If there’s a trap that ought to be maligned more in American comics, it’s the bait-and-switch cover. I know it’s good business sense to make covers the most attractive part of your comic, but all too often shitty books are graced with the shiniest exteriors.
A few months ago I read the first few issues of The New 52 Deathstroke purely on the basis of Simon Bisley’s amazing cover art. Eventually my enthusiasm for the covers was outpaced by my disappointment in the book’s writing, and I had to tap out.
It happens in every genre, including fantasy comics. Some of those covers look stunning, going so far as to incorporate Frank Frazetta paintings, but you’d be hard pressed to say anything nice about the art or stories contained within.
These sorts of infractions are why I passively neglected Orc Stain for so long. I’m glad to have finally relented against my former skepticism. This stuff rocks, the interiors just as uniquely attractive as every cover dares to be.
The excellent coloring of Orc Stain is what initially catches most people’s attention. It’s a reptilian palette of purple, green and red gradients, which makes everything blend together cohesively, while also adding depth to the detailed and frenetic linework. Since comics began to be colored digitally, gradients this conspicuous have often defiled what are otherwise serviceable pencils and inks, a tell-tale sign of heavy handed colorists rushing to make their deadlines. Here, the coloring is nothing short of breathtaking, adding balance and actually elevating the already impressive line drawing. I wouldn’t be surprised if coloring is the most time-consuming part of creating Orc Stain.
Luckily, Orc Stain isn’t an exercise in style over substance, either. Its plot, which follows a thoughtful one-eyed orc trying to keep a low profile as an explosive paradigm shift overtakes society, is grounded in an unpredictable world filled with unusual beasts, weapons, and magic. Orcs are a race of obstinate, single-minded brutes, constantly engaged in fickle tribal warfare which accomplishes little. Most humorously, orc economics is based entirely around the gronch, the orc penis. It’s both amusing and disgusting to read about orc currency and how it’s generated. This is a book where you’re just as likely to turn the page to see what happens to the protagonist as you are to learn one of the weird quirks of the world he inhabits.
Great-looking book. Unique and compelling milieu. What’s the catch?
The closest thing to a catch is that it takes James Stokoe a long time to release each issue, because he writes, draws, inks and colors them himself. I don’t have a problem with this. In fact, I would embrace an alternative model of American comics closer to what you see in Europe, where 45-60 page chapters are released annually in high-quality hardcovers. There are talented comic book artists suited to the monthly format, but a lot aren’t. Put shortly, this book is worth the wait.
Okay, there’s one more catch, and I’m surprised I’d ever say it: this comic may look better digitally than in print. I have the Orc Stain trade paperback (which collects issues one through five), and Orc Stain #6, the most recent issue. Both are printed on an uncoated paper that greedily absorbs the rich tapestry of ink that makes up an issue of Orc Stain, reducing its contrast and vividity. Would it raise the price-point too high to print the comic on glossy paper? I can’t say.
I can tell you with confidence, however, that when you compare two-page spreads that run across both a comic book page and the inside back cover, it’s the half on the coated cover that looks best. The other side appears limp and demure by comparison. When you read the comic digitally, you don’t have this problem. It’s bright and beautiful, exploding off the screen. Good thing it’s available on comiXology for 2 bucks an issue.
Orc Stain is an artist’s compelling vision of brazen weirdness, a genuine labor of love carefully crafted. In North America, people deserve more credit for creating comics in this fashion.