This charming and quirky graphic novel by Stephen Collins is another recommendation from Pop Culture Happy Hour. In it, a previously bald man named Dave finds his predictable and tidy life taken over by a beard that won’t stop growing. Soon, it takes over the town, becoming first a curiosity and then a menace.
Collins tells the story with black-and white pencil drawings, sometimes arranged in tiny panels, marching across the page, and sometimes in single images spread across two pages. He makes particularly good use of black, which is rarely (if ever) purely black. Instead, the blackness of the sea and, later, the beard is full of texture and life. But the life in the blackness is disorderly and thus frightening.
Prior to the beard, Dave’s life in the town of Here was pleasant enough. He had a decent job and a comfortable home, just like all the others on his street. But that home was next to the sea, and on the other side of the sea is There. And, we’re told, “There was disorder. There was chaos. There was evil.” (These words are all printed over a two-page spread of blackness full of spirals and tentacles and vine-like images.)
To drown out the sound of the sea, Dave spends his evenings listening to “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles (which has been on a near-constant loop in my head since reading this) and drawing what he sees outside his window. There’s a disquiet about his life and his work in the back of his head, and the best he can do is to try think of nothing.
It’s trite to say that when the beard turns up everything changes. That’s obvious. But I appreciated the way Collins depicts the change with a mix of horror and excitement. The world of Here before the beard needed to change. But the beard’s never-ceasing growth constitutes a real problem. And the solution and its aftermath are both exhilarating and terrifying. Collins keeps these two feelings in tension remarkably well throughout. And the book’s happily ever after has a dark side (maybe).
I liked this book very much. The back cover compares it to the work of Roald Dahl and Tim Burton, and I can see those influences. The balance of humor and darkness is similar. And the art reminded me a little of Edward Gorey. It’s my kind of weird.