Stephen Collins is a rising star of British cartooning, with an Observer short story prize and a weekly strip in The Guardian already in the bag. Fortunately he’s not restricting himself to short things, and has also produced this huge book.
It’s about a neat, tidy man, who lives on an island of extremely orderly people. He likes everything to be just so, from what he eats for tea through to the music he listens to (Eternal Flame by The Bangles, on a constant loop).
Then, one day, in a situation that channels the spirit of Roald Dahl, he starts growing a beard. This isn’t just any old beard, it’s prolific. It grows at a phenomenal rate – you can literally see it growing. Attempts to cut it fail, and it just grows larger and larger. Eventually it breaks out of his house starts invading the tidy and ordered worlds of our hero’s neighbours.
The book is gently surreal, crammed full of charm and wit. The text is sparse but the illustrations have their own structure and rhythm. Every page is thoughtfully designed and completely engaging. There’s a cartoonist’s simplicity to the illustration, with a clear-line style to characters and buildings, but it’s all meticulously shaded.
It’s a beautiful piece of work: a simple story, expertly told. There’s enough closure to satisfy the reader but it’s the type of book that leaves itself wide-open to interpretation. You’re left quietly contemplating the beard and the effect it might be having on the community, long after you’ve closed the final pages.