“Sarah Palin was campaigning wildly, and I was hearing stories about her shooting polar bears out of helicopters,” T Cooper says, discussing the inspiration for his new graphic novel, The Beaufort Diaries (Melville House, $15.95). “I woke up feverishly in the middle of the night and came up with the story.” Beaufort is a creative spin on the epic hero’s journey of a boy (or in this case the titular polar bear) who goes to Hollywood, befriends an A-list movie star (here, Leonardo DiCaprio), and has sex with hot models.
Cooper, a transgender Los Angeles native who now resides in New York City, acknowledges that Beaufort, the polar bear who is forced out of his comfort zone, is a stand-in for everyone who feels like an outsider. “I’m intrigued by immigration stories and stories of assimilation and race passing and gender passing,” he says. Like his previous novel, Lipshitz 6: Or Two Angry Blondes, this latest book takes a look at the state of the world through absurdist eyes. “I’m goofing on the fact that no one really gives a shit about anything until a celebrity wears it, buys it, says it, or thinks it’s important,” he says. Cooper points to Vanity Fair’s 2007 “Green Issue,” which featured DiCaprio cavorting with an adorable polar cub named Knut in an effort to raise awareness of global warming. “Everyone was saying, ‘Knut’s so cute!’ ” But then he grows up and he needs to eat things and [the Berlin zoo sells] him. It’s so fucking heartbreaking.”
Cooper found Beaufort’s illustrator, Alex Petrowsky, after posting a Craigslist ad. The drawings and text are not integrated on the same page. “I sometimes get distracted by the mouth-bubble graphic-novel stuff; it’s kind of hard for me to read,” Cooper says. “This feels like a graphic novel because the imagery is moving along and illustrating what’s happening; it’s just not illustrating everything that’s happening, which I kind of like.” Beaufort’s visual elements don’t end with the novel’s copious illustrations—Cooper also commissioned an animated short version of the story for his website (t-cooper.com). Beaufort’s voice is provided by X Files actor David Duchovny, husband of actress Tea Leoni, Cooper’s close friend. “David somehow figured out the character,” Cooper says. “He added this last emerging dimension of [Beaufort].”
Cooper, who maintains a fairly green household, hasn’t yet had a response from the famously eco-friendly DiCaprio but is optimistic. “I feel like he should join hands with Beaufort and talk about the perils of Hollywood,” he says, “but also talk about the ways people can reduce their carbon footprint.”