Great Graphic Novels: Fungus the Bogeyman, by Raymond Briggs

GreatgraphicnovelsLast month I asked my friends to write about books they loved (you can read all the essays here). This month, I invited them to write about their favorite graphic novels, and they selected some excellent titles. I hope you enjoy them! (Read all the Great Graphic Novel essays here.) -- Mark

Fungus the Bogeyman, by Raymond Briggs

NewImageHemet, California, Summer 1983. I was ten, my brothers and I were spending a few days with my grandparents. My grandma, in an attempt to keep us entertained against the high desert doldrums, took us to the local Pic N Save to buy a toy. I ended up in the book aisle with a remainder copy of Fungus the Bogeyman, by Raymond Briggs. Nothing could have been more foreign and alluring to my young mind.

Fungus is a green, six-fingered, triple-nippled, Bogeyman in the classic sense. He and his ilk are the things that go bump in the night, the boil engenderers, the stealers of blankets, and the cause of every other midnight nuisance. Briggs, perhaps best known for the wordless children’s book The Snowman, doesn’t just show us a day in the life of a typical Bogeyman, he describes and diagrams their subterranean physiology, customs, and culture in a way lesser artists would avoid.

The pages nearly drip with slime and muck. Even the endpapers look filthy. Upon preparing for another night of work, Fungus the Bogeyman takes a deep whiff of his disgusting trousers. “Mmmm! These really stink!” he exclaims. One page describes Bogeyman bicycles (a tank of filthy water beneath the seat aids in propulsion, a "bogeybag" up front allows the gentle wafting of noxious odors for the pleasure of the cyclist) against the backdrop of Fungus pedaling uphill to the surface, deep questions weighing down upon his psyche. On another page we see Fungus, still brooding on the meaning of his slimy existence, reading to his son from Where to Watch Drycleaners: A Field Guide to Surface Life, complete with a few excerpted diagrams. A “Drycleaner” is the bogey name for us surface dwellers, since we prefer both dryness and cleanliness.

In spite of our hero’s ongoing existential crisis, Briggs revels in every hilarious diagram, footnote, and lovingly crafted historical tangent. He even takes a moment or two to remind us that a Bogeyman could be headed, at this very moment, to WHERE YOU LIVE. Briggs loves the world he has created, and it’s as infectious as mildew. Mildew also happens to be the name of Fungus’ wife.

At ten, I didn’t think much about what it meant to be a grown up, let alone what people did at work all day. Fungus gave me a peek into life on the other side of childhood, and, even though I knew my future didn’t hold too much in the way of beds full of slugs or watching pigs stick to a wall for entertainment, it raised some questions. Would I get boils? What is a boil? Would I hate my job? Was everything drudgery, uncertainty, and ennui? I sure hoped not. But in the end, maybe it wasn’t so bad. After all, Fungus had a nice Bogey family, two slimy, green, hairless cats, and was the product of a rich and gooey heritage, even if he didn’t see it.

Fungus the Bogeyman


  1. Man, the image on the front cover used to creep the bejesus out of me as a child. My mum still tells the story of me at a jumble sale, trying to sneak it on to our table in the hope that someone would buy it!
    That said, Raymond Briggs is a hero of mine- “When the Wind Blows” is a masterpiece.

    1. WTWB is ostensibly about nuclear war, but focuses entirely on the experiences of an elderly couple that resemble Brigg’s own parents, who are overrun by vast impersonal forces that they don’t understand, and it ends with them dying in succession, in a state of willing self-delusion.
      Later, Briggs wrote another book, ‘Ethel and Ernest’, this time the actual story of his parents’ lives. But they still die, after decades of confusion and bother, and it seems senseless, pointless.

      In many ways, the two books are just different renditions of the same story.

      It’s almost like the device of a nuclear war in the background makes it a little less depressing! At least then we have a reason to point to for why everything goes wrong. But in E&E there is nothing to point to. It’s just life playing out.

  2. I loved Raymond Briggs stuff. Though I’ve never heard of his Snowman books. The ones I remember were his Father Christmas illustrated books.
    Merry Bloomin Christmas to you too!

  3. I loved both this and, most of all, When the Wind Blows as a child. And the latter was a book with a very adult theme (um… apocalypse by nuclear warfare during the cold war…) but completely accessible to kids.

    I also trashed my Fungus the Bogeyman “Plop-up” Book.

  4. This book taught me to read. I loved the grotesqueness of it and used to make my Dad read it to me every night. He would slowly read it panel by panel and would frustratingly stop after a couple of pages. Eventually I was able to read parts of it and one happy day realised I didnt need him at all.

    Come to think of it, my Dad taught me to read.

  5. Oh man, I haven’t thought about Fungus for at least 25 years, how exciting!  BoingBoing really is the best.

    I had this book since before I can remember.  Preschool at least.  I LOVED it.  For all the same reasons as Mr. Koford mentioned.  I now dimly remember that the reason I don’t still have it is because it fell to pieces, I read it so much (the binding was also crap, like maybe a couple squirts of Elmer’s or something.)

    I was fascinated by how Fungus’ job was to scare the bejesus out of us, but he approached it as just so much ho-hum drudgery.  Certainly my entree to British humor and their keep-calm-and-carry-on attitude (though it’s thick in my blood, too.)

  6. Mmmm scab and matter custard, snot and bogey pie, dead dog’s giblets, green cat’s eye, spread it on bread, spread it on thick, and wash it all down with a cup of cold sick :)

  7. This was one of my favourites as a 7 or 8 yr old in the UK. I still have it, One of the very few I kept – it even went to Europe and back with me – instead of getting divvied up between my friends. I adored it. Truly.
    Now I can see how there was a big influence that came from Punk, and it echoes the changes from hip and arty – to the gutterpunk and feral punks that evolved as the costumes became the clothes and the fad became a longterm lifechoice
    Fungus taught me not to fear the muck and grime.
    Earth is dirt – and dirt don’t hurt!

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