Powerful Panels: Stokoe's Orc Stain #2

Issue 2 of James Stokoe's chunky, tripped-out, does-whatever-it-wants Orc Stain begins with One-Eye and Pointyface, on their way to Scrubtown to give their share of chits to The Norman, a J. Jonah Jameson-like Orc, authority figure and somehow their boss...or something?

Pointyhead quickly dismisses a Nymph--in Stokoe's world, they're blue and pixie-haired and look like they should be in Nylon magazine--and both Orcs jump on these insane, almost bi-pedal, bug-eyed Triceratops and "head North".

Stokoe gives the fantasy-world thrill of creatures racing through some weird, foreign, craggly land two action-packed panels. The first is a kind of low-angle (think of those from-the-floor angles in Citizen Kane, it's that low) image of the creatures' legs kicking-up dust. They're caught mid-extension, legs bent, claws curved. Everything about the panel is slightly off or awkward. Your eyes end up focusing on this stubby, mound of dirty and grass that's a little left of the frame's center because it's the only complete thing in the whole image. The angle is, by conventional standards, "poorly framed"--there's not enough space at the top or bottom--and it's neither a wide or a medium shot...and it's not a close-up either.

All of the things that are "wrong" with the panel though, are why it's so weirdly, subliminally effective. Stokoe basically does a rote action scene in a slightly "off" way and makes it interesting again. That's probably true of Orc Stain as a whole--turning the familiar new by ignoring genre rules and expectations--but it's especially cool here; a blip of odd energy and excitement.

The panel moves, not because it's typically kinetic or possesses some killer visual narrative, but because the energy that it usually takes the interaction of panels to achieve, is done in a one, strangely framed, detail-packed image. You can imagine the panel as a shaky, hand-held camera, doing its best to capture the action, as the ground rumbles, and dust, dirt, and rocks kick-up in the foreground.

The next panel, though framed slightly "better", is on the same shit. Dust and chunks of ground jump around in the background, One-Eye and Pointyhead and their creatures, smooshed into the frame enough that they can be seen, but it's working with the same concept of the panel/"camera" not being able to appropriately capture the action. This panel feels almost like a still from footage of the creatures running, like a freeze-frame that clamps down on chaotic footage and kinda sorta makes it makes sense.

Before, I said these panels possess their own power, that they don't depend or use visual narrative, and though that's true in the sense that they totally work on their own and don't need each another, they are talking to one another. Look at the way Stokoe cleverly switches from the dust and grit in the foreground of the top panel to the dust and grit being in the background of the bottom panel. Also, when the panels are combined, you get a full illustration of the creatures: Their bottom-half and their top-half. Then, there's the contrast between those two action panels and the sedate tall panel on the left, the bored/annoyed One-Eye, totally not interested in what's going.

The sizes of the panels too, on the bottom third of the page, but the overall layout just as well, provide a "narrative" in the sense that there's a movement and trajectory to them. How they're arranged and how that final panel, the front view of the running creatures, is just crammed in there is really fun. One of the coolest things about Stokoe is how he's really trying to give you a fun read, not something you just slurp up and wait a month or two for the next one. Something that rewards you when you stare into it: A comic that's overflowing with images and ideas and jokes and cool little things--like this too-small, totally awesome panel.

I like that this panel doesn't need to be there. That the sequence would be even more terse and like, clever if Stokoe just gave you the top panel of the legs running. From Pointyhead's "We ride north" to a sprawling panel of the creatures well, heading north would be conventionally comic book-like. And it'd give the page a more comforting sense of parallelism. But no--instead, you get this moment stretched-out and made more complicated. One-Eye's mocking "North." and then, the two panels of the creatures that make it less an epic moment (though it still is exciting) and a weird, wobbling, you're totally in-it action sequence. Most people prefer the former, Stokoe prefers the latter. Me too.

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