Book of the Month

Orc Stain, Vol. 1
story, art & cover JAMES STOKOE

Size: 168 pages
Price: 17.99


Thanks to Peter Jackson and company, “orc” is a household term. Where once the fearsome orc was known mostly to Tolkien-lovers and lovers of those who ripped off Tolkien, these days even my grandmother knows what an orc is. (Possibly. My mom definitely does.) Me? I didn’t really become familiar with the giant lumbering green creatures until the early 1990s when me and my brother and my dad would play HeroQuest at night in the summers. As a kid I had The Hobbit and most of The Lord of The Rings read to me, but for whatever reason those tropes didn’t really stick until those summers when we played a lot of HeroQuest. Combine that with an (un)healthy amount of WarCraft in my college and post-college years, and I’ve been familiar with all things orc for just about 20 years. No matter what the medium, the orc is pretty much the same. Whether it’s in books, or films, or video games – orcs are big, orc are mean, and orcs want to kill and possibly eat you. There weren’t a whole lot of orc-related surprises left out there in the world. Or so I thought.

Enter: Orc Stain.

It’s not often that a previously unknown talent drops into the comic book world and upsets the table with a fresh-feeling, fully realized world executed with a delirious amount of talent and a wildly demented imagination. But that’s exactly what writer/penciler/inker/colorist/letter James Stokoe did when he unleashed Orc Stain on the comic book world just about a year ago.

Since its debut I’d been hearing about Orc Stain from people I trust. Every time a new issue came out it was all everybody I knew who was reading it could talk about. And then when this trade paperback came out in December, our very own Paul Montgomery gave it a glowing 5 star gronch review and I knew I had to check it out, sooner rather than later. Well, when you’re as busy as I am “sooner” sometimes means, like, two and a half months.

In the world of Orc Stain, the orc are supreme. They hold dominion over every corner of the globe, but it’s a fragile power. The orc is, by nature, headstrong and combative. Rulers never last very long before they are challenged and overthrown by some young upstart, who then finds himself challenged and over thrown by someone else and so on and so forth. But in the southern region one orc, The Orc Tzar, has managed to unite the warring factions under his rule and he begins to move his armies north. Only one thing stands in the way of his total domination of the known world: The Orc Tzar’s seer has prophesied that a one-eyed orc from the north shall cut off his gronch.

Oh, have I mentioned the orc penises yet?

One of the most bizarrely entertaining things about Orc Stain is that the orc culture seems to focus on the orc penis, or “gronch”. (And not in the that way that our entire society is oftentimes centered on the penis.) An orc gronch is a highly valuable trophy. As the story opens, The Orc Tzar brags of the many gronch skins he has taken in battle, like so many scalps in the Old West. When two orcs get into a fight there is a lot of talk about removing each others‘ gronches and when we first meet the one-eyed orc who is the hero of this story, a safe cracker named, of course, One-Eye, he’s helping to pull a bear safe job (that’s right, a safe that protrudes from the stomach of a giant bear) and when it goes south, the crime lord they were pulling it for doesn’t order them killed he orders their gronches chopped off. You never go more than a few pages in Orc Stain without someone mentioning, threatening to, or attempting to cut off, another orc’s gronch that after a while it became absurdly funny. Plus, it’s really fun to say “gronch.” Especially like an angry orc would. Go ahead, try it.

This volume collects the first five issues of Orc Stain, and you can tell that the story being told here is going to be a long one because while there are little adventures along the way, on the whole it’s all set up for what’s to come. We are introduced to the world, we meet the main players, we establish relationships, and we get everyone pointed in the right directions for their inevitable confrontations and clashes. Normally, a story like this might feel unfulfilling, but the world that James Stokoe has created is so vivid and inventive that taking in all of the little details that make this new world come to life is so very much fun.

As I mentioned before, James Stokoe is the writer and the penciler and the inker and the colorist and the letterer of Orc Stain. It’s possible that he’s running the presses and making the deliveries to the various comic book stores, but I have yet to confirm that. I don’t know how long it takes for Stokoe to complete each issue, or even if they come out monthly, and I don’t care. This book could be quarterly and it would be totally worth the wait. Knowing that everything you see on the page is done by one person, and seeing that the art is so insanely detailed, is very nearly awe-inspiring. More than once while reading it did I find myself absorbing something I hadn’t seen before — like the system that the orcs use to communicate — and thinking to myself, wow that is COOL. I really liked being in this world. It felt very immersive. I liked that where the orcs we are all used to are big and burly, these orcs tended to wirey and scrappy. The tropes are very familiar, but the execution is new and exciting.

Orc Stain is not for everybody. It’s violent and bloody. It’s profane. It’s gronch-happy. It’s also an action-packed adventure that feels epic in scope and is fairly bursting with imagination.

Conor Kilpatrick
Let’s hunt some gronch!


  1. I have heard nothing but good things about this.  I’m definitely going to pick it up with my next Instocktrades order (which’ll include Stumptown, Skullkickers, and Wildcats Ver. 3.0 Year Two…Joy!)

  2. Book is SO MUCH pure unadulterated FUN! read it and pour over the pages for hours! Surprisingly adept storytelling for how busy the panels are too.

  3. This comic is just ridiculously awesome. Not to mention some of the most vibrant coloring in recent memory.

  4. two words ,orc junk

  5. This book is worth at least 100 gronch coins (which, of course, are obtained by slicing gronches).
    Great pick!

  6. Awesome pick! I totally see a double dip in my future. (Possibly triple, if they ever put out a hardcover)  🙂

  7. It’s been in my stack since it came out, it’ll be the next cab off the rank after I finish Morning Glories. I’ve always had a lot of respect for creators that do it all themselves.

  8. Picked it up after 11 O’Clock gave it such rave reviews. Didn’t care for it.

  9. I love this book. Nice choice.

    @rnield Sorry you didn’t dig on it, but thanks for trusting us enough to try. Hopefully we’ll steer ya towards something you’ll like soon.

  10. Avatar photo Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    SO good. It’s like the natural evolution of the Smurfs. 

  11. So glad to see the love for this book. My single favorite series being published right now! I picked up the first issue because the title made me laugh… little did I know, MY MIND WAS BLOWN!!!!

  12. My favorite independent title since The Goon.

  13. Sounds like insane amounts of fun. This goes definitely on my list (or rather my excel spreadsheet).

    May you win many gronch skins!

  14. Does this collection include much extra/bonus material? Been getting the issues, but I’m on the fence about getting the tpb.

  15. Read the first 5 issues on comixology. Good stuff; definitely looking forward to what’s to come.

    What I love the most about the book is that everything is so over the top, but yet still believable; It doesn’t feel forced at all.

  16. Couldn’t have picked a better book out there.

  17. Great book. It’s one book where you do not mind release delays because its worth it.

  18. Read this last weekend. It’s so full of ideas. So over the top and ridiculous, but so clever and smart at the same time. Leave some crazy ideas for the rest of us Stokoe!

  19. I read this trade this morning based entirely upon the iFanboy recommendation. The art was beautiful, the story was unlike anything I’d ever read. Pulled me right in. The only disappointment is when it inevitably ended. I was hoping for a complete story, but at least I’ll be there in another five issues.

  20. I saw his drawing of Galactus in the Strange Tales II (issue 3?) and was so impressed by the level of detail that I had to get this book. Never have I been so impressed by someone’s art in a comic book before. My comic book shop owner ordered Orc Stain for me but when I told him about the gronch he said I lost him. Lol.