What it is: Created, written, drawn, inked, and colored by James Stokoe (creator of Wonton Soup) and published by Image Comics, Orc Stain is one of the most fun books I’ve read in a while. Set in a hostile world overpopulated by warring orc tribes, where empires rise and fall constantly, giant beasts roam the wilds, and where the currency is the severed penises of rival orcs. The story centers around an Orc thief named “One Eye,” a mysterious orc with strange powers who makes a living cracking safes and taking burglar jobs from the leaders of the mountain tribes, whilst in the south an orc warlord — the Orctzar — has been leading his jungle tribe to victory, increasing the size of his massive empire. After a scuffle between One Eye and a rival orc results in a touch more destruction and dismemberment than anticipated, One Eye ends up attracting the attention of the Orctzar’s minions, as well as the help of a strange swamp witch.
Why I love it: because the book is fucking rad, that’s why! One look at the art and it’s clear just how much passion Stokoe puts into this project — it is, after all, done entirely by him. The art in Orc Stain is some of the best I’ve ever seen — no really, this is amazing stuff. The style is a mix between whimsical fantasy and dark sci-fi. It reminds me a lot of the art of Michel Ancel, Arik Roper, Zeno Clash, and even Brutal Legend all mashed together, but with a lot more gore and phallic imagery. Almost every panel looks like the cover for a metal record.
It’s not just the art, the setting is nuts too, filled with some of the most unique ideas I’ve seen in a long time. Giant bears act as safes, with lock boxes implanted in their stomachs and protrusions coming out of their shoulders which resemble birds but are organically connected to the internal structures of the animal; along the cliffs and ridges of the mountain region, giant stone heads of dead orc warriors and kings are stacked on top of each other, covered in moss and trees, becoming the very mountains themselves; every weapon is covered in spikes, scales, and eyes, and even a pair of testicles once in a while; and the currency is coins made from petrified orc “Gronchs,” while the larger ones are worn and traded as trophies.
But it doesn’t stop there: witches, ”love nymphs,” giant wig monster, monsters, blind bunny-warrior clans, sentient beards, and crabs that can be smoked as a psychedelic are just some of the examples of other beasts roaming this hostile land.
The over-the-top setting is delivered with a punk attitude that is as genuine as it is smarmy. Despite this, the story is actually very well written; you’ll come for the art, but stay for the narrative. I found myself invested in the story, and even surprised by some of the things that happened; anything is truly possible in this world. Even when certain plot points could be construed as cliche, they’re still exciting and interesting because of the setting and manner in which the happen.
It probably goes without saying that this book ain’t for kids, but it should also be noted that it isn’t sexually explicit either. More often than not, any genitalia seen is usually bereft of any body and splattered with blood.
Orc Stain is something of a triumph; while only 7 issues deep (with more to be released sometime in the future, albeit slowly — it is a solo side-project after all), the series is already one of the most well written, visually stunning, and conceptually creative books out there. I highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys badass, over-the-top settings, good stories, underground comics, and anyone in need of a new non-”super hero” story. You can buy volume 1 (issues 1-6) here, and issue 7 here, AND you can even read the entire first issue for FREE here!
And be sure to check out more of James Stokoe’s work here and here; he’s working on a Godzilla book AND a one-shot Spider-Man story where Peter Parker is drafted into the Vietnam war! …WHAT!? Keep your eye on this guy, folks, he’s goin’ places.