WAYNE CHINSANG HADN'T HEARD OF CANADIAN ILLUSTRATOR GRAHAM ROUMIEU UNTIL JUST A FEW MONTHS AGO WHEN HE BOUGHT HIS BOOK IN ME OWN WORDS: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF BIGFOOT. AS SOON AS WAYNE READ IT, HE KNEW HE HAD TO CONTACT GRAHAM FOR AN INTERVIEW. IF YOU'RE WISE, YOU'LL DO THE SAME. BUY GRAHAM'S BOOK, THAT IS. NOT INTERVIEW HIM.
Wayne: You write and illustrate, which I think is something that not a lot of people can do. Most illustrators I know have problems coming up with ideas and need assignments, and most writers I know can't draw that well. Which came first for you? And what benefits do you see in illustrating your own work, as opposed to illustrating assignments?
Graham: I suppose both developed at the same time, though I think I put more effort into drawing simply because it was my thing. What little popularity I possessed stemmed from drawing. Writing was something I did for school assignments and was far more of a chore. From the time I left high school to the time I finished college, Iím positive I couldnít have written more than a few thousand words, aside from an odd email or grocery list. Seeing as the writing and drawing are coming from the same source-- generally at the same time-- they canít help but work together. My drawing is the visual equivalent of my writing. My writing also depends heavily on things like metaphor, something that makes for easy pictures. Iím also lucky in that I donít have to cater my pictures to the writing; I am much more likely to change the words than I am to try to come up with the perfect idea for a drawing. I put enough effort into that as a commercial illustrator, and Iím not going to let myself have an aneurism over a personal project.
W: Having done work for publications in both America and Canada, is there any difference in how you handle work between the two? Is there more freedom with one over the other?
G: I rarely even think about the geographic location of clients anymore; an assignment has just become an assignment, for the most part. I have done enough work in the last few years that creating images for all sorts of text has become an involuntary reflex. Almost all of my work is editorial, so I am concerned more about the conservative or liberal leanings of the publication than anything else. On both sides of the border, I do work for both ends and everything in between. I also think I generally avoid the nightmare of getting the wrong assignments because the tone of my work is so clear; a designer or art director knows to avoid me if they are looking for the classic "business man climbing the ladder to nowhere" picture. If they call me, they know they are going to get something on the sliding scale of "fucked".
W: Tell me a little bit about the gallery show you were a part of: Sting Like A Butterfly. Do you do gallery shows often?
G: Not as often as I would like. I have never done a solo show, even though I would really like to. Honestly, I havenít applied myself nearly enough in the world of galleries.
W: Do you find the commercial world or the gallery world to be more accepting of your work?
G: Commercial, by far. Almost all of the galleries I have approached have shied away from me because my work is too "cartoony". I am hoping that, with my commercial success, that will change. And as I get older, wiser, and angrier-- and my work evolves along with me-- my fortunes will improve with galleries. I am young; I've only been at this for a few years, so I am big on retarded speculation.
W: With Sting Like A Butterfly, it seems like doing work with friends is important to you. Do you like to work on projects with people-- like tag-team efforts-- or do you prefer to work alone?
G: Of course, it depends on the project. A Really Super Book About Squirrels and Lost In A Park With A Mime were written by a friend of mine, Graham Taylor, and I think of both as being some of my best work, illustratively. Sadly, only the squirrel book was published. The common rejection response from publishers was, "People donít like mimes." Thatís sort of the point, but anyway,.. I have a lot of friends that are visual artists, writers, musicians, accountants, and so on, and there is a healthy exchange of ideas within the group. Sometimes, collaborations take place. Most of the time, when collaboration is discussed, the parties present are too inebriated to remember what the hell was talked about the previous day. Iím starting to find that collaboration is less reliant on great ideas and compatibility, than it is on sustained mutual initiative.
W: I first saw your work just a few months ago. I bought my sister In Me Own Words: The Autobiography Of Bigfoot for Christmas. Now, since the book is illustrated and short in length, it can easily come across as being a children's book. But it's got some pretty adult humor and themes in there. Have you run into any people picking it up and thinking it was one thing, and then realizing it is another?
G: I think that if someone does think it is a Paddington Bear-type story, that they donít remain fooled for long. The opening page has Bigfoot pissing in someoneís eyes. I think Tigger did that to Roo once, but the drawing was much more whimsical, and there were some flowers in the background.
W: I really like your style, in that it is very loose and open. But in dealing with a lot of the commercial world I know that a lot of people have a preconceived notion about what art should or shouldn't be, and a lot of times more expressive work goes unseen. Did you have problems getting your work out there? Or were you able to show it to the right people; the people that would appreciate it?
G: I didnít run into that problem so much. I did enough research before I started sending my work to potential clients that I didnít get much negative response. In a lot of cases, I got no response whatsoever. But Iím assuming those peopleís heads exploded with joy when they saw my portfolio or site. That, or they were so offended they killed themselves. In either case, they are dead, and let's not speak of them ever again.
W: Do you prefer doing freelance work for publications like The New York Times, or would you rather concentrate on your own projects, like your books?
G: Eventually, I would like to primarily do book work. I am also working on animation proposals and other secret things, so if and when those things develop, I will have less time to commit to editorial work. I do love doing editorial work, and I canít ever see becoming completely sick of it. Really, I do the work for the steady stream of free magazines, as I am addicted to perfume sample pages. I like to tear them out, gather them in bunches, throw them in the air, and flashdance as they fall around me.
W: Do you ever feel pigeon-holed by your writing? Like, do you feel that you'd never be able to bring something of a more serious nature to a publishing company because they'll expect it to be something more out there and bizarre?
G: I think it is very unlikely that I would ever write something serious aside from threatening letters. Iíve made attempts at writing things of greater length and structure, and I have aspirations to see them through. So if I am concerned about pigeon-holing, it would have more to do with getting tagged as the guy who does those broken English fart joke books.
W: What is it about Bigfoot that made you write about him?
G: I have no idea why I chose Bigfoot, aside from the fact that it seemed to have limitless potential, idea wise. Also, the character was easy to draw; just a turd with some arms and legs.
W: Your illustration work seems to be very much influenced by surrealism. Like, if Dali and Gary Larson had a kid, this is what he'd be making. So, what are your visual artistic influences?
G: As far as contemporary illustrators go, I am a big fan of Barry Blitt, Bruce McCall, and Gary Clement. As far as dead people, I like E.H. Shepard, who drew Winnie The Pooh and The Wind In The Willows. And just for the sake of giving my dead relative a plug, take a look at Arthur Moreland, who is/was my great great grandfather.
W: What are your non-visual artistic influences?
G: My fatherís sportsman-like approach to being bored.
W: What future projects do you have lined up?
G: Getting old and miserable long before my time. Starting,.. NOW!
W: Do dogs have lips?
G: If they did, could they whistle? And would they come to themselves?
W: I am of the opinion that America is really kind of fucked up right now. And I know that you're living in Canada. So, I was wondering, if it continues to get more and more scary, could I maybe come and live with you for awhile?
G: Will you bring delicious snacks? Could you bring me one of those nifty handguns Iíve been hearing so much about?
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