Have you ever pick up a book thinking it was about one thing, only to realize it’s about something completely different? I know people always say that thing, something something book by its cover, but when a story completely catches you off guard, it can be jarring. Like firing an arrow at a target, only to have it bounce off and hit the assassin sneaking up behind you. Not that anything I’m speaking of reflects the content of Stephen Collins’ graphic novel “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil”, but I couldn’t think of any beard metaphors at present time.
So I originally bought this book looking for grooming tips. Morality aside, I’ve always wanted a gigantic beard and this book even had illustrations.
Seriously, this book was a gift, and as soon as I saw it I decided that the beard must be a metaphor for misunderstood creativity. The idea of uncontrollable output. And due to the fact that the novel never spells it out for you, you might construe it as such. On the fictional island of Here (surrounded by a dark sea and a distant shore, known as There), we meet Dave, a bald man living an average life with an unaverage tiny hair sticking out from under his nose. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, the hair begins to grow, and soon sprouts into a beard of unimaginable size. It can’t be cut and it can’t be stopped, and it eventually threatens (well, inconveniences) the residents of Here. The book explores Dave’s journey as the beard slowly consumes his life and the lives of those around him.
I don’t get to read many graphic novels I know nothing about going in, and was saving it for a good reading day. Again, I thought I knew what it was about, so I figured I’d save it for a day where my creativity had hit a wall. And once more, that metaphor can work in regards to understanding the book. But when I read it, the metaphor that came to me was that the beard instead represented… depression. There’s a weird solitude to Here, where things aren’t perfect, but are orderly and ordinary, ideal compared to the dark and violent unknown of There. Here, things move in unchanging patterns (even if their origin is mysteriously unimportant), and it’s safe. Calm. Knowable. Any veering from those patterns is forbidden. Until the Beard casts a shadow over Here, to the point at which the other residents have to deal with it. Some attempt to explain it. Some attempt to manage it. Some grow from the experience, while others ostracize Dave for being different and not being able to control or fix his situation. But Dave doesn’t grow. Only his beard. He can’t shave it, get rid of it, or even get someone else to fix it. It just continues, inexorable. Until eventually, he’s cast out for it, consumed by the unknown blackness.
It made me think of old friends whose issues became too much to deal with. I, and others, grew through dealing with them, but ultimately, they shared Dave’s fate. It wasn’t their fault, per se. There isn’t always a solution to every problem. And even when there is, sometimes the solution feels too painful to attempt. And so the beard grows. How desperately I wished I could cut it off of them myself. “Fix” them. And I think, sometimes, even they wanted me to do that too. But they couldn’t stop that twisting darkness from springing eternal, until eventually I had to say goodbye.
I loved this book. The writing, the art, the themes of the story – they both resonated and made me jealous, made me wish I could produce something similar. Maybe I’ll be inspired to do so after this. But I hope works like this, works that make me think about things I never thought I’d revisit and things I never thought I’d have a new perspective on, spring eternal like the Beard.
My highest recommendation.
Oh, and enjoy the cliffhanger. SEE YOU IN 2017!!!!
Hey, It’s Zack!
Thank you so much for reading this year. I really pushed myself in this last arc, and I’m looking forward to kicking more ass next year! I’m going to get myself some rest. And enjoy some family time!~