The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil – Stephen Collins

I have put off and put off writing about Stephen Collins’ The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil for a while now since I read it as it being a graphic novel and me not being a connoisseur of the genre I was rather daunted at the prospect. However as it is one of the most enjoyable and completely immersive books, partly because of its genre, I felt I simply couldn’t ‘not’ tell you all about it! So here we are. It may not be to the standards of those familiar with the field of the graphic novel, but I am going to have a bloody good crack at it anyway, especially as I think this is a genre I am going to be dabbling more and more with over the coming months.

Jonathan Cape, 2013, hardback, graphic novel, 240 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Here is a place quite different from There. Here is a place of routine, uniformity and safety. There is an unknown place of dreadful uncertainly and mystery, people don’t even like to talk about it. Dave lives on the island of here, his house backing the sea which is an equally ominous place and which if must be heard can at least not be seen as no windows can face it. His life is one of routine, he gets up at the same time, wears the same clothes, does the same hours in the same job (though what the company does, and indeed what he does in it, he is uncertain) goes home at the same time the same way and listens to the same song by the Bangles, Eternal Flame, for the same number of times on repeat. That is until one day when the one stubborn hair that always grows, despite Here being a place where facial hair is banned, suddenly mutates, multiplies and Dave becomes the not-so-proud-owner of a gigantic beard – one which cannot be trimmed or stopped and looks set to take over the whole of Here. Run for your lives!

Beard 1

What of course this all boils down to is difference and the fear of it, a great theme for any book. Here is not a place that tolerates the unusual, indeed within moments of it growing Dave is fired from his job and not allowed in the local eateries. People are scared and then become tourists heading to Dave’s home to see if the freakish rumours are true. Even the scientists and politicians are at a loss, the police are called then the army and as a last resort even the hairdressers are called in. It is all done with a wonderful mix of humour and irony but the main point is there, being different is wrong.

photo 1

The imagery throughout is stunning. I pondered if Collins used monochrome to match the monotone routine of the world of Here that Dave resides in. What is so stunning is how Collins uses the shading (who knew there could be shades of blackness?) and creates such a vivid world and atmosphere that soon you forget about this thing called colour and this grey world takes you over as it has done the people within it. The other thing I loved was the way that Collins uses the panels, not just to tell the story but indeed to become part of the picture (either the way they are shaped, how they are arranged) breaking the linear style I am used to and often creating a feeling of that page in the stories atmosphere as well as a broader panorama. I spent absolutely ages just getting lost in every page.

photo 3

The other thing I must mention is the writing itself. Collins’ illustrations and imagery are so strong that you actually wouldn’t need the words to get the story and it’s themes. What I found really interesting was that with Collins has chosen to write the book in verse like one long poem. ‘Beneath the skin of everything is somebody nobody can know. The job pg the skin is to keep it all in and never let anything show.’ It is wonderful. It adds another level to the book both in terms of rhythm and also how you react to it, it makes it feel even more ‘otherly’ too, as well as giving it an extra emotive edge.

There is one word that sums up the whole reading experience of The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil and that is ‘sublime’. I loved everything about it; the imagery, the atmosphere, the message at its heart, everything. It’s a very moving book and one you cannot help but react to, I even shed a tear or two at the end. There is no doubt that to my mind The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil probably has the best title of any book this year, it also looks set to be one of the most memorable books of the year for its contents too. A quite literally, or maybe that should be quite graphically, stunning book and one of my reads of the year.


Filed under Books of 2013, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review, Stephen Collins

7 responses to “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil – Stephen Collins

  1. Col

    I’ve heard great things about this book but graphic novels are not usually my thing so I wasn’t sure about it. But it sounds great. The sample of the illustrations you’ve included look impressive. It’s also an appropriate time for me to get this book! For the first time in 30 years, I grew a beard for ‘Mo-vember’ this year – my family hated it – the fact that it’s now white led them to say I just looked like I was auditioning for a role as a Father Christmas at my local shopping centre! So I will add this to my Christmas Wish List – they’ll get the joke and I think I will enjoy the book!

    • I think with the moustache trend in fashion and everything at the moment Collins has played an unintentional beardy blinder there, and of course with movember too which I was banned from taking part in this year.

      The only think I couldn’t get across with the images is how big they are. The book is A4 size so you really, really can quite literally immerse yourself in it!

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings

    I like graphic novels but I tend to be a little choosy – and I prefer an original story rather than an adaptation of a novel (because I tend to moan about the bits which have been left out!). Maus is probably the best one I’ve read – chilling and moving and very clever. This one does sound good – what did The Beard think of it?!

  3. David

    Really really must get around to buying a copy of this since I’ve ‘known’ Stephen online via various illustrators forums for years. It does look brilliant, but then his work always is.

  4. Thank you so much for these pictures – it looks stunning! I have to admit the title of this one has caught my eye but I worried it might be a bit overly self-conscious and trendy, you know, long quirky title on the cover but not much substance inside. But it looks gorgeous. I’m very tempted by it now, and I’m not someone who usually finds myself tempted by graphic novels.

  5. I not real big graphic novel fan but I heard of this one as he won the guardian prize a few years ago ,all the best stu

  6. Pingback: Books of 2013; Part II | Savidge Reads

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