Book Review: The Man Who Grew His Beard by Olivier Schrauwen
Staff Writer By: Ricky Grove (gToon)
"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."
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.