Strolling through my Barnes and Noble, I stumbled across a graphic novel called “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.” How could I resist? Not only was it a beard. But it was an evil beard to boot.
The graphic novel, but Stephen Collins, is a tranquil journey through a surreal word. I want to liken it to Terry Gilliam or Tim Burton, but the experience isn’t that overt or obvious. The book’s tag line perhaps says it best — The job of skin is to keep it all in. Here, the skin means the skin of the world. Normalcy. The job of normalcy is to keep all the weird and frightening stuff in, so you don’t have to experience it. In this sense, the book take on a bit of the Cthulhu mythology. Only instead of a tentacled cephalopod, we get a massive black beard (which is evil, don’t forget).
Collins does a wonderful job of setting up the back story. Our protagonist, Dave, is totally bald and hairless, except for a single hair. This makes his eventual bearddom even more of a 180. This would be wonderful foreshadowing if the book title and image didn’t already let you know that the beard is, in fact, coming.
Even so, I like how the Collins explains his world and gives its limitations, letting the reader know what’s at stake. For example, everyone in this graphic novel lives in a place called Here. It’s very similar to where you live, in fact. Only Here is an island surrounded by There. There is the unknown. The chaotic. The untidy.
The image of Here versus There brings to mind the Greek idea of the beginning of the world.
Tidiness seems to be a prevalent theme in the book. many pages and images are devoted to the tidying of the streets and the people. Gradually, as the evil beard makes its presence known, untidiness happens.
Dave’s only source of joy is sitting by his window and sketching the passersby (all while listening to the Bangles “Eternal Flame” on repeat). After he grows his beard, he notices how similar all the people are, and by contrast, how different he’s become.
But this difference was there all along. Hidden beneath the skin of his dreams. He’s always heard the voices of There, hissing into his brain, bringing untidy thoughts.
Of course, along with the brilliant story, we have Collins’s astounding artwork. His visuals aptly capture the serene creepiness of chaos leaking into the world.
I highly recommend this book. Buy it and give it a good read through. You won’t regret it. Even if you are clean shaven.