We’ll start this one off with a confession that may point to my own shortcomings as a writer more than anything else : I’ve been vacillating on whether or not to review Lisa Hanawalt’s late-2018 Drawn + Quarterly graphic novel, Coyote Doggirl, for several months now simply because I’m not quite sure how to approach it. I even discussed the reasons behind my reluctance my reluctance on my Patreon page (first free plug — the longer, “official” one follows, as always, at the end) while zeroing in on the one big problem with the book that I have — one that is in no way a reflection on the work itself, nor on Hanawalt’s cartooning skills in general. Now that I’m “going for it,” though, I’m not going to beat around the bush:
This book is ridiculously over-priced.
That’s it. That’s my “beef” with it in a nutshell. On its merits as a work of art, it’s almost without flaw. It’s well-drawn, spectacularly colored, funny, insightful, topical, clever, even subversive. It’s great. But is it $25 great?
I’m still trying to answer that question. Certainly our coyote/dog hybrid protagonist is an admirably independent character, her anti-social tendencies both understandable and understandably communicated. Her faithful equestrian companion, Red (yes, Hanawalt can not only draw a horse, she can draw a horse really well) is imbued with a ton of “person”ality and is every bit as much the book’s “star” as his ostensible “owner.” And their adventures are fraught with a significant amount of peril and incisive feminist commentary (fair warning — there’s some rather upsetting misogyny and violence against women on display) while never going so far as to completely upset the apple cart that is the book’s breezy, humorous, light-hearted tone. Shit gets ugly, yeah, and when our pair of principals are separated you really do feel the sting of loss for both of them, but there’s never much doubt that the band’s gonna get back together, happy days will be here again, etc.
Their trials and travails both separate and together afford Hanawalt the opportunity to take sharp but good-natured aim at just about every tired Western trope, but you could be forgiven for missing all of that so utterly absorbing is this book’s fluid, dynamic, panel-border-free artwork and eye-catching, dare I even say pitch-perfect, color palette that’s just as effective at evoking the atmospherics of an excruciatingly dry, hot day as it is those of a wide-open, starry nighttime sky. Visually, then, this is a tour de force that’s likely to well and truly knock your spurs off.
And yet we (okay, I) return to the question of economics, because I just can’t seem to get it out of my head. As you’ve no doubt gathered, this is a work imbued with a reasonable amount of thematic depth to go along with its agreeably off-kilter humor and breakneck action — but it’s a very quick read, even if you spend the requisite amount of time “oohing” and “aahing” at the pretty pictures. You’ll be all done with it in well under an hour — and that’s not a problem in and of itself if we’re talking about a standard-format comic book. Or even a marginally “fancy” one. If D+Q had opted to, say, put this between a couple of nice cardstock covers and print it on slick paper with something like a $10, or even a $12, price tag? I would have listed it as one of the top ten books of last year, no problem. But as a hardcover with a steep sticker price, it feels — lacking, maybe even slight.
I take no pleasure in saying that, as I enjoyed Hanawalt’s story from first page to last, but I always try to keep an eye on value for a consumer’s money when I make a recommendation (or decline to do so), and the pricey format here necessarily — but, I think, understandably — leads me to give this a much more qualified “thumbs-up” than I otherwise would, probably even a more qualified one than it deserves. If you can afford Coyote Doggirl, then you should absolutely pick it up — but if your comics budget is as limited as it is for most of us, then I say, with no small share of reluctance, that you’d do just as well to give it a pass.
I sincerely hope that everyone reading this is flush with cash, then, I suppose, because this is a really damn good book.
This review, as is the case with all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. In point of fact, lately it’s been a lot of politics. Your patronage there not only allows me to keep things going, it also ensures a steady supply of freely-available content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Needless to say (but I’m saying it anyway), I’d be immensely gratified to have your support, and there’s a whole ton of stuff up there already, so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
Oh, I suppose a link would help. Here you go :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse