The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins
I read very few graphic novels, but just occasionally one will get my interest – the title of Stephen Collins’s debut book was irresistible. I bought it when it first came out at the end of 2013, but being an A4 sized hardback, it got other books piled upon it, and I only rediscovered it over Christmas!
The Gigantic Beard is drawn in pencil, and each drawing is richly textured. I particularly loved the way that he typically splits a single picture into smaller frames to carry the text through the picture or similarly to advance the action as below as if in stop-motion. A conversation may flow in speech bubbles melding through a single picture split into many parts. It’s a very clever and artistic way of indicating time passing.
Dave is single and bald but for a single hair – he wears a wig to work these days. Dave lives on the island of Here. The other side of the sea is There, and the straight-laced people of Here are scared by it. They are inward-looking folk and Dave’s house next to the beach has no windows looking out there. He spends his evenings looking out of his window onto the road outside, drawing what he saw.
And all his life, Dave had liked to draw his street,
really liked drawing his street.
It was just so neat. So…
Complete. That’s the word.
The quote above, with each line in a separate frame, surrounds Dave drawing at his window.
Then one day at work, Dave, whose job is to present the daily stats, is presented with a seemingly random scatter of data that makes no sense, until the pattern of a hand coming to get him reveals itself and he flees to the loos scared. It’s then that he starts to sprout a beard which won’t take no for an answer. The law in Here says that men must be clean-shaven, and Dave’s new beard which just won’t stop growing must be evil. No-one can understand it and Dave becomes a pariah, hounded by a simultaneously fascinated and scared populace. Did it come from There? What can they do?
There is so much more to this graphic novel than just the pictures which are wonderful – the words are also rather brilliant. The story is written as a sort of prose poem; most of it doesn’t scan, but within the text there are loads of rhymes and other poetic devices.
many times retold
and ultimately reclaimed
by the inevitable growing-back
of the skin of things.
I spent ages poring over every picture following the flow, reading the text out aloud in my head to get the cadence of it. It’s also a pleasure to read physically – presented in large format with plenty of white space around the images on good quality paper.
My only regret is, that like most graphic novels they tend to be extended short stories story-wise, and this one was over too quickly! This modern fairy-tale for grown-ups with its sideways satire on the consequences of not letting yourself go – even just a little bit now and then – was delightful from cover to cover. (10/10)
* * * * *
Source: Own copy.
Stephen Collins – The Gigantic Beard that was Evil. Jonathan Cape, 2013, hardback 240 pages. Buy at Amazon UK