Back when Young Dara was, well, young, his favorite genre was fantasy. He devoured all the sword & sorcery books at his local library. He watched all the straight-to-video fantasy movies. But over the years, he got bored with the genre. It was becoming rather repetitive and cliched. He tried different fantasy comics over the years, but again, none of them were really all that original or innovative.
That’s all changed with the arrival of Orc Stain, from Image Comics.
Created, written, drawn, colored, and lettered by James Stokoe, Orc Stain dumps all the trappings and tropes of the genre, and instead focuses on a world solely populated by Orcs. And when you have millions of savage, battle-hungry orcs, only the biggest and baddest of them get some recognition by having a number assigned to them upon their deaths. Forget about names. And so it is that we follow a young orc thief nicknamed “One-Eye” as he pilfers orc burial sites, trying to make a living. Little does he know that he somehow fits into a prophecy involving the Orctzar, one mean SOB who is managing to do what no other orc chieftain has done yet: conquer and unite the many disparate orc tribes.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this comic is fairly light on plot and story. The tale unfolds at a very leisurely pace, and despite the supposed epic scale of the Orctzar’s plans, not much really happens in the grand scheme of things in the first 2 issues. But that’s ok, because what it lacks in those departments, it more than makes up for with its audacious artwork, wild ideas, and bizarre idiosyncrasies.
I find Stokoe’s art utterly charming, in a disturbing sort of way. Part Vaugh Bode cartoonish expressions, and part Geoff Darrow OCD details, he excells at fantastic landscapes and architecture, dynamic action, and insanely detailed garments and props. And those bright, vibrant colors! It’s refreshing to have a book all about orcs that doesn’t take the convenient and expected highway route of muddy browns and dark olives, instead opting for the scenic route of lush greens, crimsons, and pinks.
And then there’s Stokoe’s uniquely twisted take on even the most mundane objects and settings. Here’s our protagonist preparing to break into a bear safe. Sorry, a gurpa safe:
Or having a beer with the local crime boss:
It gets weirder still. There’s “krab smoking”, full-frontal orc and love-nymph nudity, and lots of talk about “gronch chopping” (I’ll let you figure out what a gronch is, and why an orc may not want to lose his). Even Stokoe’s sound effects are original: GX!, SPTZ!, KSH!, PNK!, PMKH! and others which look weird splattered dozens of times across a panel, but fit in perfectly with the book’s odd style. Reading the book, there is no doubt in the reader’s mind that this is the vision of one creator, having made the purest transition from Stokoe’s imagination to the printed page, with no middle-men diluting the creative elixer. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is utterly unique, and a breath of fresh air not just in the fantasy genre, but in comics in general.
Oh, and if you need one other incentive to give it a shot: 32 full color pages of story/art for $2.99. In this era of $4 comics that only deliver 22 pages of story, that is a true bargain.
Orc Stain. Check it out.