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Review: ‘Bera the One-headed Troll’

Bera the One-Headed Troll

Bera the One-headed Troll
By Eric Orchard
First Second; $17.99

The title of Eric Orchard’s fantasy adventure comic is a rather clever little gag in its own right, as trolls of Bera’s kind often have multiple heads, even if having only one head is the default state for everyone who makes up the reading audience of this particular book.

Bera’s one-headedness is more than just an excuse for a bit of silly wordplay, of course; it also positions her far closer to human beings than others of her kind, a handful of whom appear throughout, and each with one more head than the last. As both the reader identification character and a protagonist with a rather human-specific quest to embark upon, that positioning is, of course, rather important.

Bera is the official pumpkin gardener for the king of the trolls, a small, official job she takes great pride in, even if all she gets in return in terms of royal compensation is the occasional card. She grows her pumpkins on a tiny island where she lives all alone, with no one to talk to except an owl named Winslowe. In fact, she has lived on that island her entire life, never once leaving.

This makes her a rather unlikely candidate for a quest, not unlike Bilbo Baggins of The Hobbit, one of several works that almost certainly inspired Orchard in one fashion or another. But a quest finds her nonetheless, when she hears a screaming human baby, swaddled tightly and floating in a pot just offshore her island, where the mermaids are tormenting it.

She rescues the baby, hides it from a wicked troll witch who comes looking for it, and decides her best course of action is to take the baby to the nearest troll hero, who can then deliver it to the nearest human village.

Thus begins her quest, which is immediately beset with complications, ranging from the mermaids and their monster to disappointment in the pick of troll heroes to an evil duke and his cursed swamp to an army of goblins to a pack of wolves.

Bera overcomes many of these obstacles by making friends and allies, mostly among the animals she meets along the way (Orchard’s tale also owes a bit of debt to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, I suspect, in addition to the Scandinavian and northern European folklore and fairy tales that birthed the sorts of creatures that populate his book).

His art is quite charming, with the various creatures all having a very stripped-down and simplified, almost cartoon-like quality to them. Many of them also seem to be at least somewhat related, as his goblins, trolls and even mermaids look like they might be branches on the same fantastic family tree, rather than completely alien to one another.

He works in a very limited palette which isn’t black and white, but which is limited enough that it often appears to be, say, black and brown or orange, with water-colored skies and lots of surfaces constructed from myriad lines. It’s an unusual look for a fantasy world, but one that draws a reader in rather irresistibly until what at first appeared so strange becomes comfortable.

There’s a nice, even touching circularity to Bera’s quest, as she gets to continue her original, comfortable life, but she does so a somewhat transformed person, er, troll, her quest having changed her life dramatically–but not having changed her.

It’s hard to imagine a fan of fantasy and adventure who wouldn’t find themselves charmed by Orchard’s tale, which should appeal to just about anyone one-headed comics reader.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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