Alibi V.26 No.4 • Jan 26-Feb 1, 2017 

Comic Reviews

Head Lopper Volume One

Head Lopper

Head Lopper, Volume One: The Island or a Plague of Beasts

Andrew McLean
Image Comics
digital, 280 pages
$14.99

What is best in life? Is it crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you and hearing the lamentations of their women? Or is it peeling open a single serve bowl of Fruity Pebbles on a Saturday morning and watching cartoons like a child? What if you could have the best of both worlds, through the magic of graphic literature? Head Lopper from Image Comics delivers something for everyone and takes you to a place where Conan the Barbarian and Finn the Human could co-exist in glorious disharmony.

Fresh off the success of 2015’s ApocalyptiGirl, Andrew MacLean returns to the world of comics with a sense of refinement and restraint. In Head Lopper, he delivers his most ambitious and compelling work yet, with clean, clever designs and a trusty Campbell-ian narrative. The tale centers around Norgal, a barbarian drifter and the titular lopper of heads. In his company is the chatty severed head of Agatha Blue Witch, who serves both as foil and secondary antagonist to our hero.

Before even diving into the story, the reader is enchanted by the book’s bold image. MacLean’s cartooning is peerless, alternating between comfortably sparse storyboards and richly detailed scenes of visceral action. Each creature is brought to life by MacLean’s well-developed imagination, with oddities ranging from flower-tongued rock-frogs to arrow-flecked zombie-giants. (Or are they just giant zombies? I’m unsure.) The Isle of Barra is a fully realized place, familiar in its medieval guise, while utterly foreign in terms of its hyper-designed fauna. All of this beauty is finely tuned and spectacularly realized by veteran colorist Mike Spicer, whose catalogue of work includes covers and sequentials for DC, Valiant, and Image’s own Black Science.

Once the shiny pop visuals and new comic smell wear off, the reader is left to settle into MacLean’s well-planned narrative. With MacLean handling both the writing and illustration, the reader might expect an underwhelming tale. Thankfully, MacLean maintains total control of his vision, dutifully telling the story of a displaced hero, bravely climbing the ladder of Joseph Campbell’s mono-myth (aka The Hero’s Journey). With his reliance on the most essential of tropes, MacLean creates a contemporary piece of graphic literature which reads like the work of a classic Greek poet. Head Lopper includes forays with dark magicians, regicide and even a bit of sailing, sure to slake the thirst of anyone craving the best bits of their freshman year literature courses.

Despite its roots being planted firmly in the unforgiving world of epic poetry, Head Lopper manages a sense of levity and humor throughout its pages. The literary application of the title’s namesake alone stands as one of the best jokes in the book. If you see a threat emerge in this comic’s pages, you can be sure that Norgal will attempt to behead it. The witch’s head which Norgal carries with him, is also filled with clever banter, spiteful witticisms and perfectly timed profanities, better facilitating the narrative of our frequently mute protagonist. The tools which MacLean employs here are simple, but powerful implements of storytelling, which help raise Head Lopper above its contemporaries.

Fantasy adventure has gone out of vogue in the world of graphic literature. Hollywood productions guarantee a constant stream of superhero mediocrity, while slice-of-life contemporary fantasy books dominate the indie scene. Head Lopper came at a time when the comic book world wasn’t looking for it, but through powerful storytelling, rose to the top despite the odds. The industry is lucky to be offered this refreshing, but familiar story, and so are readers. Head Lopper Vol. 1 is available now, with single issues resuming in March, 2017.