Bigfoot – teen seeks mythical beast and/or girlfriend… not necessarily in that order
By Pascal Girard
Drawn & Quarterly
A second graphic novel from Pascal Girard, whose first book Nicolas really struck a chord with me:
“Such a short graphic novel, yet so beautifully made. It’s an incredibly simple thing in both narrative and artwork. Stunning, heartbreaking and oh so moving.”
Well, with Bigfoot we’re seemingly moving into more fantastical territory, with a search for the mythical beast taking place in the backwoods of some quiet backwater town. But the beast isn’t the story here, this is all about living under the microscope of modern life, of being young, of teen angst, of teen love and of more teen angst when teen love just doesn’t work out the way you thought it would.
All too often, fictional teenager stories are nostalgic and sentimental, the work of middle-aged men looking back, tending to skate over the traumas, the misery, the insane jealousy, the moods, the broken friendships, the unfailing ability for friends and foes alike to be horribly cruel. Or, should they want to tell something darker about teen life, they overdo it, focusing on some all too rare event of brutality or cruelty.
What’s rarer is a tale that simply looks back on teen life as it really was, without any major events, no monumental achievements, no terrible tragedies, just the ups and downs of the everyday. And as anyone who can remember without nostalgia, or is seeing it second time around as a parent, real teen everyday life is magnified – the highest highs and the lowest lows, surrounded by people (old people) who just don’t understand.
Unfortunately, after reading Bigfoot I think I may have turned into one of those old people who just don’t understand.
(Bigfoot page 1; meet Dancing Jimmy, poor thing. Bigfoot is by Pascal Girard, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
Jimmy is a teenager in a typically dismal little nowhere town, where everyone seems to know everyone else, for good or bad. And Jimmy just wants out; he’s sick of living there, sick of feeling boxed in, but most of all he’s sick of everyone continually reminding him about a crappy You Tube video starring Jimmy dancing like an idiot in his living room.
In a town this small a celebrity, even the shallow modern celebrity of a minor You Tube hit gets noticed. Everywhere he goes, someone recognises Dancing Jimmy. Hell, there’s even T-shirts. You can see why he wants to leave.
When his attention seeking Uncle comes to him with a blurry looking video of something Jimmy’s Uncle is convinced is Bigfoot, Jimmy tries to convince him not to make a fuss, not to upload it. But to no avail, fame kicks in again, and now the pair of them are the butt of everyone’s jokes.
(Bigfoot? Really? Jimmy’s about as convinced as the rest of us. From Bigfoot by Pascal Girard, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
However, Bigfoot may just be Jimmy’s salvation, as he gamely keeps on keeping on; school, friends, a life drawing class, pursuing his teen crush, getting sidetracked by another girl who’s simultaneously less attractive and more attainable. All Jimmy really wants is someone to notice him, for something other than that damn video, preferably Jolene, the girl he’s got a huge crush on.
Which is where Bigfoot comes into it once more, with both Jolene and his best friend Simon (also the one who uploaded the video) suggesting it would be oh so cool to go camping and maybe, just maybe get their own video of Bigfoot after all. What the hell, Jimmy may not really care that much about Bigfoot, but a camping trip with Jolene and his best mate – what could go wrong with that? You can see it coming a mile away can’t you? Even without Girard telegraphing it:
(Jimmy gets convinced to go for a camping trip. I Love the panel of Jimmy looking in to the swimming pool where his best friend and object of his desire are happily swimming. Can you work out where this is going? Yes, you can. From Bigfoot by Pascal Girard, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
There’s a real simple, true to life feel about Girard’s characters. These do come across as believable teens doing the usual stupid, ill thought out things teens tend to do. He gets the tone right, the nuances feel true, the relationships work…. but somehow, despite all that, there’s something missing, something that just didn’t make me fall in love with this one. And it’s one of those frustrating books where I can’t quite put my finger on why.
Sure, I know he’s doing it all right, I know his story rings true, but the raw emotion I so enjoyed in Nicolas just isn’t present in Bigfoot. This is teen emotion, hugely over inflated emotion, relatively minor problems exaggerated into major earth shattering things to whine about. The cast are perhaps too true, too needy, too whiny, too self-absorbed, too much like typical teens for old git me to empathise with.
Girard’s art is still astonishingly accomplished, especially from one so young, a man who was still working construction just five years prior, but looking back on Nicolas, and flicking through Girard’s newest work; Reunion, some of the problem is the colouring. I still love Girard’s line, his spare, simplistic figures with their minimalist expressions that manage to convey a wide range of emotion, but somehow the addition of colour has actually taken something of the beautiful simplicity of Nicolas away from Girard’s work, and I miss it.
Bigfoot is a good comic, don’t get me wrong, and possibly a great comic. Just not for me. I can see the technical brilliance of what Girard does, can see how he nails the characters and the emotions. And although I should be delighted to be whisked back to those feelings of teen angst we all went through, it just didn’t connect. A nearly but not quite brilliant book.