Sasquatch Detective review: The overlooked gem of 2018


Why Sasquatch Detective is the overlooked gem of 2018.

2018 was a long and exhausting year, but there were lots of great comics to help us get through it: Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ somber Mister Miracle, Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca delivered another charming adventure of their gutsy heroine Street Angel, and who’d have thought the Nancy newspaper strip would become, thanks to Olivia Jaimes, a daily must-read. I also really liked Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles by Mark Russel and Mike Feehan, it was an incisive, angry look at the Red Scare of the 1950s and the damage it did to peoples’ lives.

Sasquatch Detective cover art by Ben Caldwell (Courtesy of DC Comics)

The Snagglepuss Chronicles was a great book in a year full of fine comics, but I’m writing this review because I’m afraid there’s one new character that is going to get lost in the shuffle now that 2018 has ended. I didn’t expect to be so taken with the lighthearted back-up comics in Snagglepuss. If you didn’t read it (shame on you) or skipped the last few pages of each issue, then you also missed one of the most fun debuts of the year: Sasquatch Detective. I’d never heard of Det. Sasquatch before Exit Stage Left but I’d assumed the character was some Hanna-Barbera also-ran, lost to the ages alongside Captain Tough and Screwball Squirrel before this reinvention. The premise is right there is the title: Lady sasquatch in the big city (Los Angeles) who’s a top tier police detective. In her first 64-page special we meet Tonya, learn her never-before-told origin, and get reprints of her essential adventures.

It turns out that Detective Tonya Sasquatch is an original creation who comes from a loving forest-dwelling family. They idle away their days taunting bigfoot hunters, acting as the Club Pros for their fellow animals at the local resort under cover of night, and most importantly to teen Tonya, watch crime shows through the windows at the Forest Ranger Station. Her “Origin Story” is a big chunk of pages in this special. It’s a fun but more businesslike narrative than the shorts from the Snagglepuss mini. It does the job of telling Det. Sasquatch’s fans about the idyllic life she left behind and how she became convinced of her place in the world.

Sasquatch Detective art by Gustavo Vazquez (Courtesy of DC Comics)

As necessary as “Origin Story” is, and kissed with that great message about following your passion, I’d have honestly been just as happy with another 4 or 5 vignettes about Det. Sasquatch’s life as a crime buster in The Big Orange. It’s still fun, just more pointed than the reprinted stories that follow it.

Tonya’s “mother” is writer Brandee Stilwell. In a brief introductory essay, Stilwell recalls the “a-ha moments” that informed the evolution of her creation. She developed Det. Sasquatch onstage at improv performances around LA, where DC Comics discovered her, leading to an invitation to write the backups in The Snagglepuss Chronicles. It was fun to read about the zigs, zags, and many pitstops that go into creating a fully formed idea.

As good as Stilwell’s Det. Sasquatch stories are, they wouldn’t leap as lightly without the work of Gustavo Vazquez. The artist knows how far to stretch the physicality of an 8ft lumbering bigfoot, and still have the human characters surrounding her look like they belong to the same world.

Tonya is visually defined by big beaming eyes done up with Audrey Hepburn’s mascara, and a goofy smile that almost never leaves her face. I wouldn’t call such a talented Detective naïve, but there’s a goofy grace and gumption to the character that evokes dreamy cinema stars like Hepburn, Gracey Allen, and Ginger Rogers. Her partner, the world-weary Ron Berkass, is equal parts Woozy Winks (Plastic Man’s buddy), Elmer Fudd, and Ed Hocken from Police Squad. Vazquez and colorist Ross Campbell do expert work making the silliness of this alternate Los Angeles hold together enough to let readers embrace it.

Ron Randall and Ross Campbell do the illustrating on “Origin Story,” and while their work is somewhat more realistic, it is still a good fit for the longer plot-driven tale.

Sasquatch Detective art by Gustavo Vazquez (Courtesy of DC Comics)

Thinking about it, the breezy fun I adore so much in this comic feels like it comes from the classic screwball comedies and musicals Hollywood used to make. We’re in 2019 now, and while we can still get a kick out of the carefree make-believe world in old movies and the silly fun of Silver Age comics, the art we make today reflects the world we live in. The most popular comics tend to be darker: the stories brutal, and the characters angry, the stakes always worldwide catastrophe. Sasquatch Detective is a 180-degree turn away from that, her beat is the streets of LA, her mission one bush-league crook at a time. Her dreams are about fitting in and making her family proud. She’s noble, unfathomably optimistic, and a supportive friend. It’s small scale, a current in which I can allow myself to drift along.

dark. Next. Adventure Time: Mathematical Optimism!

That’s why Sasquatch Detective is the overlooked gem of 2018. If you’re a fan of Adventure Time comics, or the inclusive camaraderie of Brooklyn 99 you’ll probably be as enchanted with this comic as I am. I hope comics readers take a chance on it, and I hope we get more of her adventures in the year to come.