Getting under your skin

Sometimes, when stuck in the middle of a longer book that may not be grabbing me at the moment, I call time out and read something else. It’s a sort of intermission that gives me renewed vigor when I return to the longer book.

beardThat’s what happened recently when I saw a book at the store that had a title that could not be ignored: “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.” I thought it sounded like fun and requested it from the library, which was when I discovered it was a graphic novel. Not that kind — a comic-book style novel. Even better for my mood.

Author Stephen Collins wrote and drew this odd-but-fun little book that tells, in moody, black-and-white drawings, the story of Dave, a middle aged man who lives on an island called Here.

It’s a tidy place, Here is. All the trees are perfectly shaped, everything perfectly ordered and the streets are clean and orderly. They keep it that way because just past the sea is an unruly place, the residents of Here assume, called There. If they keep control of everything, they can stop There from encroaching.

Well, one day a beard begins growing from Dave — no one else on Here has a beard, mind you — and it won’t stop. Dave tries to control it, but he can’t — it won’t stop. What follows is a pretty wry poke at society’s reaction to it that starts with television interviews and ends with angry mobs carrying everything but pitchforks.

I liked it enough to let my two more curious kids read it, (they liked the title, too) then, when they said they enjoyed it, I encouraged the rest of my family to read it. We had   a mini book club discussion (much mocked by my kids in advance, but not during) at a recent dinner.

Predictably, the kids had fewer problems with the book than I did. I felt like I missed something; I thought it could have been deeper somehow. But in going back to look over it for this entry, I found myself reading it again, this time paying more attention to the stark drawings. I was once again draw in to the story. I was struck by rereading the opening lines, which have more meaning when you know everything that follows:

“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.”

Maybe there’s more than I think. Maybe not. Either way, it’s a thought-provoking diversion.

I must add that I always feel bad for the way I zip through graphic novels and especially bad because the library had to get it through interlibrary loan. It seemed so much effort for my hour worth of enjoyment. It’s like cooking a special meal: You spend days planning and prepping, hours and hours cooking and making sure everything’s perfect only to have everyone wolf it down, asking to be excused in less than 20 minutes. I read this in about 45 minutes. It probably took Collins twice that to draw just one panel. But like those diners at the meal, I was satisfied. At least for a while.

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