Pipeline: Free Marvel Comics & Stokoe's "Orc Stain"

Tue, March 12th, 2013 at 2:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

MARVEL GOES #1 CRAZY, COMIXOLOGY BREAKS IN HALF

I'll leave the deep analysis of this week's breaking of the comics internet to someone else. Me, I'm just going to have bite-sized fun with it!

I haven't done an official count of the 700 #1 comics that Marvel had for free ever-so-briefly at ComiXology this week, but it did seem to me like the vast majority of them were published in the last five years, didn't it?

There was a "Marvel Zombies" category that scored 15 different #1 issues. Remember when that was a thing?

I found it funny that the first book listed (alphabetically, granted) in ComiXology's list of free title was "15 Love," a book that took a decade to make it to print. It was a pure product of the Bill Jemas era at Marvel but didn't see publication until long after his departure.

The Ultimate Universe was created to be new reader friendly. What better way to keep people current than by publishing new #1 issues? That category had 50 different #1 issues in it. Not bad for a universe designed to max out at four monthly titles.

The "Acclaimed and Noteworthy" listing had ten different "Ender's Game" series listed. Are we boycotting ComiXology or Marvel for that? I get lost in my outrage sometimes...

Remember back in the 90s when Marvel pursued a publishing strategy that many said was meant to push every other company's books off store shelves? If they published enough junky Marvel superhero titles, there wouldn't physically be room for "Strangers in Paradise", et. al.? You know that somewhere, someone is guessing that's what Marvel did this week by taking down ComiXology.

As a guy who works professionally in computers and deals with network architecture, I'm always amused when people think the solution to any web site's demise is to throw more servers at the problem. Yes, that will fix some problems -- if properly set up -- but that kind of thing isn't instantaneous and isn't always possible.

I guess Diamond Digital did boffo business on Monday to cash in on their rival's downtime? No? Maybe iVerse? Longbox Online? Graphicly? How's Wowio doing these days?

Remember that time Joe Quesada broke the internet in half? No, not that time. The time before. No, the time before that one. Yeah, that one.

Lots of comic shops were open on Sunday and Monday. They had plenty of Marvel books in stock for you, too. They weren't free, but don't worry - Free Comic Book Day is getting closer.

Remember when Comics on the Web was down for a couple of hours and darn near took CrossGen down with it? That didn't really happen, but I do like reminding people how ahead of its time CrossGen was in so many ways.

Chuck Rozanski had nice things to say about CrossGen's COW back in the day:

Another positive feature of "Comics on the Web" is the cost. Maggie Thompson, our esteemed editor, told me via e-mail the other day that she signed up for the "lifetime" deal of being able to read all CrossGen comics ever posted for only $75! I'm not sure if that deal is still available, but if it is, I plan to sign up, too. If you don't want to make such a long commitment, I understand that you can read all the monthly issues (a month after they're first placed on the new comics racks) for only $1 per month. I simply don't know how this deal could be any better...

Sadly, I don't think CrossGen lasted another 75 months after that. Imagine Marvel putting together a deal like that with ComiXology? The servers would never recover.

Please note that CrossGen's digital delay was one month, whereas Marvel is promising six months but currently is closer to 12.

Three years ago, digital comics were a pipe dream. We were all waiting for Longbox to come on-line. This week, ComiXology fell apart for two days and people were calling for blood. How quickly the tides shift.

Scott Kurtz pointed out the obvious:

Marvel's 700 free comics crashing ComiXology servers SHOULD be the day comics figures out "oh. . . if we GIVE it away FIRST. . .". Like, if this doesn't drive through that the webcomics model is kinda worth trying for real, nothing will.

You kids don't realize how easy you have it. Why, back in my day, we had to buy back issues on micro-fiche!

The colour microfiche can be viewed on any library microfiche reader. But for best viewing the MicroColor Model 1100 microfiche reader is designed for displaying the colour microfiche at 100% original size. It is capable of providing sharp bright colour images on its 11" x 11" non-glare grey screen. It weighs only 12 lbs.

Stick that in your iPad!

ORC STAIN

Every so often, a comic book comes along that makes you look at full frontal male nudity in a whole new light. It's a book about bad people who cut off each other's genitalia to be used in their culture as currency. It's a book where large creatures wreak havoc with tentacle-like appendages.

In this decade, that book is "Orc Stain," James Stokoe's series through Image Comics that seems fated to be forever stuck at seven issues. The last new issue came out a year ago. A trade paperback came out two years ago with the first five issues in it, and is well worth the money, if you're willing to travel down a rather weird rabbit hole into a world of crazed orcs.

Stokoe's style is a unique blend of all sorts of influences. The manga feeling is definitely there, particularly with the large lettering, the big panels, the over-the-top facial expressions. There are also hints of European comics here. You can see H.R. Giger or Moebius in his intricately detailed landscapes, architecture, and creature design. The color is just as important, with a variety of purple and green hues dominating the book. It's not a combination you see too much these days.

Even Stokoe's lettering has a unique feel. It reminds me a bit of the kind of work Brandon Graham has done, fitting his little sound effects and captions so neatly into the work. Stokoe uses lots of little burst balloons to accompany his sound effects, but he also treats the balloons as parts of the scene. You'll see them occasionally appear to be floating just above the world, with little cast shadows indicating distance, and the angle of the balloon indicating the plane it exists on, parallel to the scene. These are all nice tricks, well used. Stokoe is hand lettering this book himself, which helps give it a throwback look to independent comics of the pre-Adobe Illustrator lettering age.

Oh, and the story? It's about an orc bounty hunter named One Eye who has a mission go awry and finds himself on the run for his life, threatened by a murderous mob at one moment, a poisonous witch the next, and all the while dodging a strong force coming up from the south. It's a comedic action adventure book. That's where Stokoe excels. He has great moments of characters reacting to the crazy situations they find themselves in, but then draws a multi-page chase scene across a village's rooftops on the way to a hot air balloon and beyond. (I'm simplifying here. Please forgive me.) His action scenes are as clearly laid out as any I've seen in comics lately, with plenty of backgrounds and a variety of angles. It's an imaginative roller coaster ride that never stops adding new visual tricks to the page.

Stokoe does a great job in moving the book along, from the smaller moments to the bigger ones and back, without ever losing momentum. One scene ends in the destruction of half the town, only to be followed by a slow-moving one-on-one confrontation before moving back to a larger scale town-under-siege. Most writers build up to a crescendo and then don't know where to go. Stokoe amps up the craziness, but never loses momentum and never tries to outdo himself for the sake of being "bigger."

"Orc Stain" is a stylish book that deserves greater exposure and, hopefully, more issues. It does contain some language, some orc nudity very similar to human nudity, and some bloody violence, so it won't be safe for the younger readers. (One of the special features in the back of the book shows how an orc's gronch is cut up into chits. I winced.) The youngest would likely be scared of the crazy creatures in the world, anyway. But if you can handle "Invincible"-level violence and the frank and open discussion of the usefulness of cutting off another man's manliness, then there's a lot to recommend in this book.

The trade paperback collects the first five issues for $18, along with some bonus pages. The book has a nice spot varnish cover and heavy white non-glare paper stock to show off the art very well. The inside covers are glossier and contain art that does look brighter and clearer, but I have no complaints about the interior paper stock. The second printing of the book is almost a year old now, so it might be tricky finding the trade, but it's worth the look.

Stokoe's blog is filled with amazing samples of his art, from both "Orc Stain" and his more recent "Godzilla" work. CBR posted a long preview of the first 30 pages or so of the trade when it first came out. Those pages will give you a good idea of what to expect, even if they'll be too small on the screen to enjoy the full glory of them all.

PIPELINKS AND RANDOM THOUGHTS

  • DC announced "Batman: Zero Year" with great fanfare yesterday, being particularly careful to note that this storyline is not meant to replace or contradict "Batman: Year One". Remember the bold promise of the New 52 to reboot everything and start over and not tick off fans from the late 80s?

  • The bigger problem with this is that the character is now boxed in. After Zero Year and Year One, where else can DC go? I expect they're writing Skottie Young a big check right now to do Bat-Babies, with Dustin Nguyen doing the inevitable Bat-Kids sequel.

  • Todd Nauck draws the 80s X-Men lineup. I love this one. And it was a great line-up, wasn't it? They had such distinctive looks and attitudes back then. I can't even tell you who is on who's "side" anymore...

  • Skottie Young draws Thanos in all his cute glory as a variant cover. It's glorious.

  • When you shop at Jim Hanley's comic shop in the shadow of the Empire State Building, you check your bag. Last time I was there -- years ago -- the bag check was a trading card from the "Famous Comics Creators" set from 1992. Now, you can see those cards in their full glory on-line. It would be too easy to devote an entire column to pointing out some of the creators and saying, "Look how young they look! Look at those glasses! That long hair! That popped collar!" But enough about Neil Gaiman...

  • John Byrne was drawing Rocket Raccoon before Rocket Raccoon was cool again. I want to find the time to fit in a re-read of that "She-Hulk" series. Will it seem too tame today? Will it seem corny? Or will it hold up as the fun comic that it was at the time? Any series that let Howard Mackie draw a page can't be all that bad, can it?
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TAGS:  pipeline, marvel comics, sxsw, comixology, james stokoe, orc stain

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