5 out of 5
Out of his tiny-detailed contemporaries – Geoff Darrow, Brandon Graham – Stokoe’s style is the only one that works on both necessary comic fronts for me: as a strict, visual Wow factor, and also as a storytelling device, his pages able to be jam-packed, full of energy – surviving rereads and panel studies – and yet eminently readable, not holding you up if you just want to blaze through the story.
And with Orc Stain, he seemed to latch on to a personal zeitgeist regarding the latter, spinning out a simple but effective Orc lore and setting out an intriguing hero’s journey (or hero-ish) for his lead, ‘One-eye.’ Solo creator endeavors of this scope tend to fall flat on their face after playing an initial, clever hand, but Stokoe’s creativity is such that we could hang out in any given corner of his ooky world – a garish mash-up between freewheeling manga fantasy, American underground gross-out a la Dave Cooper, and the psychedelic playlands of Brendan McCarthy – and spend issues and issues there. That James doesnt seem tempted by the indulgence (another general issue with writer / creator world building), instead choosing to truck us alongside One-Eye as he runs away from a pursuing orc tribe, is to his credit as a storyteller, and evidence that he has / had (the story has been on indefinite hiatus for a bit now…) some great ideas to play with alongside his awesome artwork.
There are some fun other characters to meet – especially the swamp ramba and her “associate” Zazu – and Stokoe starts to wind in some interesting background in later issues that changes One-Eye’s escape into a quest. The book also absolutely earns the ‘slaughter comix’ subheader Stokoe uses in book one, both for jaw-dropping action – One-Eye has the ability to spot the single weak point in any structure, hitting it with his hammer and causing its destruction – and some hilariously goopy low-brow gags.
You’ve seen traces of this style elsewhere, but nothing else that combined it all into such a satisfying mushy mash of wild art and story.