The fact that James Stokoe’s name is on the cover should be enough to convince people to buy Orphan and the Five Beasts. Stokoe is in the short list of comics auteurs – you know when you are reading a James Stokoe book. Stokoe’s art is instantly recognizable, a mix of a sort of manga-inspired hyper-detailed art with a frenetically kinetic style. And he brings with that artistic signature a writing style that values action in and of itself as an end. The storytelling is good, and there’s a lot of merit to them, but the storytelling comes as an adjunct to that frenetic action storytelling.
His Godzilla comics are a fantastic example of that sort of storytelling. Of course, Half-Century War and Godzilla in Hell have complex stories and themes, but they also have a lot of excuses for giant monsters to punch each other.
Orphan and the Five Beasts is ur-Stokoe: Stokoe boiled down to his most powerful, raw form.
The plot itself is good enough, and interesting enough, that it is worth not spoiling here, and it wears its influences on its sleeve. Stokoe has read and seen a lot of manga, and a lot of classic wuxia films – and if I, a person who has read and seen neither, can pick that up, then you should really see just how clear those influences are.
It’s also noticeable just how little action there actually is in a comic that is so frenetically action-packed. I mean, the scene that actually stands out the most to me is one where the mentor of our protagonist just yells a warning to our hero – a scene that is actually much more energetic than the beginning of the fight against one of our antagonists, the pretty fantastically named Thunderthighs.
Stokoe’s lettering is one of the most fascinating parts of the book. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the lettering and the coloring are spectacular – and if you’re buying a Stokoe book, you’re probably buying it for the art, not the plot. But the lettering is deeply manga inspired, and energetically irregular. The way that he does the ‘H’, with these long, dagger-like pointed endings, is really fascinating to see.
James Stokoe’s energetic, larger-than-life artwork is on full display in this kung-fu comic.
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