In a place called Here, a place of cleanliness, and neatness, and order, where there’s no litter on the streets and everyone is dressed neatly, and clean-shaven (without really having to shave) a man called Dave, bald—he wears a wig—but for a single hair under his nose, starts growing a beard.

It grows and grows, a beard to beat all beards, and also any attempt to remove it.

It disrupts Dave’s life.

And it disrupts the lives of the people of Here. Their notions of the job of “the skin" being to “keep everything in" are rudely jolted. They begin to wonder when they’ll be rid of it—if at all.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil is Guardian cartoonist Stephen Collins’ first graphic novel and, pencil-in-tow, all blacks and greys, he spins a truly hair-raising tale about a beard that can’t be controlled and which overturns the orderliness of Here (and Dave, who draws charts for a company for a living).

The Gigantic Beard… could have so easily descended into a sententious piece of work about how people react to differences (and people who are different from them), but thanks to Collins’ light touch, over line as well as prose, it remains a light-hearted fable. The panels, at least in the first part of the book, when Here is all geometric order, are vaguely reminiscent of Winsor McCay and, more recently, Chris Ware, but the writing has a sense of brightness to it that reassures the reader that things can’t end too badly.

Nor do they. The disruptions caused by the beard encourage the people of Here to, almost unconsciously, start trying out new things and accepting the little uncertainties of life or, as Collins puts it, a little bit of There in Here.

Of all the graphic novels (and comics) that have appeared in this column, I found The Gigantic Beard… the most difficult to categorize. Parts of it are funny (but darkly so). Other parts are frightening (without really being too frightening). There are times when the reader senses that Collins is trying to say something big and significant (or maybe it’s just the reader thinking this).

Strangely uplifting, handsomely bound, and beautifully illustrated, The Gigantic Beard… will make you think about it (and hair) long after you’ve finished reading it. It made this writer think of his growing bald spot.

R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.

Also Read | Sukumar’s previous Lounge columns