Reading Andrew MacLean’s new comic HEAD LOPPER was an exhilarating experience. It’s great to have a new fantasy-adventure comic–or Sword-and-Sorcery if you prefer–and this book is the best book of its kind since James Stokoe’s gonzo-brilliant ORC STAIN.
As you might expect from the title, HEAD LOPPER involves a lot of decapitations. Yet its cartoon-art style is so colorful and brilliant the gore factor never overwhelms the narrative. If Jack Kirby had done a CONAN comic, it might have been a lot like this. There’s a whole lotta Mike Mignola influence here too–which is always a good thing.
HEAD LOPPER also reminded me of the infamous fantasy tradition of the Severed Head. Reaching all the way back to the story of Perseus and the Medusa, perhaps even farther, this gruesome scene shows up again and again. Perhaps it has something to do with how our ancestors lopped off the heads of their enemies with great pride, often displaying them as trophies that eroded to skulls over time. Hell, the French lopped off so many heads at one point that they built a machine to do it faster! And yet they seem so civilized today…
It’s no coincidence that the climax of CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982)–probably the single best Sword-and-Sorcery movie ever made–is when Conan takes the head of the evil Thulsa Doom and brandishes it before the brainwashed masses. That moment of revenge breaks the wizard’s dark spell, but it’s really just payback for Doom’s beheading of Conan’s mother in the film’s first act.
I saw the movie as a 12-year-old, and I was shocked at the violence of that scene. But I’d already seen my share of severed heads on the covers of fantasy magazines and even a few novels. As early as 7 or 8 years old I was grabbing copies of SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN directly from the local convenience store rack. There were also mags like CREEPY, EERIE, and 1994–from the twisted geniuses at Warren Publishing. Thankfully Dark Horse Publishing has brought all of this great stuff back into print in terrific collections.
Enjoy these classic covers featuring the grand tradition of the Severed Head motif. Nothing says “Sword-and-Sorcery” or “Savage Tales” more than this particular pose. In this type of artwork horror and fantasy meet, mingle, and combine to form a chilling effect. Even Shakespeare did the Severed Head in MACBETH, and he kinda did it in HAMLET with Yorick’s skull.
This weekend I watched the first two episodes of BBC America’s THE LAST KINGDOM–a terrific historical drama based on the works of Bernard Cornwell–and there it was again at the end of ep one: The Severed Head motif. What better way to taunt your enemy than to display the head of his slain cohort? What single image says “conquest” more than the Severed Head shot? Call it Dark Fantasy, Sword-and-Sorcery, or Grimdark. Doesn’t really matter.
Whatever you wanna call it, one thing’s for sure: Heads will roll.