Old Head Remixes Basketball and Dracula for a Bloody Good Time
Tim Rooney
Written and drawn by Kyle Starks with colors by Chris Schweizer, Old Head started out as a Kickstarter-funded original graphic novel but it's now being published by Image Comics. Given Starks' track record on books like Rick and Morty, Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton, and Assassin Nation, it should be no surprise that this bizarre mash-up of basketball and monsters is a delightful work of slapstick with surprising tenderness. This bizarre story defies expectation or explanation, making for a delightful and hilarious self-contained story.
Described by Starks as Space Jam meets Fright Night, Old Head is an action-horror story about the world's toughest former pro-basketball player returning home with his daughter to learn about his destiny and his mother's mysterious past. Meanwhile, in the creepy castle right next door, Dracula and his minions are on the eve of their bloodiest holiday.
Old Head's premise defies explanation, but, it suffices to say that this is the only book you will read in 2021 that features a man dribbling Dracula's head like a basketball. Starks' cartooning is expressive and easy to read. The characters' exaggerated facial expressions mixed with the story's well-timed comic delivery is superb. Starks knows when a silent reaction shot is enough to sell a punch line or when a one-liner is needed for a laugh.
While the issue is filled with genuinely hilarious humor, the book doesn't rely on its comedy to pull all the weight. Starks balances the comedic story elements with a tender tale about parenting and legacy. The book's main character, Nash "The Knife" Gliven is ashamed of his past as a failed pro-basketball player, feeling that he never amounted to anything. As he learns about his mother's secret history as a monster hunter and tries to build a better future for his daughter, Nash finds the most important shot of his life in saving his daughter.
The story's two poles could clash in the hands of a less assured artist. Starks strikes never leans into melodrama and keeps the humor always in service of furthering the plot. His artwork, with its rubber hose-style limbs and simple faces, allows versatility in visual storytelling. He is able to stretch and skew his figures across the page, emphasizing their emotion and actions. The cartoonish style also lets Starks lean into the gruesomeness of horror films that comes off funny as opposed to gratuitous. The sprays of blood and guts are squiggling spurts in action scenes that punctuate the jokes. Schweizer's colors are a perfect accent to the linework by Starks, giving the horror scenes appropriately gothic lighting in purples and eery greens. Schweitzer smartly avoids over rendering the shading and instead implements simple shading that deepens the story's dramatics.
Like the best of Starks' work, Old Head avoids easy classification. However, it's undeniably fun, laugh-out-loud hilarious, and a welcomed escape from the typical heavy drama of indie comics scene. Starks' humor and comedic timing feel effortless. Old Head is sure to entertain even the most jaded comics reader with its disarming mix of horror, humor, and emotion.