Friday, November 21, 2014

Comic Bookshelf: The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

Don't let these terrible scans dissuade you from reading Collins' excellent Beard book.
More and more frequently the books I purchase for pleasure are those that fall into the graphic novel genre. Yes, I have read "comic books" for the overwhelming majority of my life, but it is only within the last year that I have begun committing financial resources to the purchase of graphic novels. While trolling a comic book review site recently, I came across The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins.

Dave, the story's protagonist,
goes about his hairless,
repetitive life...
When you seek this title out, stay away from any water cooler analysis provided by hipster bookstore employees who will describe the graphic novel (as it was in the "Employees Choices" shelf at my local bookstore) as "Burton-esque," as in filmmaker Tim Burton. Any credibility that type of witty endorsement might have carried a decade ago severely downplays how good this book actually is. After reading Gigantic Beard,  a  more worthy comparison might be made to the better known works of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.

... until all "hair" breaks
loose, that is!
With a dry British temperament, Collins has crafted an allegory for much of what troubles society today: a strict adherence to a clean, shiny conformity and the vilification of people and places that qualify as "the other."

Our (almost entirely) hairless protagonist, Dave, is the unlikely bearer of the unruly facial hair of the title. He, and seemingly the entire population of his hometown on the island Here, live extremely structured lives filled with antiseptic environments and repetitive hobbies (for example, Dave sits and draws the same location daily... every. single. day). Interestingly though, Here is not devoid of creative outlets, though they too are generic and structured. In addition to Dave's aforementioned past time, there are construction workers, engineers and hair stylists who each demonstrate level of creativity and are ultimately drawn into a variety of possible resolutions to the aftermath of the Gigantic Beard event.
Part fable and part fairy
tale, Gigantic Beard
is all engaging!

Without giving too much more of the plot away, the creative black and white artwork establishes and reinforces the dystopian (though that might not be just the right adjective--"bland" is more accurate) setting, and a mix of traditional and unique panel designs give Collins-as-visual-storyteller plenty of opportunity to shine. The combination of words and pictures work cooperatively to reveal a crisp narrative style that leaves the reader (intentionally, I suspect) with questions that can only be answered from his or her individual perspective.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collin is a great example of just why I have become so smitten with the genre: it offers a good message, in a unique format, and (Most importantly) is highly re-readable. Very reasonably priced at $20 (if you buy regular comic books you'll know why that is a great price), it is a volume that I look forward to returning to myself, in addition to sharing with my younger charges, both the students I teach and my own children.

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