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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.
The stories included are: “Hair Types,” a hilarious piece that on the surface explores the pseudoscientific classification of personality as a function of hair but becomes something more akin to a fable about self-fulfilling prophecy; “Chromo Congo,” a silent story about two men on safari who meet a corpulent and obnoxious hunter; as well as “The Task,” “The Man Who Grew His Beard,” “The Lock,” “The Cave,” and “The Imaginist.”
Though this is Schrauwen’s first U.S. edition of comics, he has wowed American fans with his appearances in the anthology MOME over the last few years, and one of his MOME stories was one of three comics selected for the 2009 edition of Dave Eggers's influential Best American Nonrequired Reading.
"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