Last 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
Hemet, 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.