Writer & Artist: Stephen Collins
Release Date: October 7, 2014
Published last year in the UK where writer/artist Stephen Collins (not to be confused with the Seventh Heaven actor) draws a regular strip for The Guardian, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil is a borderline fable about the forces of disorder. The narrative takes place on the island of Here, a surpassingly neat land with a place for everything where everything falls in its place. Dave, our hero, lives in a house that would have an ocean view if the citizens of Here prized such a thing, but they view the sea as part of There — the borderlands of chaos and mess. So Dave, hairless save a single chin follicle he can’t eradicate, faces the street and spends his days sketching what he sees from his window: passersby, a street lamp, well-trimmed shrubbery, a cat. Besides drawing these sketches, framed nicely by window panes that mirror the effect of panels, Dave perpetually listens to the Bangles’ 1988 hit “The Eternal Flame.” It’s a cozy and unchanging world, until it isn’t anymore.
Dave’s single chin hair begins to grow…and grow and grow and grow. Confined to his house and vilified by the media, Dave tries to relax and keep sketching, but the beard grows. Dave becomes an unwilling outlet for all the chaotic impulses otherwise repressed on Here. Hairdressers try to tame it. Scaffolding fails to contain it. Nothing works.
This being a fable, it holds a particularly English flavor. The Anglo ideal is one of manicured gardens: nature’s unruliness forced into the rows and columns of bordered space, not unlike the pages of many small, orderly boxes that Collins uses at times. The lesson here (and there has to be a lesson) is that introducing disorder is a good thing. Otherwise, entropy will dominate in spectacular fashion. Instead of a perfectly balanced floral arrangement, we should be seeking wabi-sabi, a Japanese concept that focuses on imperfection and impermanence.
Of course, England is a very different place from the United States, and that slightly mitigates the impact of the book. Cobbled together from a mish-mash of different states, our country is rather a mess to begin with, not a neat little island shaped by Victorian ideals. Collins’ book isn’t entirely satisfying (the story is a bit thin; the lesson it conveys too pat), but his art — especially as the beard grows and pages full of regimented, small panels breach into 2-page spreads of swirling hair — is sensuous and soft. The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil is also a well-designed book, complete with two different finishes on the cover: a gloss on the white lettering and a velvety matte finish on the rest, which encourages the book fetishist to pet it repeatedly. It all works together to create a hushed tone, a kind of gentle melancholy that works well with this time of year.