I first saw “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil” by Stephen Collins while perusing the “graphic novels” section of a Barnes & Noble. A massive, thick black beard stemming from a small ovular head engulfed the cover. Between the cover and the title, I was intrigued. I judge books by both. When my friend Akiva Schick told me he read and recommended the book, I put it on my reading list.
Last weekend, I stayed at Schick’s house and read “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil” before bed. “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil” demonstrates the storytelling capability of graphic novels. Collins lets the pictures tell most of the story, only using words to tip the reader in the right direction. Most of the time, the words simply add context to the pictures, which are telling the story. The book is simply illustrated in black and white, yet it gives off this profound beauty I could not turn away from.
The story tells of a man named Dave who lives on the orderly, immaculate island of Here surrounded by an ocean that leads to a chaotic darkness known as There. One day, Dave’s beard grows out of control and is found to be impervious to shavers, hairstylists and power saws. As it expands, it threatens the tranquility of Here. The lives of the people of Here are thrown into pandemonium.
The authorities on Here enlist entire departments of the population in an attempt to control the beard to no avail. Untidiness creeps into society. Growing ever desperate, the government looks to more extreme ways to handle Dave’s beard.
Graphic novels have a bad reputation among the readers that I know. They are full of pictures and are not known for having great prose, so many see them as light reading or children’s books.
The scale for graphic novels is different from that for books. I would not rate a book based on my criteria for a good movie. A good graphic novel should be able to navigate storytelling in its own way.
“The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil” reads like a fable that can be appreciated by children and adults alike. It addresses the fear of sticking out, the mutability of society and the balance between control and chaos. Collins is able to blend visual jokes and deep ideas that will leave the reader pondering.
Collins’s illustrations and cartoons have appeared in publications worldwide, such as his weekly comic in The Guardian Weekend magazine. “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil” was shortlisted for the “Best Book” in the British Comic Awards and the Waterstones Book Of The Year in 2013. It also won the 9th Art Award and was nominated for the Eisner Award for ‘”Best Graphic Album.”
If you’re interested in broadening your reading horizon to the valley of graphic novels, I would recommend giving “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil” a try, whether you are a beard-lover or a beard-hater.