Lee Adam Herold’s Chopping Block, reviewed by Damonk

Question: What do you get when you cross a stand-up comic who specializes in one-liners and puns with a habitual psychopathic murderer?

Answer: A serial kidder who really slays ’em by repeated club gigs.

Alternate answer: Butch.

Lee Adam Herold’s Chopping Block places its neck on the proverbial line with every update. Sometimes, it feels like a regular whodunnit mystery as to how this Keenspot comic can actually get away with what it does without so much as a scratch – maybe Howdunnit would be more apt?

Consider the evidence: this webcomic is crafted in a classic one-panel gag-a-day style, which means a new killer joke has to be strung up with each update. The art is not splayed in full-color, but rather splattered in a dark, gory puddle of grays and blacks. And the subject matter? It’s a funny-ha-ha strip about a serial killer. A webcomic about a murderer. Who murders people.

Until they’re DEAD.

So how can a single-panel, gag-a-day strip survive for over three years when it’s restricted its potential source material to the life of a death-dealing psychopath?

Exhibit A(rt): To say that Herold’s art is unique among the thousands of webcomics out there is to make a maniacal understatement. True, he’s far from the only person who draws a single-panel, black-and-white format; however, how many creators do you know who ink their webcomics with a sponge and an exacto knife?

The finished product always looks very splotchy yet surprisingly crisp at the same time – lines and borders are sharp, while shadows and texture have a very messy, visceral feel that contrasts well with the crisp edges, and very much add to the gruesome atmosphere. There are a few instances where Herold will break from his chosen art style, sometimes by force, sometimes intentionally; these special pen and ink, colored occasions show that he’s not a one-trick art pony – Herold is a solid artist, no matter what style he chooses to use to render the comic.

Exhibit B(utch): The main character is drawn in a very cartoony way, as if to balance out the horror element with a more inoffensive-looking killer. And he does look inoffensive at a first glance – borderline adorable, even. His big doe eyes scream soft sympathy behind the hockey mask, his larger, Homer-esque (of the Simpsons variety) frame likewise emphasizes this softness, this cuddliness that is the vessel of one heckuva murder machine.

In terms of personality, it’s fair to call Butch magnetic. What makes him so appealing as a character is that he is NOT simply a one-dimensional "bad guy", but he is rather a very dark Everyman: Butch is the serial killer in all of us. While each strip usually involves a gruesome death or the implication of one, Butch shows very HUMAN traits, displays the same frailities and eccentricities that we all experience from one time to the next – forgetting people’s names, struggling with one’s health, being grossed out, wanting a free pizza, craving recognition, being depressed by the news, job routine humdrum, dealing with vegetarianism. Seeing Butch act just like the rest of us serves to create that bond between reader and character, manages to inspire that disturbing sense of sympathy for this hockey-masked devil.

Exhibit C(omedy): As in any (web)comic, art alone is not enough to support the work – you need solid writing to bring your readers back again and again. Thus, one would assume that a comic about a guy who kills people would get old fast, right? Seriously, how many jokes can be made about killing people?

Shockingly enough, a great deal.

Herold has succeeded in being very imaginative and inventive with the subject matter. Not only does he make the character appealing through human identification, but he also has a knack for wordplay and puns, for hilarious literalisms, and for the just plain surreal. Herold also tends to create situational "reversals", where the usual meaning of the moment/word/object/action is completely turned around on itself.

The boundaries of taste and decorum are always pushed as far as can be pushed in Chopping Block, but somehow, despite all of Herold’s risque-ness, despite all his hacking away at the line that separates humor from depravity, he never slices humor’s ‘juggler.’ Of course, as with most gag-a-day strips, Herold will have better days and worse days, but the great strips will ALWAYS make up for the weak ones.

Closing statements: Lee Adam Herold’s Chopping Block has managed to avoid the executioner’s axe for almost four years now, by taking a single concept and constantly reinventing and imaginatively presenting consistently fresh humor. Those with weak stomachs and an aversion to violence or horror elements may want to avoid the comic, however — Chopping Block can be "graphic storytelling" in ALL senses of the expression. For the rest of you, there is no doubt that Butch will be guilty of busting your guts, and knocking you dead with the funny.

Verdict: Innocent only of the crime of dullness, this webcomic is guaranteed to meat-hook you in for life. Being a victim on a daily basis has never felt so good.