Monday, October 09, 2006

Bigfoot #1

Bigfoot #1, February 2005, IDW Publishing
writers: Steve Niles & Rob Zombie
artist: Richard Corben
colorist: Martin Breccia & Nester Pereyra
letterer: Robbie Robbins
editor: Chris Ryall

When I reviewed an issue of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! last month, I mentioned the Childcraft encyclopedia series I’ve had since my youth, specifically the Mysteries and Fantasies annual, with its chapters on aliens, monsters, and global anomalies. My favorite section in that volume has always been the Bigfoot chapter, and since I first read that entry decades ago, I’ve been fascinated with the creature. I’m not planning any expeditions into the woodlands of Washington anytime soon, but every time the National Geographic Channel airs its Bigfoot special, I watch it enthusiastically. I’ve watched the Patterson footage and I’ve heard the creepy Sasquatch “yelp” recording. Now, I’ve read the Bigfoot comic book. My research is nearly complete.

Now, this is the Steve Niles comic book I was looking for. Yesterday’s Freaks of the Heartland was certainly touched, but it was also touching, lacking the fright I expected from the author of the acclaimed vampire series 30 Days of Night. Bigfoot, which was coincidentally the next book on my pile of purchases from Saturday, is a simple, linear teaser, building to a climax of fright, violence, and gore, descending rapidly in a gruesome promise of more to come. Bigfoot #1 begins in the Blackwood Mountain National Park, in 1973, with a couple and their son traveling to the Happy Trails Campground for a rugged vacation of fishing and the like. For six pages, we get the idea that this is a regular family, and when night falls, the parents decide to take advantage of their cabin’s seclusion, if you know what I mean. Their foreplay is interrupted when a creature crashes into the bedroom, and as quickly as it brutally murders Billy’s father, it injures and disappears with Billy’s mother, leaving the boy stunned and horribly alone.

Interestingly, the crime is attributed to a bear, and when one of the sheriffs spies a pair of patented footprints, he quickly obscures them and dismisses claims that any Bigfoot was involved. In the end, we the readers are treated to an adult Billy’s macabre nightmare, featuring a Bigfoot mounting his deformed but seemingly content mother. I guess the dream makes sense through the perspective of a five-year-old who not only saw his parents nude for the first time, but also brutalized at the hands of a Sasquatch. Niles has a real handle on disturbed childhood, and with Rob Zombie credited as a co-writer, I’m sure he had some help. Yet, like Freaks of the Heartland, what strikes me as the driving force behind this issue’s storytelling is its art. Corben is accredited as an acclaimed horror illustrator, and his unique style is definitely moody and dramatic enough to capture Bigfoot’s animal nature. The splash page depicting what Billy sees when he stumbles into his parent’s bedroom is enough to scar anybody’s mind, if they don’t see it coming first. At that point in the issue, words are secondary. The true crime isn’t even the parents’ murder, but that Billy had to see it.

Therein lies the premise to this series, I assume. If Niles, Zombie, and Corben simply intended to tell a Bigfoot story, this issue could have stood alone and accomplished that goal. Something Billy’s father says will undoubtedly resurface later in the story: “The fish aren’t gonna shoot out of the water and land on your hook . . . It’s a waiting game. You have to show those fish you are willing to wait longer than they are. That’s the key to hunting any animal.” Well put. This casual lesson from father to son will become our hero’s mission statement, I reckon. I appreciate the pacing here, that the creators took an entire issue to tell this essential backstory, rather than drag it out through flashbacks or dreams, as other artists might have done. This isn’t a mystery. We know Bigfoot exists, we know what he’s capable of, and we know he must be stopped.

Bigfoot is why I like comic books. The assumption of the enigma is completely abandoned, and we see Sasquatch as clear as day. No grainy film footage here – just broad, bloody strokes of fantasy meets reality, of brutality meets shattered innocence. When I was a kid, I met Bigfoot in an encyclopedia, and I had the luxury of wondering if he was real. Now, with the evidence before me, I have to assume this behemoth is dwelling somewhere, if not as a half-man/half-ape creature, then as a campfire tale, creeping its way into the open minds of suspicious and frightened children. I pity them . . . and I envy them.

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