James Stokoe is a genuinely unique comics creator. No matter if he’s drawing Batman, or crafting one of the most unique fantasy graphic novels you’ve ever read (that’d be Orc Stain), his approach sticks with readers. Not only in the incredible detail of his work, but how he can fully realize an entire world you could have never before imagined.
In the past, Stokoe has applied these skills to your favorite franchises, including incredible recent work on The Joker Warzone and Batman Annual #5. However, on March 17, Stokoe kicks off his eagerly anticipated creator-owned series Orphan and the Five Beasts. It’s a kung fu revenge epic influenced by classic Hong Kong action films, and Stokoe readily embraces those ideas and aesthetics to craft a truly wild ride. The final order cutoff is February 22nd so check with your comic shop if they have enough copies.
I was lucky enough to chat with Stokoe ahead of the book, where we talked about kicking off the new series, his inspirations and influences, and what is it about ropey innards that he just loves to draw endlessly.
AIPT: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about Orphan and the Five Beasts! How long has this new series been percolating for you?
James Stokoe: Thanks for having me! It was very much a spur of the moment deal. My wonderful editor Daniel Chabon, who I worked with on my Aliens series, wanted to grab me for a creator-owned series after my artbook Grunt came out. I was pretty burnt out on licensed books, and was deep into a Liu Chia-liang film spree, so an original kung fu story seemed like the perfect remedy.
AIPT: I love the mystical elements in this first issue, but also ideas like a man sitting in a cauldron of hot water. What was the bud that began this story?
JS: I drew a couple of sketches of Mo and the first Beast called Thunderthighs before I had any story ideas totally locked down. I knew I wanted to do something similar to the classic Five Deadly Venoms plot of a pupil going out into the world and basically doing an escalating series of boss battles, but put a more fantastical spin on it. One of the earliest rules I made myself adhere to was to never go for pure pastiche, but be respectful and let the influence of all those great movies filter through into something that’s my own. I think working on licensed books for so long helped hone that instinct to some degree, and I hope that shines through in the finished pages.
AIPT: There’s an appeal to the kung fu epic that never gets old, as well as the wandering traveler who helps others. What is the appeal of these genres and ideas for you?
JS: A simple idea done bombastically will always get my bum in a seat, and besides the insane physicality, that’s a big part of the appeal of Hong Kong action movies to me. That’s a sensibility that I’ve tried to harness in my own work, like with Sobek, which could easily be summed up as “a crocodile goes for a walk”, but (hopefully) the execution reveals more.
AIPT: Your work is always exciting, not only in its detail but its expressive use of color. How far out do you start working on a project, how long might an average page take?
JS: I think we started this book mid-last year, but there was some hiatus when COVID exploded. It’s hard for me to even guess at how long a page takes me now, I’ve gotten into the habit of working on multiple pages at once. It probably takes me a lot longer than it used to, as my work has evolved and I also have a baby now. I don’t think I use solid blacks anymore, every fill is hatched for some inane reason? I’m always yelling at myself to pare things down and be more graceful and economical, but never end up listening.
AIPT: James, you’ve worked in comics for over a decade, I was curious if you could map out your career over a 100-meter dash. Where are you now, what was your record-beating moments (still on the metaphor), and what goals do you see yourself at 75, 95, and 100 meters?
JS: Oh, god, over a decade? I’m getting old. I wouldn’t say that it’s much of a dash, more of a comfortable trot. I don’t think my career has changed that drastically in all this time? It’s hard to gauge these things when your day to day life doesn’t alter, which I’m totally cool with. If I’m still trotting at 75, 95, and 100 meters, doing work that interests me and not shattered by arthritis, then I’ll call that a happy career.
AIPT: It seems you’re always slicing things up in your work, what is it about cutting something clean in half that appeals to you?
JS: The gooey insides, I suppose? Ropey innards are good fun to draw. I wasn’t even aware that slicing things cleanly in half was a thing associated with me, but hey, I’ll take it.
AIPT: If fans ask their comic book shop owner what they should buy, what should they say in five words or less to hook readers on Orphan and the Five Beasts?
JS: Man explodes horse with thighs.
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