Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends Lisa Hanawalt’s ‘Coyote Doggirl’ HC, out now from Drawn & Quarterly.

Required Reading: 'Coyote Doggirl'
Cover to ‘Coyote Doggirl’ HC. Art: Lisa Hanawalt/Drawn & Quarterly

by Arpad Okay. Draw what you love. Draw horses. Draw wildflowers and sagebrush. Sling your few possessions over a tree branch after the sun sets. If this is where your heart lingers, the badlands, the campsite, your fingers running through mane, the stories that belong here come flowing through you, too. Self-reliance, love for the untouched earth, solitude, strength. All of this is the river, it is adventure, and it is Lisa Hanawalt.

It’s Coyote Doggirl. A story about a girl on the lam who finds peace out in the big sky country. Bad dog rustlers on one side of the mountains and wolf tribes on the other. Here’s the twist, the romance: she loves it out here. No lonesome cowpoke, our Doggirl is sleeping under stars and telling us/herself exactly why it is the only way for her to be.

Coyote Doggirl’s charm is bold and frank and in your face, joyously absurd and yet equally rooted in real, personal experience. Yet some story beats fall reserved, quiet to match the silence of the wild, crackling-with-desert life that’s hidden from the naked eye. This story, away from urban ennui and edible dada, feels like a side of Hanawalt not everyone gets to see, a secret. The solemn still of reverence.

But! If you have ever wondered if a horse would kick an eagle’s ass, this book shares your concern. There’s a pleasure saddle for those brave enough to use it. Bet your ass there’s a high quality pony roll-call. Lists and instructions, and sometimes things get trippy (losing blood will do that). Tableaux and dreams. Goofy and serious and sly. Coyote Doggirl is rich and spare as rustic cooking.

It’s pen on ink in a beautifully old school, indie way. I’d love to see the black and white pages for this magic. That said, Hanawalt employs beautiful watercolors. You could not ask for a more perfect seal to cap the look, one foot in the zine world, the other buried in a history book. Hanawalt’s style isn’t to blend but to have colors run up and over each other. Blotted violet and indigo clouds withhold their cool from the sand and gold of the scrub. Coyote Doggirl, feathered with arrows, clings to the neck of her horse (“Red”), and both become a fruit punch and berry wash on an otherwise clear page.

Hanawalt’s minimal linework rings clear and bright with time invested before nib touched page: patience and practice on developing and perfecting a style. The wordless passages in this book are perfect. Hanawalt finds a way to tap into a life whose voice is silence. Each flower and feat of equestrian vaulting a photograph, and each scene, every detail, hung in space just-so, making Coyote Doggirl more like wandering through a dream than reading a story.

This is the wild notebook of the girl who dreamed Coyote Doggirl. Does she talk to her horse, or us? The answer is neither and both, as the Doggirl speaks to clarify her thoughts to herself, she knowingly speaks to us. She is brusque and perceptive. Unvarnished.

The voice relating Coyote Doggirl to the reader shifts from inner monologue to breaking the fourth wall without being cheeky. The book is full of (fan-freaking-tastic) lists. There is no defining narrative voice, and the characters sometimes know they’re being read because Coyote Doggirl is a comic and goes anywhere a comic can go.

Hanawalt’s dialogue is timeless if not contemporary, which makes for some surprising moments of shared experience. It’s weird to feel “I’ve sure been there” when reading about roughneck posses and hunting deer in the mountains. I guess saloons have been full of creeps since they started building ‘em. So the mood isn’t period piece, it’s buddies bullshitting, and it works.

Coyote Doggirl is a series of encyclopedia bookplates on badlands mescaline. Capturing the spirit of the frontier for academic purposes. Head of canine, body of woman, tail, tall, barefoot, armed, frosting pink. Folk art, but where the girl rides on her back, facing the wrong way, flying two birds to the world at large, searching for home.

Drawn & Quarterly / $24.95

Written by Lisa Hanawalt.

Illustrated by Lisa Hanawalt.

Lettered by Lisa Hanawalt.

Enjoy this 3-page preview of ‘Coyote Doggirl’, courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly!

More Required Reading…

‘Mirror: The Nest’ concludes a sprawling epic of violence and passion and ascension

‘Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker’ a Romantic idyll of dark deeds and unbroken bonds

‘Twice Fated, Thrice Tried’ a mix of magic and inner DIY strength