Cartoonist and Bojack Horseman production designer Hanawalt’s offbeat Western, Coyote Doggirl (Drawn & Quarterly, Aug.), features an anthropomorphic outlaw, Coyote, and her beloved horse, Red.
What inspired you to draw a western comic?
It started as a stream-of-consciousness comic around my love of horses. I started taking horseback riding lessons when I was eight, and when I got on a horse for the first time, I went full horse. It’s a weird relationship, because you’re asking this animal to let you ride around on its back. Does the horse like it? Is it mutually beneficial? At the same time, I’d been watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Searchers and True Grit. I’ve always enjoyed westerns, but it’s a problematic genre. I wanted to explore that world in my own surreal way.
Why did you draw the characters as anthropomorphic animals?
It’s a simpler way to portray complicated emotions. If you draw human characters, people make assumptions based on what they look like. Whereas if they see a wolf or a moose, it just looks like every other wolf or moose. It’s easier to project our emotions onto animals. Telling stories with animals is a shortcut, in a way.
Most of your comics work up to now has been in shorter stories and gag comics. Were there challenges in creating a longer graphic novel narrative?
I worked on it between larger projects, so I’d go away from it for six months, then come back and add to the overall arc. But, in a way, it was stringing many shorter stories together, which just happen to have the same character. I have other stories about Coyote, but at a certain point I decided I should finish it. If I had the time, I could have made this book 600 pages long.
What attracted you to the Coyote character?
She’s the hero of the book, but she’s also flawed. She’s silly, bratty, self-centered. She’s isolated in the beginning; she doesn’t know how to have intimate relationships. Then she’s abducted (or rescued) and has trouble fitting in with this group of wolves. I like that she’s half hero and half idiot. And she’s bright pink.
You also work in animation on Netflix’s Bojack Horseman. How does working with publishers compare to the TV industry?
It’s a matter of scale. Drawing comics, I was used to working by myself. In TV, that’s just not possible. When I started working on Bojack, I had to learn how to collaborate. I thought I would hate it, because I’m very particular. But I’ve grown to love it. You have all these other people to bounce ideas off, and it makes it easier, as long as you all respect each other. But in comics, I get to be the god of my own little world.