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Blurred Realities, Stark Truths: The World of Coyotes [Feature]

feature by Sam Stone, originally published in IMAGE+ magazine

In recent years, the world feels as though it is becoming more and more dangerous. One of the deadliest places in North America is the United States/Mexico border, with crime running rampant, drug running, and human trafficking leaving denizens literally caught in the crossfire. It is in this violent setting that Sean Lewis (THE FEW, SAINTS) and Caitlin Yarsky’s new Image Comics series COYOTES takes place as the region sees a supernatural threat rising.

“It's the story of Red,” Lewis explains, “a young girl living in a border town where the women have been going missing at night. Red has been raised by her sister and mother to be fearless, but when she loses her family to the self-proclaimed Coyotes that roam this land, she falls in with a group of women who are ready to stop being prey. In this group, Red is trained and built up to become a machine for revenge. It mashes up influences from Kill Bill with B-movies and horror I loved as a kid like The Howling and Near Dark and sets it in a world that we recognize despite its mythic leanings.”

Both a metaphor for violent gangs and a narrative device in the form of literal bloodthirsty animals preying on women and children, the titular Coyotes play a game of hunter and hunted with the main characters as the survivors from the Coyotes’ assaults band together to endure and seek vengeance. In that sense, COYOTES is a genre blend that is part revenge-Western, part lupine-tinged horror, and partly the story of bringing law enforcement into a lawless region; think a mix of Underworld and Sicario with hints of Kill Bill for good measure.

“With COYOTES, I knew I wanted to make a story about women and violence. Super heavy and a topic most people feel they already have an opinion or thought on—so how to get them to engage?” reflects Lewis. “I started to think about the coyotes who move people across borders, some of which are very predatory people. And I thought, what if they were actual coyotes? Like werewolves that traveled in packs the way coyotes do? What would their origin be? Why would this be what they were doing? From there I could use real-life influences and inform the myth.”

For this new tale, Lewis teams up with rising-star artist Caitlin Yarsky to hauntingly render the lycanthropic horror story. “I did a lot of research on Juarez, which was a very sobering experience,” observes Yarsky on balancing the visceral terror of COYOTES with the grounded tone throughout the story. “Like Sean, I found a lot of inspiration in Tarantino and in films like No Country For Old Men. Other cities in Mexico as well as New Orleans, and even some European cities, informed some of the look and feel of the buildings and design elements. And of course Day of the Dead was a huge influence for the costumes and general mystical vibe I was going for. I wanted to keep things in a gritty real-world setting but tell the story visually from a dark fairy tale/mythical perspective.”

“Honestly, I saw some of Caitlin's work randomly online and reached out to her,” notes Lewis. “SAINTS hadn't even come out yet, but I knew there was something so special with her art. My wife, who does not like comic books, even said the first time she saw pages from Caitlin, ‘I'm going to buy that book.’  Caitlin just has such great emotion and vibrancy to the characters that she draws, and her paneling has a really nice kinetic flow. That's all I want from books. I want them to feel exciting.”

A tale about building makeshift families to endure and overcome deep trauma while framed within the context of a deadly border town beset by bloodthirsty lupine monsters, COYOTES is a gorgeously rendered comic that takes full advantage of its setting, both visually and narratively, in a prodigious neo-Western style that juxtaposes real-world influences while providing a horror story examining the price of revenge on the human condition, particularly on children that come of age in an area of bloody conflict. Despite these themes, COYOTES never feels overly heavy-handed but rather focuses more on suspense, engaging readers to continue on and see how this conflict will unfold over unforgiving southwestern vistas as they quickly become invested in the story’s characters.

For Lewis, now a veteran writer of two previous Image Comics titles, the experience has been both gratifying and exhilarating as he looks to weave a new yarn for readers while inviting Yarsky into the creative fold with renewed eagerness. “I'll be straight up: Image readers have been amazing to me. Caitlin's work is something you're gonna want in your collection. I think she's gonna be a really big deal.”

DIRECTOR'S CUT: SEAN LEWIS ON REALITY & MYTH:
SEAN LEWIS: I like when something looks familiar enough to draw me in and feel like I know or understand it before it flips itself into something else. I also like when mundane things or everyday parlance get turned into something mythic. I was reading KING CITY by Brandon Graham the other day, and in regards to the nature of COYOTES, this will sound insane, but one of the things I loved about that book was how he uses everyday language to create a full character. Like a "Copy Cat" in KING CITY is a cat that makes copies of keys. A "snot rocket" becomes an actual piece of flicked snot that is used as a weapon. It's really innocent and wonderful, and it drew me so into the story while also being something childish (in a good way) that I would've done with a comic in middle school. I love that stuff.

With COYOTES, I knew I wanted to make a story about women and violence. It's super heavy and a topic most people feel they already have an opinion or thought on—so how to get them to engage? I started to think about the COYOTES who move people across borders, some of which are very predatory people. And I thought: what if they were actual coyotes? Like werewolves that traveled in packs the way coyotes do? What would their origin be? Why would this be what they were doing? From there, I could use real-life influences (like the economics of conflict areas: whereby corporations move in because property rates drop and currencies become so cheap that international interests actually purchase the money of an area to the psychology of men and women who live in an area where women often go missing) and inform the myth. 

It sounds so much headier than it is. Basically, it was the whole reason we created myth in the first place: the world is super complicated, so how do we make it a bit more relatable?

COYOTES #1 debuts 11/8 and is available for preorder now.

Sam Stone is a veritable pop culture guru living just outside of Washington, DC. He is the producer and co-host of the Geek Out Show podcast on iTunes and knows a stupidly unreasonable amount about The Beatles. You can find him on Twitter @samstoneshow but should probably consult a physician first. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.