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Bigfoot's Ghostwriter

Cartoonist Graham Roumieu on monstrous feelings, self-help and other absurdities.

By Dana Martin 27 Jun 2008 |

Dana Martin is a Vancouver writer.

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Roumieu's Bigfoot has 'a very small brain and a very short fuse'
  • Bigfoot: I Not Dead
  • Graham Roumieu
  • Plume Books (2008)

As the vicarious autobiographer of Bigfoot, Graham Roumieu writes books not intended for juvenile audiences, but that sometimes land in the hands of juvenile audiences. "I'm sure there's worse things on television," he says. It's understandable that parents gift the book to wide-eyed offspring before verifying the content. On first glance one might easily think the colorfully illustrated book is aimed at children, especially if one fails to notice a crack pipe between the squirrel's lips.

But it takes a mature sense of humour to appreciate a bored-looking Bigfoot on a cell phone in front of Michelangelo's David. I Not Dead comes third in Roumieu's illustrated series of Bigfoot's life story, in which he places the mythic beast in a number of modern contexts, where one would least expect to see him: as a news anchor and a game show host, making a guest appearance on Larry King, and later running a marathon with pitchfork-wielding villagers in hot pursuit. Through it all, Bigfoot insists he's been misrepresented. He hopes this book will clear a few things up.

The text is scrawled in grammatically altered English, according to Roumieu's take on Bigfoot's voice ("If want truth Bigfoot have bad days too. Not always feel like rainbow and sparkle inside. When feeling blue always find good belly laugh and beat something to death brighten day"). The accompanying illustrations possess a lively, reckless quality, with broad brushstrokes and outlines inked in black. The cast of characters is composed of forest friends: Leroy Grizzly Bear, for example, who is described as "probably impotent." I Not Dead is funny and fresh, the character fine-tuned from previous incarnations, and clashing with his context as ever before.

Under Roumieu's influence, the brown blur of Bigfoot has the power to invoke indignant huffs from Yeti enthusiasts and cries of derivation from Cookie Monster fanatics. Roumieu is still unsure how to handle such criticism. "I'll take it, and sort of look at it, and hold it awkwardly in my hands, and throw it over my shoulder," he says. There are definitely people who don't get it, but there are others who send letters, describing themselves laughing to tears in the comics aisle at the bookstore.

Roumieu maintains a neutral stance on whether Bigfoot exists or not, but always secretly hopes that when he hears a rustling in the woods at night it's him, rather than "some drunk that lost his shoe."

I spoke to Graham Roumieu this week from Toronto. Here’s what he had to say…

On where the book came from

"Originally the Bigfoot started as a school project, but I took it so far that it could be considered something I initiated myself. I went to school at Sheridan College in Toronto, for illustration. Originally, we were supposed to do this assignment, like draw one full page in spot illustration for a preexisting piece of text. So people chose, I don't know, Gone With the Wind, 1984, whatever they wanted. They were pretty specific about people not writing their own books and I just sort of ignored it and drew one page, and drew another page, and eventually had two thirds of the book completed by the time this assignment was supposed to be handed in. Then it wound up selling to a publisher. So I think I did pretty well on the project."

On why the author chose Bigfoot

"Bigfoot is the perfect blank slate for writing a book like this -- a sort of deeply personal, humorous way [of writing]. Everyone who writes a book about Bigfoot, it's either horror, or, depending on how you feel about it, very serious or very dodgy research stuff. In this case it's just talking about Bigfoot, and Bigfoot's feelings."

On the research involved in writing

"I think I might've seen that clip from Six Million Dollar Man and I'm pretty sure I've seen Harry and the Hendersons. I believe in the first one, some evil organizations pit Bigfoot against Steve Austin. And in the second one, I don't even know, he comes back and they become friends, and help each other find their way out of a secret laboratory that's exploding. It's all very vague in my memory. I think Bigfoot sacrifices his life for the Six Million Dollar Man."

On whether he thinks of Bigfoot as a monster

"Yeah, sure. But I think of him as so much more, too. And that's kind of what I'm trying to get across. I'm not sure if he exists. I've been asked that many times, and I think I just have to take a really neutral stance. In a way, I do hope he exists, in the same way that I think everyone hopes Santa exists. The idea is so nice. It adds a sort of rich, mysterious level to our world. At the same time, if anybody conclusively found out if he existed or if he didn't exist, I think I would be in a lot of trouble as far as making these books."

On what Bigfoot and Roumieu have in common

"I suppose a lot of the stories that are in Bigfoot are taken from my own life, in a very general way. I don't go around smashing people in the heads with logs or digging through people's trash or anything, but a lot of my frustrations come out through Bigfoot. Of course it's amplified a million times through this absolutely insane character who has a very small brain and a very short fuse.

"And I think because Bigfoot's brain is so small, his take on [the world] can be only very basic, but in the same way that makes it a little more universal. Everyone can associate with these moments [of being baffled by the modern world], but also still totally in love with it -- of finding things fascinating, turning around, realizing everything's kind of magical. Walking through Times Square, or Dundas Square here in Toronto, seeing lit up billboards and animation, seeing people with freaky haircuts, whatever. It's amazing how much variety and just how absurd the world really is when you try to look at it with fresh eyes."

On the number of times Bigfoot goes back to the real world, despite being kicked out of it or chased away by police

"I guess it's kinda hard to hold anything against him in a legal sense. He can't stop sticking his hand in the fire. He must know that he's getting burned. He has this fascination with the trappings of the modern world that will always keep him coming back. But the funny thing is he's doing this to become famous. Trying to increase his notoriety in the world. After all these years of people accepting this very basic sort of picture of him, which is this stooped figure loping through the woods and covered in sticks and dirt, what he wants is the classic Hollywood level of fame. And what I don't think he realizes is, that's precisely going to be his downfall. The more he succeeds at getting what he wants, the less famous he will become, because if he isn't the shadowy figure in the woods then essentially he's nothing, because that's what made him famous, his mystery and elusiveness."

On Roumieu's favourite Bigfoot story

"There's the one good old day where he's lying on a couch and talking to his therapist. Bigfoot's whole take on the world becoming non-violent is that he sees it as a decline, like something is being lost in the world. It's not accepted anymore, to solve things with your fists. Throwing boulders at people and stuff like that. He just can't see the point. Everyone's become soft."

On Bigfoot's voice

"I've got e-mails and stuff like that, and people have sent me videos before of them reading Bigfoot. One of the great things about the character is that everyone has their own Bigfoot voice in their head. So for me to listen to somebody else -- of course, they're reading straight from the book, so they're getting the words right -- but the way I might read it in my head or read it out loud, it's just something I sort of refuse to do now. There is no particular Bigfoot voice. It is maybe this sort of clunky, deep, slow, pidgin English, but it could essentially be anything. It's a bit weird for me to hear other people read the voice."

On the possibility that he may tire of writing Bigfoot

"It's possible. I mean it's always fun. The way I've been writing these books, is it seems like every three years I build up enough of a stockpile of these little stories, whether they're my own, or other people's, and I'll sit down one day and I realise, you know, it's time. Hopefully that pattern continues, because I do love writing Bigfoot and it's just like the most natural thing in the world. At the same time I'd like to be careful about not beating the joke to death."

On whether the author draws to facilitate his writing or writes to support his drawings

"I don't think there's any particular divide, because I adopt the character when I'm writing it. I mean I'm not running around with soiled diapers or lighting my desk on fire, but I do definitely get into this mindset. They're indivisible. If I could do this in pictograms, I would, but I don't think many people would read the book.

"It's kind of like this give-and-go situation the whole way through the book, where maybe if something doesn't quite lend itself to words, it will be brought out visually or implied in some way. And that's not very calculated at all, because when I'm doing this, it's sort of stream of consciousness. I go from using the pencil to scrawl down a rough form of what you see in the book, to drawing out the pictures at the same time, and sometimes I'm going back and forth. If I was ambidextrous it would be a lot easier to do."

On sharing Bigfoot's impulse to self-improve

"Always. I mean who doesn't want to make themselves better in some sort of way? And it isn't necessarily learning to speak French or not embarrassing yourself talking about opera or something like that, but definitely. I need to get a cavity filled in my teeth. There's some other teeth issues as well. I'll stay away from those. That's none of the public's damn business."

On how self-improvement can lead people into frustration

"I guess it's because they don't know why they're doing it. I guess looking after your dental health is one thing. That's self-preservation. Thinking that you need to learn to speak French, and that automatically people will like you more, that is a bit weird, I think. I guess in Bigfoot's case, it is a bit weird cause I don't know if he has a genuine interest in or the slightest care about French culture. He hasn't even mastered his first language of English and he's already trying to go on and master French."

On whether putting a mythical creature in these modern contexts changes the way we see our world

"As far as accentuating the insanity and the absurdness of it, maybe. It's not this really intentional social criticism, but in a way it's me realizing how absurd these people are in the first place."

On whether the author has been offered any honorary doctorates

"No, but I'm definitely still willing to take them."