“Beneath the skin of everything is something nobody can know. The job of the skin is to keep it all in and never let anything show.”
Thus begins the quiet, weird wonder of Stephen Collins’ original graphic novel, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, setting a tone that is part Seussian magic realist cautionary tale, part modernist allegorical poem, part social satire and all the way enjoyable.
The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil follows, as many things do, a man called Dave. Dave lives in a place called “Here,” named as such because (as you might guess) it is not “There,” a land which menaces unknowingly across a vast and dark sea; the nightmare scenario of chaos for every Hereian.
Painfully “normal,” apart from being 98% hairless, Dave only wants a few things from life: to quietly compile graphs at his vague corporate workplace; to doodle the townsfolk commuters as they make cameos past his front stoop; and of course, to listen to The Bangles’ 1988 hit “Eternal Flame” on repeat. That’s just Dave.
And as frightened as he may be by the possible invasion of There, Dave’s mostly okay with his (and Here’s) meticulously-kempt and clinical condition. That is, he was, until the day his face erupted into a hurricane of hirsute hysteria, a flurry of furry fury; a “malestrom,” if you will. And you should! Because that is when the titular gigantic, evil beard arrives, consuming first Dave’s facial real estate, and then that of his house, his neighborhood, his town, and most importantly of all, his normally well-groomed way of life. It is, as Dave and some of his fellow Hereians believe, his “inhairitance” from there: a bad dream come true.
What happens next sees Here’s response to this startling turn of events and involves conscripted hairdressers, colossal scaffolding and hot air balloons, all leading to what is a loose, but gratifying commentary on the nature of change in everything from personal fashion to social morality. In essence, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil is a modern-day fairy tale in a similar verve to Jack and the Beanstalk. As such, and also very much like a children’s story, Collins’ writing style is extremely poetic, but easy to digest, making it a much deeper story than either its title or overall look may imply.
That’s not to say his art is “simple” - in fact, it’s incredibly nuanced and gorgeous. Set in black, white and an amazing tonal turn of charcoal, his style shows a range that stretches from Dave’s simple doodles, to something you might see in Shadow of the Colossus, at least in terms of a hugely looming doom. Like his writing, it’s jaw-dropping stuff, but when taken in together - a unique trait in the appreciation of graphic novels - it becomes an epitome of what makes this medium so incredible.
Like a lyrical landscaper in his own right, Collins neatly manicures the cadence of Gigantic Beard in a way that proves definitive of sequential art, mostly because he uses both together to dictate his story’s cadence. Instead of relying solely on structure - like other, less-illustrative wielders of poetics may - Collins uses his text to decorate his visuals, peppering them across the oscillating layouts to effectively drag the reader’s gaze in a well-crafted rhythm. It’s a device that wouldn’t go amiss in a children’s book, but here is employed to give each illustrated scene a lyrically-weighted resonance. It’s altogether incredibly clever, and shows a mastery you do not often see.
As with many independent books, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil ends ambiguously, but with enough thought provocation to make you want to flip through it again and again, just to read your favorite “stanzas” or drool over the versatile art. This will definitely appeal to fans of Matt Kindt or Jeff Lamire’s indie work; and just like their stuff, I could not recommend this book more for both experienced and new readers of the medium. Quite simply, it is solid, form-defining graphic storytelling, and it should not be missed.
Writer/Artist: Stephen Collins Publisher: Picador Price: $20.00 Date: 10/17/14