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  • mattedgerton


Updated: Jun 17, 2019

I haven’t had a really decent beard since last appearing in The Seagull by Anton Chekhov in 2010, but I nonetheless maintain a great admiration for pogontrophy and those who practice it.

So it was with great pleasure that I unwrapped THE GIGANTIC BEARD THAT WAS EVIL, a parting gift from my brother who was visiting from Sydney last week. Theatre makers are great scavengers and ideas can come from many sources. A great graphic novel can be richly rewarding, having a huge amount in common with a great play. Both forms are a delicate blend of word and image and when the balance is right, the whole becomes so much more than its elements. For a theatre director, its worth noting how a graphic novel achieves its effects: how it combines imagery and poetry to make something both moving and memorable.

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

So begins Stephen Collins’ delightfully original tale, set on the island of Here, an impossibly neat, clipped, trim and ordered place surrounded by a terrifying and chaotic sea, beyond which is There, a place that no one dares to visit. The protagonist Dave, an all-but-hairless man, loves tidiness, sketching things he sees out of his window and listening to Eternal Flame by The Bangles on endless repeat. His life is ordered, regular and unspectacular. But one day the single hair that grows on Dave’s face transforms into a swiftly sprouting, chaotic and uncontrollable beard.

As if something had escaped from the depths of his dreams to crawl up into the day

Collins’ elegant pencil drawings, beautifully-textured and constantly shifting in scale and perspective, plunge us into a surreal world that we nonetheless immediately recognise as a shadow of our own. This is a world is of order, conventionality and conformity – a Here in desperate need of a There. The unruly beard becomes a playful metaphor for the eternal tussle between order and chaos.

Like many great artists, Collins takes a simple idea and explores it in rich imaginative detail, filling every page with new variations on the theme. The book maintains its strong dramatic action, surprising visuals and and finely calibrated ambiguity until the end. It is a masterclass in visual storytelling. The work is a darkly comic fable, a beautifully observed social satire, a celebration of all things hairy and a bloody good read.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Perth at the moment, you can see more of Stephen Collins’ original artwork, including sketches from this book, as part of Comic Tragics. The exhibition showcases nine leading international comic artists and is showing at The Art Gallery of WA until July 25. The book is published by Picador and is available at the gallery’s bookshop or online.

The post is dedicated to the memory of Rashas Moustaches.

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