I don’t read many graphic novels, but each time I do I feel I’m missing out. There’s some amazing story-telling going on in these books that I think many dismiss. Well, do not dismiss The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil (2013), which I’d heard about when it was published in the U.K. last year and was thrilled to hear was being published this month by Picador. Don’t dismiss it, even if you don’t pick it up before Halloween, because, despite the title, this is suitable for any time of year.
The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil has a simple and relatively familiar premise. We meet a man named Dave who lives in a society where everyone has collectively decided to live their lives in tidiness, relatively risk free, just getting by. Routine is a comfort, and somehow everyone, even the children, have become part of this uniformity.
For his part, Dave lives alone. He wakes up in the morning, gets ready, goes to work creating graphs that really don’t say much, and comes home for a comfortable, stress-free evening. What does he like to do at night? Draw his street and listen to The Bangles sing “Eternal Flame.”
I found this setup, though familiar, very compelling. First, the very notion that Dave has to come home and unwind after a routine day shows just how much energy he has pent up. To him, releasing that energy would be stressful, but it’s clear that the real stress is caused by the constant tidiness, as comforting as it might appear on the surface. Dave — and probably everyone else — is stressed by the intimation that despite their work this tidy world might not stand:
And poor Dave: he’s the person who’s going to become the physical embodiment of release. On his previously bare face (other than one hair that he can never quite get rid of) erupts a ferocious, unstoppable beard. Chaos enters.
I don’t want to give away more of the story. Plus, the story is only a small part of why I think this book is brilliant. I highly recommend this book because of the graphic elements that emphasize and provide nuance to the story.
Collins showcases the strength of a graphic novel. He provides a visual structure to the book’s themes of order and comfort constantly in danger of darkness. Even the arrangement of panels allows Collins to play with the themes, creating a richly textured work (just look at the last sample above and the way the panels are moving past, a bit uncomfortably, and the top ones are drawn at an angle so the whole thing “could just somehow collapse.”
A quick word about the ending without spoiling it. Though I mentioned above that this book has a familiar premise, its resolution surprised me a great deal. You might think you know how it will all end, but it has a striking ambivalence that suggests even chaos can be used for gain, to our ultimate, complacent destruction.