bite off, chew up, and spit out right into your face. But when Coyote and Red find themselves on the run from a trio of vengeful bad dogs, our protagonist is left fighting for her life and longing for her displaced best friend.
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 ... The juxtaposition of the brightly colored watercolor illustrations with the Western subject matter might make you think this a 'cowboy comic for girls' 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.
Hanawalt turns the Western genre into a shared joke, giving its too-serious elements an absurdist spin. Instead of being a bitter, stoical figure, the heroine—a pink-skinned, canine-headed person—is mostly just goofy. It's all ridiculous and delightful until the truth of Doggirl's circumstances intrudes: She's fleeing a murderous posse in the wake of a terrible violation. At the moment of this revelation, and again when Doggirl must kill a horse with a broken leg, Hanawalt changes gears brusquely. The evil realities of adult life, kept offscreen until now, suddenly force their way in. It's a necessary shift in tone, one that makes Coyote Doggirl a book for grownups with a grownup message. For all her whimsy, Hanawalt knows being an adult is more than a matter of dressing up in a long coat, Adultman-style. We may sometimes feel as childish as Doggirl does, but our grownup problems will follow us across any desert.
Coyote may seem childlike at times, but Hanawalt never lets readers forget that this is, in the end, the story of a horse-obsessed cowgirl being chased by a vengeful posse of men who want to kill her ... Though inspired by Western stories, Coyote Doggirl carves out its own space, aesthetically and tonally. It doesn’t read like a straightforward subversion of the genre, even though it features many a recognizable building block ... Hanawalt’s book sheds the self-seriousness of the genre, but it also retains another sort of poignancy—one anchored by the heroine’s free spirit and stubborn sense of wonder in spite of the constant dangers she has to navigate. Coyote Doggirl is about a woman on the run, but it takes time to explore the tension between her extreme independence and her desire to connect with others, however imperfectly ... It’s a tale about surviving—a process that, for the most part, is deeply mundane until it’s not. But for Hanawalt, even the mundane vibrates with a sort of absurd humor and manic energy. A lot of her work focuses on how the repulsive, the frightening, and the bizarre animate everyday life, existing at its heart rather than at its margins; this book is no different.