Monday, September 22, 2014

A Stain of Orcs

A few weeks ago I was in a comic book store near my apartment (Bergen Street Comics if you’re ever in the neighborhood), and, not knowing very much of anything about comics, I just leafed through the selections rather aimlessly. That is, until I stumbled upon Orc Stain by James Stokoe.

I like to describe Orc Stain as Lord of the Rings meets Naked Lunch. Fantasy meets psychedelia: hordes of battle-crazed orcs throwing themselves into bloody battles beneath giant bio-mechanical towers that look suspiciously like penises.
"The Deep South"... fitting.
Alright not suspiciously, they are essentially giant penises; the series is unapologetically graphic. Hell, the orcs’ currency, the “gronch," is literally penises cut into coin-like discs. So be warned before you go any further.

The plot is a bit formulaic; within the first few pages an oracle makes a prophecy and so the evil conquering Orctzar must find and kill the unwilling protagonist/Chosen One, One-Eye. But it's the little details that make it wonderful. One-Eye’s pseudo-magical ability is that he is able to break anything. The prophecy just takes that to a logical progression, to a larger scale; that he is able to break things that are not necessarily tangible, like an army or an entire empire.

Then there are little details like the fact that orcs are not the dramatic monsters of Peter Jackson movies, but are very human characters—almost always despicable human characters, but very human nonetheless. There’s even a little bit of Flintstones in the series—a giant bear used as a safe, a parasitic bird used as a burglar alarm, a soda can that is apparently an actual living creature. Eventually you notice that most of the Mad Max looking gear or weaponry in the frames have eyes or teeth. Even a mountain is actually a giant insect thing.

Bear Safe! aka a "Gurpa".
And that’s what I love about the illustrations—they are intense and imbued with a violent color pallet of greens and purples and a Where’s-Waldo-esque amount of tiny details—characters moving around in the background, belts constantly full of strange collections of bottles and body parts.

Now of course the problem with all of this is that Stokoe writes, illustrates and colors all of it, so it takes him a long time. Since starting it in 2010, he has only completed seven issues and it really feels like we haven’t even gotten to the main story yet. But they’re all pretty spectacular and they each seem to get better and better so here’s hoping he keeps going!

It’s violent and disgusting and the characters are immature and petty and sadistic, even the good ones. I highly suggest it. If you're interested, the first chapter can be read for free here, and if you like it Stokoe also has a blog where you can read samples of his other work.

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