Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Orc Stain #5, which was published by Image and is cover dated October 2010. Enjoy!
Orc Stain might never finish (or even have another issue show up), but James Stokoe’s wild story features some wonderful stuff. The first page of issue #1 is tremendous, but while the first page of issue #5 isn’t as superb, it’s still pretty neat. Stokoe shows us Sersa, the big dude with the giant beard, as he checks out a prisoner. Sersa doesn’t speak, just watches, as the guard shoves a prisoner in front of him. Stokoe doesn’t give us too much information, just shows us the scene – the guard is surly, the prisoner is terrified and a bit defiant. What we get from this is that the guard, perhaps, is abusing people more than he should be, but if this is the first time we’ve read an issue, we don’t know what kind of society this is – perhaps no one has any rights. The one piece of information we get from the dialogue is that the guard is rounding up “one eyed gits,” so perhaps someone with one eye is important. Of course readers of the first four issues know this is true, but Stokoe at least gives us that if we’re a new reader. Beyond that, the dialogue tells us that this society is a bit more brutal than ours is.
Stokoe’s page layout is fairly standard – he gives us a big panel to establish the scene, then three panels at the bottom to focus in on the players. I don’t know if I can get into his detailed art as much as I would like, but let’s drink it in. In Panel 1, we get the long shot of Sersa coming down the stairs and the prisoner wagon in the foreground. We see the intricate way Stokoe draws this world, as the wagon’s details are clearly delineated and well considered (the horns on the side to deter raiders, for instance). The creatures are nicely drawn, and Stokoe throws in nice details like the dude on the ground smoking. In this place, Sersa’s blackness stands out – he looks menacing even if he’s doing something innocuous like walking down stairs. Stokoe does a nice job with the background, too – the tunnel leads us from the edge of the page to the foreground in between the wagon and Sersa, which is where we anticipate the two opposing movements (the wagon and Sersa) coming together. That’s also a good place to put the smoking dude – he acts as a fulcrum on the page, even though he’s not obviously visible.
In Panel 2 we get a nice view of Sersa, and Stokoe makes sure that his eyes are shrouded in shadows, which adds to his menace. He passes by the guard and the prisoner in the background, because Stokoe knows that his visual presence is so strong that he’d overwhelm the rest of the panel if he weren’t. We get a closer look at the way the orcs in Stokoe’s comic look and dress – we see the helmet on the guard has eyes, because almost everything in Orc Stain is alive in some way, and the orcs use these living things for clothing, tools, and appliances. Stokoe never comments on it in the text, of course, because for the orcs it’s a way of life, but it’s fun to see how he draws all sorts of things with those kind of resigned eyes – the helmet thinks, “This is my lot, and that’s the way it is.” In Panel 4, Sersa becomes more prominent because we’re going to follow him onto the next page and not the guard and prisoner, so Stokoe places him in a spot where we can see him clearly and go with him as he walks on his way.
Stokoe colors this book, too, and while he keeps it somewhat muted, it’s still neat to see the wide variety of colors he uses. Of course, the earth tones are well represented – this is world bursting with nature, so browns, reds, and greens show up a lot. A lot of the buildings and such are carved out of mountains, so the tunnel is brown, while a lot is made out of wood, hence the brown of the wagon. The earth tones also imply a rough civilization – the orcs have no interest in beauty, so they’re very utilitarian. Sersa stands out a bit with his reddish nose and blue head, because while many orcs are colored this way, their bodies are often greenish. Sersa’s beard covers up his body, so his head stands out a bit more, making him slightly more mysterious and threatening.
I can’t even imagine how long it took Stokoe to draw this page, much less seven issues of this (which is how many issues have come out so far). That’s possibly why the book has ground to a halt, unfortunately. But if this first page looks keen, I encourage you to pick up the trade of issues #1-5. It’s a pretty keen book.
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