Monday, 9 May 2011

Orc Stain

Orc Stain Volume 1- By James Stokoe

The problem that seems to plague the majority of comic artists today is a lack of individuality. Very few artists can be distinguished from the pack and often they can only be noticed because they’re noticeably bad as in the cases of John ‘lines everywhere’ Romita Jr. and Greg ‘porn-tracer’ Land. The modern ‘good’ artist is expected to be able to draw panels that are reasonably fluid and characters that are expressive enough to not look like robots (unless of course they are robots) but they aren’t expected to show any real flair.

I’ve been griping to anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves in the same room as myself and a comic for years now that there doesn’t seem to be a single artist around with the sheer creativity of the likes of Jack Kirby. Then I read Orc Stain.

Both written and drawn by James Stokoe, Orc Stain is nothing short of a wonder in this industry of blandly drawn superheroes. The level of detail and imagination put into each issue puts just about every other comic out right now to shame and ever since first reading Orc Stain I’ve struggled to enjoy the artwork of any other new comic.

The opening two-page spread of Orc Stain is so striking and detailed it really does have to be seen to be believed. Even now, having re-read the book several times, I find myself astonished by those pages whenever I see it. Other comic artists take note, THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT.

The majority of the spread is dominated by a depiction of a massive army of Orcs on the rampage, with a dozen or so highly detailed monstrosities taking up the foreground. These Orcs alone are extremely impressive, with their scrap-like armour and snarling faces showcasing the incredible amount of effort Stokoe must have put into his work. One in particular is facing the reader and pointing towards the incredible scene taking up the rest of the page as if to say “Isn’t that awesome?” Thousands of tiny little Orcs litter the landscape with a hundred or so individually drawn Orcs, positioned between the horde and our pointing Orc, fighting their battle. Each of these hundred Orcs is either climbing or fighting or doing something else that clearly took up more thought and effort than almost any other artist would have put into it.

The art quality is consistent throughout the five issues collected in this volume; there isn’t a single page or panel that isn’t a fantastic display of creativity and detail. I really can’t praise the art enough, it’s pretty much perfect.

In other words, I really like the art.

I suppose I’ll have to talk about the story now, damn. It’s not that the story is bad, it’s pretty good, but it doesn’t light the world on fire like the art does.

The plot of Orc Stain sees a powerful Orc chieftain names The Orctzar uniting the vast Orc tribes of their homeland and unleashing them upon the rest of the world. In the aftermath of his latest conquest the Orctzar comes across a seer who knows how to find something called the Ganga Gronch. As a quick note, a Gronch is an Orc-dick, Orcs take each other’s dicks as prizes and chop them up into currency. Y‘know, as you do. Anyway, according to the seer this particular Gronch can only be found with the aid of ‘The One-Eyed Orc’ so the Orctzar sets about trying to find this particular one-eyed Orc. It’s then that we are introduced to our protagonist, an Orc named One-Eye.

I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

The story then follows One-Eye and a colourful cast of side characters, including rival Orc Pointyface, nymph poison-thrower Bowie and my personal favourite, Bowie’s bizarre hair monster Zazu. What slays me about Zazu is the wonderfully matter-of-fact way he talks, my favourite Zazu quote regarding Orcs being “All Zazu needs to know about the filthy creatures is that they burst when he squeezes them”. Oh Zazu you card.

Another thing that makes Orc Stain stand out is that the culture of the Orcs is quite fascinating. For the most part it appears to be a crude yet very advanced form of tribalism, with hints of magic use and surprising technological advancement thrown in. Their entire society seems to built on contradictions, killing other Orcs over petty insults is applauded and yet they’ve managed to achieve a level of technological and architectural advancement that you would usually associate with a less violent and crude race.

‘Crude’ actually sums up the Orcs nicely, and I love them for it. Really, any group that says things like “I’m gonna mangle yer gronch into confetti and dance around in it!” is a group that I’ll enjoy reading about.

It’s comics like Orc Stain that make me grateful that Image survived its early EXTREEEEEEEME days, this comic is clearly a labour of love for Stokoe and there’s no way in hell either Marvel or DC would have printed this.

The only real problem with this book is that it ends without anything being resolved, the issue by issue episodic format works fine if you’re reading it monthly (or rather it would if there hadn’t been a long delay between issues five and six) but it leads to an unsatisfying end with a long wait for resolution in this format. Still, the comic is good enough that it leaves you wanting more and willing to wait.

Orc Stain is nothing short of a triumph of the medium; the artwork is fantastic and brings to life this vibrant world and its colourful characters. Orc Stain gets my full recommendation, buy this volume and see if your local comic shop has issue six, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.


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