Steven Collins' graphic novel The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil is a New York Times bestseller, and it's not difficult to see why. A good friend of mine recommended this book to me as he felt I might have an interesting take on it as I am a psychologist who works with people on the Autism Spectrum, or rather termed, Asperger’s.
I doubt the author’s intention was to write about the spectrum. But in fact, this graphic novel is an excellent metaphor for the everyday life of someone who lives on the spectrum and their hopeful future.
The Gigantic Beard follows the main character, Dave. He lives on a small island called “Here,” Dave's home rests on the edge of the sea with the outside world surrounding him known as “There.”
Everyone on the island of Here is exceptionally neat and tidy with everything on the being immaculate and orderly. Conformity is the norm and strictly addressed.
The consistent theme is routine, appearance, and rigid conformity. Every home is in order, and every lawn kept. But important to note, nobody has facial hair.
If you are not conforming, something must be wrong or not Here. “There” is the place of unknown disorder and the place to be feared. The people of Here did not go to the sea as it was disordered and unknown.
Dave said, “The job of the skin is to keep it all in and never let anything show.” This rule is widely understood and practiced by nearly everyone on the island of Here. Keep an ordered life and personal appearance, and you don’t let the messy parts exposed.
Conformity equals not being excluded or judged. Unfortunately, being excluded, judged, and made to feel weird is what a great many people on the spectrum experience.
Everyone on the land was compliant but also socialized with one another in a compliant and choreographed manner. The inhabitants of Here followed a regimented routine of manicure: from their home to their work life and even their personal grooming.
But one day, disorder and uncontrolled non-conformity arrived.
Dave grew a hair on his face. And then another. And another. No matter what he could do, a beard grew. And grew.
His beard became uncontrollable and Dave was now a spectacle.
The townspeople flooded his yard just wanting to stare at his beard, which eventually grew out of his house. The townspeople gathered to determine what should be done.
The uncontrollable spirit of Dave’s beard was out of place at Here. A beard was unkempt, awkward and untidy. And it was unacceptable to society.
As a psychologist, I work with people who are on the autism spectrum and sometimes they can be unkempt, extraordinary, and do not fit into the social norms of the majority of our society. They can be a beard that is uncontrollable.
The ultimate solution to the evil beard was to build a scaffolding of balloons around his him to keep the beard above the island. And while Dave felt this was the worst thing to happen to him, he looked one day upon his massive beard and thought it to be beautiful. His perspective changed. And the balloons broke away carrying Dave to...There.
From society's perspective, Dave’s beard was unusual, mystifying, and to some, even evil. Sometimes, people fear individuals with Asperger's and autism and seek to create a scapegoat out of their identity. They can be stereotyped and taken advantage of despite their minds having given giving us discoveries such as gravity, electricity, Microsoft, and Apple.
I think that many of my clients would like to be lifted off from Here to There as well. Because Here can be a tough place to live.
In my practice, I have built a There for all my spectrum people. A place where they can be themselves and not conform. A place where there are lots of beards and a place of acceptance and even celebration.
Dave, at some point, celebrated his difference and embraced this outrageous beard. The funny thing is once Dave is gone, the towns people missed him. Missed the experience of difference. And then they changed
The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil is a phenomenal graphic novel that allows us to explore the difference between us.
I cannot recommend this novel enough and I’m thankful for my friend's advice to read it. Get your own copy here. (linked)