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PictureBookClub - The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

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.

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The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil is the debut graphic novel from cartoonist and illustrator Stephen Collins. British readers might already be familiar with Collins' work via his weekly strip in The Guardian (which is where he published Michael Gove vs The Aliens, possibly the greatest political cartoon of our time...according to me) but this marks his first significant move into long form narrative.

TGBTWE tells the story of Dave, a very bald man living a very quiet life in the rigorously neat and tidy land of Here. Dave appears to like his life in Here, making graphs for his company, drawings of his street and listening to The Bangles (on constant repeat). The only thing which bothers Dave, and indeed many of the residents of Here, is the sea which surrounds them, and the idea of what lays beyond it; the dark, unknown and untidy There.

It's this There which eventually breaks into Dave's neat and comfortable life in the form of a gigantic, and worst of all untidy beard, an unstoppable force of messiness which soon threatens not just Dave's tidy life, but the entire tidy existence of Here.

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The fairytale spun by Collins' in TGBTWE is a very British one. Here is an island complete with fearful island mentality, seemingly consisting of nothing but curtain twitching English suburbs (it even has it's own Richard Littlejohn stand in, writing for its Daily Mail stand in) but whilst these winks and nods will bring a smile to readers who recognise them they don't overwhelm the story.

Collins' soft pencilled art style suits the world he has created very well, cartoonish enough to fit the lightly satirical tone but also delicate enough to render the elements of melancholy and magic so that they don't feel out of place. It's worth noting the writing style as well, which along with containing some genuinely beautiful moments (like the opening lines at the beginning of this article) also falls in and out of rhyme, mirroring the books theme of pitting chaos against tidiness.

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In short, a great piece of magical realism, with enough moments of beauty in the images and prose to make it worth while revisiting.

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So that was the first PictureBookClub, hopefully I'll get better at conclusions for these as I do more, but for now, please let me know what you think of this as an idea and enjoy this awesome picture of a decidedly not evil beard I found when sourcing images for this article...

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