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Book Review: The Man Who Grew His Beard by Olivier Schrauwen

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Title: The Man Who Grew His Beard
Author: Olivier Schrauwen
Product details: Digital eBook, 112 pages
Price (digital): $15.99.
Publisher: Fantagraphics (December, 2014)


Publisher's Introduction:
2012 Ignatz Award Nominee: Outstanding Anthology or Collection
The Man Who Grew His Beard is Belgian cartoonist Olivier Schrauwen's first American book after having staked a reputation over the last decade as one of Europe's most talented storytellers. It collects seven short stories, each a head-spinning display of craft and storytelling that mixes early twentieth-century comics influences like Winsor McCay with a thoroughly contemporary voice that provokes and entertains with subversively surreal humor and subtle criticism of twentieth-century tropes and images. The stories themselves, though each stands alone, are intertwined thematically, offering peeks into the minds of semi-autistic, achingly isolated men and their feverish inner worlds and how they interact and contrast with their real environment. Though Schrauwen taps "surrealist" or "absurdist" impulses in his work, you will not read a more careful and precise collection of stories this year.

"Olivier Schrauwen is extraordinary. I'm halfway through his book, savoring its mysteries, and inspired -- [he's] the most original cartoonist I've fallen onto since Ware or Katchor." - Art Spiegelman

"I don't know much about Olivier Schrauwen, [but I] know that he's some sort of postmodern comics genius." -- Eisner Award-winning comics critic Tom Spurgeon

Download and read an 11-page PDF excerpt (2.6 MB) with the complete story "The Assignment."


Review
I've been wanting to read this book for a long time. At the bookstore where I work it finally came in and immediately after work I rushed home and devoured the book in one sitting. After a few days, I read it again and I'll probably continue to read it in the future.

Although the graphic novel form is dominated by superheroes and supervillains, there is a small part that represents artists who are trying to create something different and unique. Their work isn't adapted into movies and television series so the larger audience for graphic novels knows nothing about them. Thank God for Fantagraphic who publishes these artists.

The Man Who Grew His Beard is one such book published by Fantagraphics (sadly, the actually book version is out of print), but the ebook version is readily available. What is so compelling about Man Who Grew His Beard is the perfect match of style to story. These tales (which all follow a bearded man) are very much in the weird tale tradition with a big nod to Kafka and the artwork is equally strange and stylized. It's this odd mix of color and simple thick lines that give the stories an antique feel while scenes depicted are surreal and odd.

The comic/graphic novel format is perfect for simplistic stories of good and evil which is why superhero/supervillain dominate popular taste. It's much harder to depict ambiguity and inner fears with images without them seeming to be overwrought or melodramatic. Oliver Schrauwen is a genius at depicting this state of mind. His work is much more in the tradition of the modern novel with writers like Kafka and Celine as examples.

The Man Who Grew His Beard isn't for everyone. If you are looking for space battles and over-muscled superheroes I'd recommmend looking elsewhere, but if you want to experience what graphic novels can do artistically and you are a fan of David Lynch or Guy Maddin, this eerie and very funny graphic novel will stay in your memory for a long time.

-scene from the story "The Assignment"


You can find out more about The Man Who Grew His Beard and the author, Olivier Schrauwen, at the Fantagraphic page for the book. There is a good interview with Olivier at Paste Magazine.

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Comics, fantagraphics, Olvier Schauwren
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