If you like your fantasy comics grimy, roguish, and filled with orcs trying to lop each other's dorks off, you'll love James Stokoe's Orc Stain. And if you don't, you're dunderheadedly depriving yourself of some of comicdom's finest artwork.
Orc Stain, which (in a herculean effort) is written, drawn and coloured by Stokoe, follows the adventures of One-Eye, a clever orc who's far less uncouth than his ill-mannered brethren.
After he castrates a nemesis, an unfortunate chain of events turns One-Eye into a wanted man and thrusts him into orcish imperial intrigue. The book's a thrilling read and was one of our favourite comics of 2010.
io9 recently chatted with the Vancouver-based Stokoe about what's it like to create one of the most brutal and visually arresting comic books on the stands, what fantasy inspires him, and, how he came up with such a squirm-inducing currency.
First off, you've done both science fiction comics (the online comic Murderbullets, Wonton Soup) and fantasy (Orc Stain). What's different about drawing fantasy compared to scifi?
I approach it more or less the same way, but slimier, I guess is the right word. Fantasy to me implies something organic and natural, which is why I try to make everything look kind of throbbing or sticky in Orc Stain.
How did you come up with the idea of the Gronch (i.e. orc penis)-based economy? It's totally repulsive/genius (diagram extremely NSFW).
I had to draw a bag of coins in issue 2, I think, and I got a bit stumped on what they would look like. I didn't think they should just be metal because the orcs wouldn't really value that, so I figured they would have to be something Gronch based. It all spiralled out of control after that as I tried to figure out how they would go about making coins out of severed genitalia, but I think it fit quite nicely.
In the comic, you've created a visceral, grimy fantasy world that's a far cry from the stereotypical "Middle Earth" look. What fantasy (or other works) provided aesthetic inspiration?
I've got these loose manga pages taped above my desk that have been a huge inspiration for the way Orc Stain looks. One is from a comic called The Fishbone by Akira Oyama, which is about this reclusive mountain nymph girl who gets swallowed by a T-rex and ends up fighting these weird masked guys. It's very hard to explain, but there was lots of castration and bizarre drug use. The other pages are from Keita Amemiya, a great character designer who does a lot of movie work in Japan. Anytime you see a fish creature in Orc Stain, or a crazy orc shamans hat filled with a ton of weird shit, it's probably because I just looked at one of his pages.
Outside of comics, there was a video game released in the late 90's called Planescape: Torment (I think it was based on a Dungeons & Dragons setting) that I played obsessively and had a huge impact on how I wanted to approach a fantasy story. It dropped a lot of basic high fantasy cliches, or turned them on their head completely in pretty brilliant ways that I still haven't seen topped.
Why orcs (and not humans, elves or other fantasy fauna)?
Just trimming the fat, really. I never cared that much for the typical bearded thespians, dwarves, elves, etc. in a fantasy setting, and I couldn't think of many interesting ways to make them click in the Orc Stain world. Besides orcs, I'm not sure if I'm ever going to use any other tried and true fantasy creatures. Maybe a troll.
In Orc Stain, you come up with a lot of biomechanical beings, like living walls and vast marionette telecommunications systems. How do you dream up these creatures?
I just stick with the whole natural organic theme and try to figure out what real world machines would look like if an orc built them. Like the other day I was watching some Hamburger Hill and I thought of what an orc mortar would be; a fleshy tube with two legs sticking straight into the air that fires weird bombs with umbilical cords tied to them. Once the cord snaps it explodes! Classy!
You illustrate one of the most meticulously detailed comics out today. How long does it take you to draw an issue?
Well, my spotty release schedule would say "too long", but I try to finish a page a day. Sometimes that page isn't for Orc Stain, but I got to eat!
How long do you see Orc Stain running for?
I can't honestly say. I know what the ending is going to be like, and some of the mid bits, but I've got a bunch of ideas and side plots I want to get in there so it'll be a while. I figure I can put five more years into it before it drives me completely bonkers. If you want to check out more Orc Stain stuff, you can visit my blog and for new readers who are interested, Image is releasing a one dollar reprint of the first issue in the next few weeks.
The sixth issue of Orc Stain was released earlier this month from Image Comics.