Toronto-based illustrator Graham Roumieu has worked with an impressive number of publications throughout North America and perhaps he has his offbeat - and often irreverent - sense of humor to thank. He has a unique ability to take the mundane and make seem it less so, eliciting laughter with a piece about cellphone roaming charges for The New York Times or the environmental benefits of a strong beaver population for The Atlantic. Whatever it may be, it's working, with regular assignments from The Wall Street Journal, The Globe & Mail, The Walrus, and Real Simple Magazine. 2012 saw a weekly spot with Josh Martz for The Globe and Mail (see all of them here) and a regular lifestyle feature in Canadian Business, offering unexpected solutions for life's little problems, such as using a pencil to fix a stuck zipper and tin foil to sharpen a dull paper shredder.
THE NEW YORK TIMES Top: Inheriting Travel Points Bottom from left: Roaming Charges While on Vacation, Robo Right to Speech, Happy New Years from the Future
In addition to editorial and publishing illustration, Roumieu has worked on a number of successful print and online ad campaigns and websites, including an out of control squid character for HP's "Ink Amnesty" campaign, peer pressure illustrations for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada's "Early Bloomers" campaign, and OOH work for the "No Peeking Event" launched by Sears. He completed several online commissions in 2012, including The Walrus Laughs, a digital project from The Walrus Foundation and Stella Artois, where members submitted and voted for the funniest videos, images and prose. Other projects included the website for writer and producer, Kathryn Borel (www.kathrynborel.com), and another for Two Hours North (www.twohoursnorth.com), a Toronto-based travel services company. For the 2012 holiday season, he created a series of illustrations for North American ad agency, The Hive. The illustrations were part of The Silent Night Playlist, a tongue-in-cheek project aimed at offering some much-needed respite from the stress of the holiday season. Users could download the playlist and enjoy some much-needed peace and quiet with silent tracks such as 'Shortbread Baking' and 'Snow Falling: Extended Mix.'
ONLINE PROJECTS Top: Illustration for The Hive's Silent Night Playlist Bottom: Illustrations for writer and producer, Kathryn Borel
In the past year a number of products debuting that featured Roumieu's artwork, including a tote bag for long-time client, The Walrus, and a series of greeting cards for Whigby, debuting at last year's New York International Gift Fair. Toronto-based business, Good Egg, also commissioned him to illustrate a tote bag for them, later inviting him to create a mural for their Kensington-market storefront. The quirky kitchen supply and gift shop have been long-time fans of his work, carrying his books and a selection of original, framed watercolors. Their website boasts "We've erected a shrine to local writer-illustrator Graham Roumieu at Good Egg. We... welcome you to visit the shop to pray to the artist known as Roumieu."
PRODUCTS From left: Tote bag for The Walrus; Cat & Helen greeting card for Whigby; tote bag for Good Egg
Roumieu was commissioned to create a series of illustrations for philosopher John Perry's book, The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing, for Workman Publishing. The book explores something called "structured procrastination" - a phenomenon where one manages to complete a number of smaller tasks as a means of avoiding another, larger chore. The witty illustrations can be seen at the start of each chapter, demonstrating the various ways people engage in the "art of procrastination," from watching cat videos on YouTube to artfully stacking billy clips. He also illustrated the covers for a series of books by politician and author, Shashi Tharoor, for Penguin India.
PUBLISHING Above: Illustrations for The Art of Procrastination by John Perry (Workman Publishing)
Another recent book project, Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People for Random House Canada, is a "kooky collaboration" with renowned Canadian author, Douglas Coupland of international bestseller Generation X fame. Coupland contacted Roumieu after becoming a fan of his Bigfoot books and it didn't take long for the project to begin taking shape. Composed of seven hilariously improbable tales with characters like Donald the Incredibly Hostile Juice Box, Hans the Weird Exchange Student and Brandon the Action Figure with Issues, the book is not really intended for children. Roumieu says "I guess this would be R-rated. [Although] I don't know whether one juice box stabbing another juice box in the head with a bobby pin necessarily constitutes R anymore." The book has received great reviews with talk of a sequel being batted about. Michel Basilieres of the Toronto Star says the tales "match perfectly the loose, surreal and imaginative images Roumieu revels in. It seems as likely that the stories were written to match the images as the other way around." Click here to read Communication Arts' glowing review for Highly Inappropriate Tales and here to read even more praise. You can watch an animated trailer for the book here.
HIGHLY INAPPROPRIATE TALES Above: Illustrations for Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People by Douglas Coupland (Random House Canada)
In all he has authored and illustrated six books: 101 Ways to Kill Your Boss (Plume), Cat & Gnome (Blue Q Books), and his cult classic Bigfoot series. In 2003, Roumieu published the first in this series of Bigfoot autobiographies, In Me Own Words: the Autobiography of Bigfoot. Written from the perspective of a jaded, egomaniacal ex-legend whose hobbies include terrorizing forest critters and composing screenplays, the books Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir and Bigfoot: I Not Dead (Plume), have quickly become a cult favorite. Bigfoot's antics have inspired readers to write Bigfoot songs, make Bigfoot dolls, and even bake Bigfoot cakes. The very hairy leading man has thousands of followers on Twitter, where he regular charms fans with sayings like, "Secret to great smile is use Lee Press On Nails as veneers" and "Wearing two sashes and a cummerbund. It just feel right."
THE GLOBE & MAIL Above: Home Porn Bottom from left: Crazy Cat People; Sinister Canada; Queen
Bigfoot's charm stems from a stubbornly juvenile outlook that is by turns abrasive and endearing. In one chapter, Bigfoot admits that his less-than-eloquent speech patterns made him the target of bullying in high school. His confession accompanies a flashback of teenage Bigfoot tearing down the opposition (literally) at a high school debate. A decapitated head lies on the linoleum as two recent amputees cower in a pool of their own blood. Red ink, smeared and spattered throughout the page, vividly relays the relish with which Bigfoot dismembers his competitors.
Roumieu's wildly energetic, and sometimes gleefully gruesome, brushwork sometimes seems at odds with his underdog sensibilities. In a recent interview, he says, "I think I have a tendency to gravitate to subjects that are sweet, naive and innocent in nature because it gives more impact when I inevitably throw them into situations that are bizarre, human and dire." With Bigfoot, Roumieu has combined all of the above, producing a creature whose displays of ego rival only his bouts of crippling insecurity.
MAGAZINE WORK Top: The Wrong Wedding Singer for American Way Bottom from left: Hecklers for Print; Leave It to Beavers for The Atlantic; Unreliable for Institutional Investor
Roumieu's 101 Ways to Kill Your Boss has been universally applauded and published in many countries worldwide. Imagine eviscerating your boss with a giant laser pointer, quitting your job via ninja courier service, laying a trap by way of urinal guillotine. Roumieu takes office politics to the next level with increasingly extreme tactics for boss-icide. His illustrations find the bizarre and the funny in even the most mundane office environments. Linked together by a deep yet twisted look into the human psyche, Roumieu's work continually surprises viewers with its insight and its ability to elicit gut-wrenching laughter.
AWARDS Above: Illustrations for the Real Simple Guide to Social Media Sites for Real Simple magazine
His work has been honored by American Illustration, Communication Arts, Society of Illustrators, Applied Arts, the HOW International Design Awards, the Advertising & Design Club of Canada, the Coupe International Design Competition, the SPD Spots Annual, and the National Magazine Awards. Most recently, he received a merit award from The Art Directors Club of New York for the Real Simple Guide to Social Media Sites for Real Simple Magazine. The series, which was also chosen for inclusion in 2012 Print Regional Design Annual, takes a comical look at the world of Facebook and Twitter, offering tips on navigating them both. In January 2012, his novelty Twitter feed for Bigfoot was named one of HOW Magazine's Top 10 Websites for Designers. When he's not illustrating, Roumieu teaches at OCAD University, Canada's largest and oldest art and design school.
Q&A with GRAHAM ROUMIEU
How has your work changed since your days as an art student? How do you see your work progressing in the future? If someone were to look at all of my work over the last ten years or so, I think they'd see a steady growth of technique, thought, and personality. As for the future, this work has been a part of my life for so long now that I can't imagine engaging and understanding the world through means other making pictures, so I hope that it is always very much a part of what I do day-to-day. And through continuing to do that, I hope to continue to get better - hopefully in ways I couldn't possibly imagine now.
What's the first thing you do when you’re stuck on a project? What are your best sources of inspiration? Getting up and moving around and doing something else and talking to people or reading pretty much will solve any blockage quickly. Or, imagining that if you don't get the work done everyone you know and love will die horribly. I don't actually use this technique, but if you are having troubles, try it. It might work if you aren't heartless and lazy.
In an ideal world, you would have an infinite amount of? Awesome dance moves, perfect for any occasion or non occasion. FYI I am a terrible dancer.
Use three words to describe your style. Best I got?
What is a typical work day like for you? Pretty standard and disciplined, actually. Morning coffee, check email, read newspaper, maybe eat breakfast, shower, dress, sit at my desk, draw pictures, write stuff or do paperwork, maybe break for lunch, more afternoon work, bits of domestic household fixing and washing if needed which sometimes helps my thinking, and then my day is over, and what I do on my own time is no one's frigging business (greyhound track, eat pizza in parking lot, fall asleep in park).
What is your ideal assignment? Oh I love all sorts of different challenges that come with different assignments, so I can't say one is better that the other. Unless they come with challenges that make me hate the world. Those assignments are the worst.
What is your favorite part of living and working in Toronto? The giant hawk that perches himself on top of the CN Tower every day and makes everyone frightened. He keeps things real. I can't believe it doesn't draw in more tourists.
Do you have a favorite movie? Being There
What are some sites you have bookmarked in your browser? Jillian Tamaki's Super Mutant Magic Academy http://mutantmagic.com/ New York Times http://www.nytimes.com Atlas Obscura http://www.atlasobscura.com/
What's the best and worst part of being an illustrator? Upside: Usually my Pictionary opponents run out of the room sobbing. Downside: Usually my Pictionary opponents run out of the room sobbing.
You have 24 hours to live the life of one fictional character. Who do you choose? R2D2. Gets to be a part of amazing things, really doesn't have to do much.
Best way to end a long day of work? Skipping in circles giggling and clapping with delight as someone sprays me with Champagne.