Monday, December 22, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #356: The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins

Evil is such a loaded word. Axis of Evil, Evil Empire, Doctor Evil. Most of the time, what it really means is "those guys on the other side of this current battle" -- it's a way to keep the lines clear between Us and Them. Everybody is somebody's Ultimate Evil, somebody's Great Satan.

Stephen Collins clearly knows that: his first graphic novel The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil is a fable or metaphor about evil and conformity and groupthink and what it means to be good -- when good means "just like everyone else."

The metaphor may be even more pointed when you remember Collins is British: there's an island named Here, where everyone lives in peace and harmony, and does their best to ignore the turbulent Sea all around Here, and even more resolutely ignores the existence of anywhere else in the world, known only as There. Here is happy and stable and ordered; There is strange and different and chaotic. Here is tidy -- a very British word for a very British idea, which is the core of the metaphor here.

One day, untidiness comes to Here. One man named Dave -- previously entirely tidy and happy in his society, bald but for eyebrows and one tiny hair on his upper lip -- begins growing a beard. Well, that's the wrong way to put it: it sounds like there's an element of choice or agency. The beard grows. Dave is just there when it happens. It grows unstoppably, uncontrollably, without limits, faster than it can be cut or trimmed or shaped. All of the forces of tidiness are brought to bear on the beard, and in Here, those are very powerful forces. But the beard cannot be tamed or tidied or controlled, only just barely guided. And, in the end, there is only one choice that a tidy land can make when faced with such gigantic untidiness.

Collins tells this story in quiet, careful words that often turn poetic -- Dave's story begins "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." And he tells it in soft pencil-y art, filled with careful crosshatching and tones, making a world of soft hominess invaded by the inky black horns and spikes of that beard. The combination is assured and pointed, deeply embodying its metaphor and pushing it forward in several directions at once, examining all of the aspects of tidiness and disorder.

Most importantly, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil entirely lives up to both its title and its great cover: it's a searching, inquisitive book with something to say for every one of us -- the tidy and untidy alike.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

1 comment:

Ray said...

Collins has a weekly comic in the Guardian

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