THE DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH: WILD FICTIONS 001: Bigfoot

From the pages of the hit Image Comics series, THE DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH: WILD FICTIONS opens the case files of the Department's Field Office, revealing the histories of Cryptids and Urban Legends.

While Director Oswald’s official stance on department-wide sensitivity training is that it is “a bunch of new-age hippie bullshit,” it is worth clarifying at the top of this report that the Wild Fiction discussed within refers to the legacy of a hoax perpetuated primarily by white Americans and has little to do with the many Indigenous stories from which the Bigfoot myth has borrowed over the decades.

As with some other Wild Fictions [see also: Chupacabra], fervent believers often ascribe specific cultural backgrounds to modern phenomena in the hopes of lending more credibility to their pursuit and study. Bigfoot is particularly susceptible to this practice, as nearly every culture around the world has some variation of the Wildman and/or giant myth, including many Indigenous communities from the American Pacific Northwest, the primary range of Bigfoot sightings.

As it applies to our work, Bigfoot first appears in relevant form in 1958, when Jerry Crews, a heavy machinery operator for a logging company, supposedly discovered large, human-like footprints around his worksite in Humboldt County, California. His coworkers briefly dismissed the footprints as a prank before corroborating Crews’s report, fueling it with additional rumors of strange sounds and massive objects being moved around the site at night. Humboldt Times newspaper reporter Andrew Genzoli wrote about the story and is believed to have coined the term “Bigfoot.” As the Department’s mass media strategies were still in their relative infancy at the time, Genzoli’s coverage, which included an evocative photograph of Crews holding a plaster cast of one of the footprints, was soon picked up by major outlets like the New York Times and spread throughout the country. Bigfoot has remained one of our most pressing Wild Fiction concerns ever since.

(Surviving family members of one of Crews’s former coworkers came forward in 2002, claiming that their father had fabricated the original footprints using carved wooden feet; this revelation had little to no effect on belief in Bigfoot.) 

Beyond broad folklore of hairy Wildmen, there are several documented historic “encounters” with Bigfoot-like creatures that were quickly retrofitted into the Bigfoot mythology. Around 1840, a Protestant missionary named Reverend Elkanah Walker recorded stories of giants living among Native communities. In an 1893 wilderness book, President Theodore Roosevelt recounted a secondhand story of a bipedal humanoid with a distinctive odor attacking an elderly mountain man near the border of Idaho and Montana. Perhaps most infamously, a 1924 issue of The Oregonian detailed a supposed violent encounter between miners and rock-hurling “ape-men” in an area of Mount St. Helens which has since been dubbed “Ape Canyon.” During the same decade, Indian Affairs Agent J. W. Burns compiled multiple stories of giants in the woods and adopted the collective name “Sasquatch” based on a similar word in the indigenous Halkomelem language.

The names “Bigfoot” and “Sasquatch” are often used interchangeably and refer primarily in this report to Wild Fictions appearing in the American Pacific Northwest. Regional variations, including the Skunk Ape of Florida and surrounding states, or international variants like the Yeti, merit their own separate case files [see also: “Yeti”; “Skunk Ape”; “Yerin”; “Almas”; “Yowie”; others].

While Genzoli’s initial coverage of Crews’s discovery helped spur a rush of supposed Bigfoot sightings and encounters throughout the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, the most influential piece of Bigfoot-related media—and likely the most impactful supposed documentation of a Wild Fiction in history—was produced nearly a decade later.

In October 1967, Roger Patterson and Robert "'Bob" Gimlin recorded just under a minute of 16 mm footage in the Willow Creek area of Six Rivers National Forest in Northern California. It is often said that this film is among the most closely analyzed recordings of all time, as Patterson and Gimlin claim to have captured footage of a living Bigfoot. While an exhaustive report on the Patterson-Gimlin footage is outside of the scope of these case files, the most important qualifier for its veracity is Patterson’s background as a Bigfoot enthusiast. For at least five years leading up to the 1967 recording, Patterson undertook Bigfoot-hunting excursions, self-published a book on the creature titled Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist?, and even attempted to fund and direct a docudrama fictionalizing the discovery of Bigfoot. Gimlin, who was meant to play an “Indian guide” in the movie, was reportedly much less convinced of Bigfoot’s existence but accompanied Patterson on at least the October 1967 outing regardless.

Much of the nearly minute-long film that Patterson captured that day is shaky and difficult to make out, as he claimed that his horse had been startled by the creature’s appearance. Several portions, though, clearly show a bipedal, fur-covered humanoid figure walking away from the camera and appearing to look back over its shoulder at the man recording the footage. Patterson and Gimlin variously described the figure as having “dark reddish-brown” to silvery to black hair. The figure also has noticeable breasts, which has led to the assumption that it is a female. The two men estimated different heights, with Patterson eventually claiming the creature was over seven-and-a-half feet tall while Gimlin stuck to a more modest six-foot estimate. (Independent analysts tend to agree with Gimlin, although this has not prevented Class Three manifestations with much greater heights.)

Patterson quickly attempted to capitalize on the film, selling various rights and entangling the legal ownership of the footage in complicated overlapping deals. To this day, most analysis is based on copies of copies, reducing the accuracy of any findings. Patterson also reportedly shorted Gimlin his promised share of profits, which culminated in a court case that Gimlin won several years after Patterson’s death. While Gimlin did little to promote the footage publicly, and largely declined interviews for decades following the event, Patterson remained a dedicated (some would say obsessive) Bigfoot hunter for the rest of his life. Before his death from Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1972, Patterson even traveled to Thailand to follow up on a report of a captive Bigfoot in a Buddhist monastery, which turned out to be a hoax. 

Nearly every conceivable element of the film has been thoroughly and repeatedly analyzed, including whether or not it was even shot in October of 1967; the film could only have been developed in a specialty lab which Patterson could not have accessed over the weekend, leading some researchers to write the entire thing off as a preconceived hoax. There are also theories that the film is slowed down to make the creature’s gait more unusual. While the footage had several notable advocates who helped arrange showings for zoologists and other scientific authorities, few established researchers were willing to seriously consider it. This is a common thread in the study of so-called “cryptids,” which is generally discouraged in respectable scientific circles unless a physical specimen—a body—has been obtained. It is reported that Patterson’s deathbed regret was not shooting and killing the Bigfoot he supposedly recorded in 1967, so he would have incontrovertible proof.

Still, for all of the debate over the film’s authenticity, it endures in the popular imagination because it has not been thoroughly debunked. No suit has ever been found that matches the figure visible on film, and Hollywood special effects experts remain divided on how easily a suit of this quality could have been obtained at the time, given that areas of it seem to reflect actual muscle groups, and no seams or zippers are definitively visible. The motion of the creature’s stride is another popular topic of debate, as authorities on human locomotion have not been able to consistently match it in laboratory settings. Neither of these aspects prove the film’s validity, but they do suggest a particularly unique hoax at the least.

Biological criticisms of the Patterson-Gimlin footage abound, however. Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans, often considered the “father” of cryptozoology, believed the film to be a hoax. He identified one of the most common critiques, which is that the creature’s breasts are fully covered by hair, a trait not present in any other primate. Heuvelmans also felt that the fur was too uniform and that the butt cheeks lacked a defined separation, further suggesting a suit. Additional criticisms from experienced viewers include the color difference between the creature’s palms and the soles of its feet, which is typically not so extreme as the difference depicted in the film; and the ridge on the creature’s head, which is rarely observed in female primates of known species. 

Beyond the criticisms directly invited by the footage, scientists have questioned the likelihood of a sustainable breeding population of large primates in the temperate area in which they are supposedly found. Primate populations are almost exclusively found in warmer climates, and the Pacific Northwest would not seem to host an ecosystem that could support a significant population of large mammals competing for resources with bears, wolves, and other predators. Every supposed specimen of Bigfoot hair or tissue that has been analyzed under laboratory settings has proven to come from a known animal, and the few alleged corpses presented over the years have all been debunked as fakes.

It is entirely likely, however, that the myth of the Bigfoot would persist (although perhaps not as fervently) in the absence of a film as confoundingly un-debunkable as the Patterson-Gimlin footage. The wooded areas of the Pacific Northwest are vast and unwelcoming, and it is not difficult for the average person to imagine large animals going unnoticed deep in the forests, especially if those animals possess some form of culture and intelligence. This belief is bolstered by the suggestion that the Bigfoot is a “missing link” in human evolution, or a surviving relic species like the Gigantopithecus. Neither suggestion holds up to archeological scrutiny, however: the Gigantopithecus is known only by fossil jaw remains, but is unlikely to have walked upright; and neither the Gigantopithecus, Neanderthal, nor any other similar near-human fossils have ever been discovered in the Americas.

Despite the preponderance of evidence rejecting the notion of unknown primates in the Americas, there are thousands of sightings and encounters reported annually, ranging across most states. The Bigfoot remains the de facto mascot of cryptozoology, rivaled only by the Loch Ness Monster [see also: Loch Ness Monster; Champ; Lake Monsters]. Our media operations continue to discourage serious, threatening spins on the Bigfoot mythology, but this has done little to curtail manifestations. While no human deaths have ever been publicly attributed to the Bigfoot, our internal records show [redacted] in the last ten years alone.

Although our field agents are well-versed in exterminating Bigfoot manifestations, and no concerted efforts to increase belief in Bigfoot have been observed, recent trends in seemingly less believable Wild Fictions [see also: Reptilians; Satanic Panic] have given us reason to flag this file for further consideration. Given the broad plausibility already allowed to the concept of unknown large primates—as well as the speed with which misinformation spreads online today—the effects of a moderately well-documented Bigfoot manifestation could be devastating. We do not currently have the resources needed to cull a substantial rise in these creatures, and the damage even a small population could do to local communities is unthinkable.

THE DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH is co-created by JAMES TYNION IV & MARTIN SIMMONDS
THE DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH: WILD FICTIONS is researched by STEVE FOXE
Edited by GREG LOCKARD, with designs by DYLAN TODD
BIGFOOT illustrated by MARTIN SIMMONDS

Welcome to the first chapter of The Department of Truth: Wild Fictions! This is a good taste of what you’re going to get from this recurring feature. Each case file will feature the info card elements (Designed by the intrepid Dylan Todd), one bad-ass Cryptid illustration from some of the best comic book artists and horror illustrators out in the wild, and then a full dossier write-up about the history of those creatures (Researched by DOT Editor, Steve Foxe). While these are grounded in the world of The Department of Truth, we’re leaning on the real stories that have shaped these cryptids into the figures we know them to be.

DOT: Wild Fictions will run twice-monthly on Fridays, interchanging with BLUE BOOK. Fridays are going to be our TRUE WEIRD day here at the Empire of the Tiny Onion. We want you to get your UFO and Cryptid fix in before the weekends! It’s exciting to have this all up and running. But if you want to keep getting these bad boys, then you’re going to need to have to sign up for the paid version of this newsletter!

This week has been a whirlwind. It’s my first week taking part in something I can’t hint much at right now, but I’m trying to figure out how best to stay on top of everything I need to stay on top of. I’m sorry I missed this week’s THINKING BAT THOUGHTS on Wednesday, and as I said on the @ReadTinyOnion Twitter account, I am going to make sure next Wednesday’s entry is a good and beefy one. I also wanted to say that we have finalized the address form for my DAY ONE/ONION CLUB subscribers, and you should be receiving that email by the end of the day today. In order to receive that email, you either need to be an Onion Club member, or you need to have signed up to be an annual subscriber in the first 24 Hours of launch. The cut-off (which actually makes it closer to 26 hours) is Noon EST on August 10th. Folks who have since cancelled their subscription are not eligible to receive what we’re shipping.

Finally, I just wanted to call out this amazing in-universe DOT: Field Office logo by Dylan Todd (inspired by the National Park Service logo).

Wouldn’t that look great on a Pin or a T-Shirt? HMMMM… Stay tuned. And have a great weekend.

James Tynion IV
Brooklyn, NY
10.1.21