The search for the Sasquatch goes back hundreds of years—the Native Americans had their own legends about the creature long before grainy videos of it started popping up on the internet. And yet our image of it has remained remarkably static: The Sasquatch is something frightening and animalistic and, generally, male. But why can’t Bigfoot be a girl?
When J. Torres’ niece asked him this question, he realized that of course it could be and set out to create a female Sasquatch. That idea became the graphic novel How to Spot a Sasquatch, which Torres wrote and Aurélie Grand illustrated. The book recounts the adventures of Sass the Sasquatch and a group of campers visiting her forest home.
Both Torres and Grand have long been fascinated with the legend of the Sasquatch. Torres describes the appeal as “the mystery of some kind of almost human but also animallike creature in the forest that seems to be almost daring us to find it.” Or, as Grand puts it, Bigfoot is just “real enough to be true.”
Of course, Sass is considerably less monstrous than your standard Sasquatch. She has a lot of, well, sass: She provides marching orders to her posse of animal friends, talks back to her (adoptive) bear parents, and makes fun of one of the camper’s terrible handwriting. “Characters with attitude are the most fun to write,” Torres says. “They always have something to say.”
On the other hand, getting Sass’ look just right was quite a challenge. “If you look at the usual Sasquatch or Bigfoot image that you find on the web or in literature, it’s very scary and a lot of hair, and it’s really hard to imagine, to make it look a bit more feminine,” Grand explains. She considered designs where Sass was much larger, looked more like a monkey, or even had a beard before settling on the adorable final version, with its expressive human face and furry body.
Grand and Torres both grew up making comics. Grand’s father was an illustrator. “Well, he was mainly a dentist, but he was also doing illustration on the side,” she adds. “People always don’t believe me about this!” She grew up playing in his studio, and he encouraged her to become an illustrator. (His own parents hadn’t supported his desire to become an animator, hence the dentistry.)
Torres’ first attempt at a comic was in third grade, when he wrote and illustrated a strip for the school newspaper. His classmates’ reactions were so positive that he decided to make writing comics his job. Although he sometimes writes for adults, kids remain his favorite audience. “They don’t ask you about continuity and why this character is able to do that and why is this happening in this world,” he says. “It’s just more fun to just go and have fun with it and make it magical.”
That prioritization of fun over precise logic runs through the story, giving it a sense of buoyant joy. After all, if the Sasquatch exists, why shouldn’t she be able to read? Instead of worrying about the correct answer to these questions, Torres looks for the funniest one. “If I offered a rabbit carrot sticks in the wild,” he says, “would it even know what carrot sticks are?” Nope!
Alex Heimbach is a writer and editor in California.