New To You Comics- Ultraviolent And Smart As Hell: ‘Coyotes Volume 1’

by Brendan M. Allen

When COVID-19 brought the comics industry to a screeching halt, my colleague Tony Thornley and I decided to dive deep into our longboxes and collections to bring you a Comicon feature called New To You Comics. 

We had so much fun with the thing, we decided to keep going. 

Tony and I have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his shiny tights, super powers, and sci-fi. I tend to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, our paths cross, but we, like most readers, tend to stay in our lanes.

We’re here to break up that pattern a little. Tony’s throwing some of his favorites my way, and I’m sending him some of mine. Every title we cover is brand new to one of us, and every stinking one of them is available on digital and mail order platforms, in case your local shop is still closed.

This week, Cesareo Garasa will be joining us to have a look at Coyotes Volume 1 by Sean Lewis and Caitlin Yarsky.

Here’s what Image Comics tells us about the book:

Women are going missing in the City of Lost Girls, a border town in the desert. Officer Frank Coffey is trying to get to the bottom of this when he meets Red, a 13-year-old girl with a katana blade and a mission: murder the Werewolves stalking the border and picking women off one by one. When it’s discovered that the Wolves are the men of these villages, both Red and Officer Coffey are thrown together in a thriller of mythic proportions with the lives of their friends and loved ones in the balance. Kill Bill meets The Howling in this epic by creators Sean Lewis and Caitlin Yarsky.

Brendan Allen: You may have noticed I had Coyotes Volume 1 queued up for this column a couple weeks ago, but we ran into an issue. Tony was about halfway through the thing when he pointed out something I had honestly completely missed. Sean Lewis wrote a fantastic horror book about trafficking and immigration, from a predominantly female perspective. Sean Lewis is white. And a dude. From New York. So, we figured it would probably be best to get a little context from Mr. Lewis before we set out to dissect this book. I’m glad we did. Here is Sean Lewis’ response to our inquiry:

So, basically, though I was born in NY, I spent a decade (and the period this comic was written) working in Iowa creating documentary theater and radio projects based on socio-political issues. The Postville ICE raids had happened then, which set off raids across the state for the next few years- it created chaos- kids came home from school to find their parents arrested and sometimes deported (many of the families were from Central America but others were Eastern European. People had come out to work at the local Food processing plants). Living there, you couldn’t escape it. 

At the time, I was commissioned to write a play on it (I ended up writing two, the second was about Eden, Utah where unclaimed immigrant bodies were sent and buried if they died in transit, as well as Coyotes). So, it demanded I spend time conducting interviews and field experiences with families who had come over. I also would meet with historians, politicians and social experts at UIowa and in the State.  (While I was freelancing at This American Life there was a great piece that also came out called The Blonde, about this). 

If I had direct questions outside my interviewing or firsthand accounts, I would turn to my childhood best friend whose family came over from Colombia when we were in middle school or to a theater director from Mexico I had developed work with in Ojai, California (where a lot of immigrants work on the farms). She’s the person who actually told me about the Macuahuitl and if I remember correctly she connected me to the work Phoebe Glockner was doing in Juarez (which is where the dolls come from). That way I was getting male and female responses of people of different generations.

So, good news, Sean Lewis has receipts. Fair? Let’s talk about it!

Brendan AllenThis is one of those books that grabs you straight off. Sean Lewis demands your attention immediately, then never lets it go. Twenty three bodies strewn about in various stages of dismemberment. “Red,” apparently the sole survivor, standing stoically in the middle of the mess. Welcome to The City of Lost Girls, Detective Coffey. Never mind all those red crosses staked into the sand.

Coyotes plays around with the timeline quite a bit. Gives you the punchline up front, then the twisted, morbid joke after. 

The non-linear pacing plays well for me, though. It adds a level of tension that would have been difficult to achieve otherwise. There’s also this third person/first person thing he uses for much of the exposition. The result is a very intimate perspective as the perverse fairy tale unfolds.

Initial thoughts, guys?

Tony Thornley: I have to say I liked it. It did stick out to me at first that this is an allegorical horror story about the border crisis written by a white guy from New York, however, knowing that he did the homework, I was able to sit back and enjoy it quite a bit. It’s an action story, a horror story, a myth, and uses horror as satire. It’s got a lot to it and I really enjoyed it.

The more layers a story has, the better in my opinion.

Cesareo Garasa: I’d adjust Image Comics’ previous analogy slightly. To me, this is more Company of Wolves than The Howling. It reads more like a dreamlike parable than a straightforward horror tale and definitely more Neil Gaiman than what could have been a sock-and-chop katana-fest. Which in itself is an appropriately subversive statement about the expectations readers might have coming into reading Coyotes.

In the trade paperback’s afterword, Lewis states that his writing process is, “to start with everything. All of it on the paper. All guts. All messy. And then I try, best as possible, to get rid of none of it. Instead, I try and figure out how it all COULD work together,” sounds spot on. This is definitely a story that works as much as a metaphor for man’s voracious capacity for violence, recklessness, selfishness and greed as it is a traditional story imbued with fantastical elements. The detective in the middle of it all, Frank Coffey, serves as a bridge between them.

Lewis and Yarsky definitely pull off the appropriate touch in sound and feel in the dialogue and the art. Special props to Lewis on the effective use of the word “jodido.”

 

Brendan: I think one of the reasons I hadn’t even put it together that Lewis is a white guy from New York is that the thing feels so authentic. Makes sense, given that he spent a substantial amount of time conducting interviews and collecting stories of individuals and families affected by the issues in the book. 

That’s one of the things I really respected about Aaron Campbell when I was interviewing him and Pornsak Pichetshote about their book Infidel. He went out and spoke to people. Asked questions about the things he didn’t understand, then had people proof the stuff he was creating to make sure that he was visually representing the cultures and religions in the book in ways that were accurate, and not unintentionally offensive.

Cesareo: There’s a specific balancing act in Coyotes that isn’t restricted to the Hispanic characters but to the female characters as well. Lewis writes them in such a specifically natural way that their power and strength isn’t portrayed typically as a masculine trait imbued in women but as their own uniquely feminine powers. They’re not “as strong as men,” they’re just strong. REALLY strong and terrifying and underestimated at others’ peril. 

When Gaia, the mother of the world, is revealed, she’s shown as a natural, beautiful, and full-figured spirit of femininity and magic. There is absolutely nothing gratuitously salacious in the art in this book and that’s a sterling display of its narrative power.

Tony: I think what you’re saying goes for the setting too. We’re all from the southwest, and everything about this story DRIPS Southwest. The train station felt slightly off to me, but all the rest of it? The wide open spaces, the stars overhead, the buttes that a lot of the action takes place on all belong to the American Southwest in a very unique way. It almost makes the setting as much a character as Red or Coffey.

That’s crucial I think to any fantasy story. Without a sense of place, it’s going to feel aimless and rudderless. Here, it’s a very real place, and that makes the allegorical side of the story that much more tangible. So credit goes to Lewis and Yarsky on that one.

Backtracking a bit, I do love how fully formed the characters are. Yes, we get some flashbacks and backstory, but for the most part we could have gone without them because Red is full of life and anger, and Coffey is just doing his best to be a decent guy and one of the good ones when it comes to his job.

Brendan: I also thought it was pretty cool that, while Coffey does try to play the white knight, he’s generally pretty useless for most of the story. He’s in way over his head, and the ladies show him, time and again, that he’s out of his lane.

Cesareo: He’s effectively Jack Burton (from Big Trouble in Little China): passed by by the real heroes of the story. He’s also a self-made victim of his own myopic existence. His is the one arc that I think Lewis dropped the ball on, almost irresponsibly. Coffey spends the majority of the story trying to make up for the loss of his family — mostly violently — that left because of his own stereotypical self-absorption. The most honest moment of his in the entire book is in how he’s rebuffed by his ex after exchanging dialogue about their child and her instant distance as he tells her he misses her. That’s real.

A superb detail is in how Yarsky frames the entire exchange in symbolic plumes of drifting cigarette smoke. 

The only other male characters in Coyotes that garner any sympathy are either dead, children, or soiling themselves at almost getting attacked by a monstrous wolf — and mocked for it.

Tony: I think you make a good point about Coffey, because I think he’s the character that falls flat. Besides what you both mentioned, he’s also the cliche of the “only good cop” that we see in a lot of crime fiction. Here’s this guy doing his best, literally losing his family because he’s being a good cop. Meanwhile, everyone around him is either corrupt or inept. 

However, Lewis doesn’t try to have Coffey redeem the department or anything like that. It’s clear that his colleagues are unrepentant assholes, and the story leans into that, especially in that third act brawl. I think that works way better than trying to subvert the trope in this case.

Tony: The one thing that I loved without reservation was Yarsky’s art. This is one of those “first timer” mini-series that rather than reading and saying “yup, this was their first comic” you’re able to see her growth over the series. It’s not something you see in a young artist very often, but it really makes for an entertaining read.

She does some great things with her figure work. Most of the leads are teenage and preteen girls. We’ve both said kids that don’t feel like kids within comics are a big pet peeve of ours. Yarsky makes it work. The girls don’t just look right, they move like young women, and they act like it as well. She’s clearly very thoughtful as she draws.

Cesareo: Most definitely. The main characters are rendered dynamically and vibrantly while the monsters and villains — especially in one huge red-hued panel where some traitorous characters are revealed — are drawn at times with a broad-stroke, grotesque Bill Sienkiewicz-ish intensity. The reveal of Abuela is striking in its colors, inner nobility and motion.

In fact, I can’t stress enough how integral the coloring and lettering helps to evoke the mystical and mythical feel of the story. Whether it’s in rendering the children of the supernatural or the harbingers of good ‘ol fashioned corruption and greed, they’re both painted and framed with equal authenticity, which only adds to the book’s wondrous appeal.

Brendan: Caitlin Yarsky pulled both art and color, and she killed the thing. Her landscapes and muted, earthy tones absolutely scream “border town,” but are generic enough they could really have been pulled from anywhere from San Diego to Laredo. Characters are distinct and memorable, and Tony mentioned that “kids as mini adults” thing. That comes up a lot for us. 

The kids in Coyotes are kids. They all have distinct, childlike body types and features. And they’ve seen some shit. These kids have had some horrific things happen to them and have had to do some pretty messed up stuff to survive. It all comes through in the design, execution, and movement of each character.

It’s a beautiful book, and it would not have been nearly as powerful without Yarsky’s realistic visual depiction of innocence lost. 

Brendan: All right, fellas. What’s your final verdict? Coyotes Volume 1. Where do you land on this one?

Tony: I really enjoyed it. It’s not a perfect story, but it’s a solid allegory/satire. It doesn’t quite accomplish what it’s going for with the horror, and there are some bumps in the story. However, in general, it’s a lot of fun.

Cesareo: It’s a fantastic fable of feminine power in the face of man’s neverending appetites. 

Brendan: Word. Thanks for hanging out with us Cesareo. I appreciate your perspective. I’ll see you at Sandrini’s on the other side of this thing.

What’s up next from your queue, Tony?

Tony: We’re headed back to the DC Universe, and into a corner that I think you’re already a fan of! We’re going to be covering the first volume of Justice League Dark by James Tynion IV and Alvaro Martinez!

Coyotes Volume 1, Image Comics, 11 April 2018.  Story by Sean Lewis, art by Caitlin Yarsky.

Some of your local shops have re-opened. As always, we’d like to ask that you first try to get these books at your local shop. This is a very uncertain time for owners, employees, and their families. Show some love for your community and friends by buying from your regular shop when possible and safe.

If your local comic store is still closed, not offering safe curbside pick up or mail order, or is out of stock on this title, you can find a digital copy at Comixology for $7 right here. If you just want to get a taste, the first chapter is free.

 

Brendan M. Allen

Brendan Allen has probably had more jobs than you would reasonably believe. Dog trainer? He’s done it. Flooring contractor? You bet! EMT? Army NBC specialist? Road dog for a Celtic rock band? Yes, yes, and och aye! Now he reads comics and writes about them. It's a rough gig. You can follow Brendan on Twitter @SaintAmish where he tweets about comic books and cystic fibrosis awareness.

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