Today’s post is about Stephen Collins’ The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil! There’s possibly nothing particularly notable worth cautioning except for potentially deep philosophical and existential reflection. You’ll enjoy this book if you like bittersweet stories, slice-of-life with a twist, and investigating systemic structures.
Plot: An unremarkably ordinary (almost) hairless man grows a beard that threatens life as we know it.
Initial thoughts: I hadn’t expected to read this book, but I couldn’t resist when I saw the title and that it was about a beard. I’ve had this fascination with facial hair – and growing my own – lately that it was impossible not to dive into it. Despite looking quite chunky, it’s a quick read and far more poetic than I expected. Warning: it is far more somber than the quirky title might suggest.
The art and words work beautifully together. Rather than just speech bubbles, language and visuals are synthesized masterfully in this book. It incorporates static representation of real time technologies like video recording and also utilizes space in a rhythmic and entrancing manner. White space plays as vital a role as the pencil drawing, effectively creating a unique style unlike any other book I have read before. It’s certainly worth a read if not for the philosophical meditation on society then for the poetic visceral experience.
Itty Bitty Research: Of course I wanted to research beards! While not relevant to the research I conducted, there are some fun fact about beards as reported by History.com, Distractify, and Men’s XP. Anyway, the whole point of The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil is that facial hair is something meant to be groomed and taken care of. In a world where people never shave, beard grooming presents an interesting conundrum, since it is outside the cultural knowledge. It is perceived as evil even though there is nothing menacing about the beard besides the fact in continues to grow.
The first interesting thing to think about is the role of facial hair in public. Facial hair is a part of many religious practices belonging to Messianic Christians, Nazirites, and Sikhs, which are covered under Title VII by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Many of the examples listed on this page call for clean shaven faces as examples of “discipline” or as part of the dress code, all of which adhere to the need for tidiness in Collins’ book. Interestingly, accommodation is never an option for the folk in this story, and their ultimate resolution is to sentence Dave to the chaos. How different would the narrative be if Dave’s difference and beard had been embraced? Part of the drama seems to be that there is resistance to accommodating for Dave. Indeed, he is even fired in the book because of his beard.
Beards in the military are also an interesting point. Collins is British, and this article does a fine example of demonstrating how intolerant the British military is toward facial hair. Apparently Pioneer Sergeants are the only position within the British military to allow beards, supposedly because beards protected the face from duties Pioneer Sergeants were expected to perform. It should also be noted that although it is sometimes easy to forget we do not live in a Canamerican-England-centric world, many countries throughout the world do allow those serving in their military to have beards, including India, Austria, Denmark, Spain, and other countries. It should also be noted that some countries won’t allow beards but will allow mustaches, or, oddly enough, allow facial hair as long as it is a full set (meaning no mustaches without lower facial hair as well).
Works cited: Collins, Stephen. The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil. New York: Picador, 2013. Print.