James Stokoe’s Orphan and the Five Beasts #2 is a comic that derives its strength from its art. Don’t get me wrong: I like James Stokoe. But Hemingway he is not – Stokoe is a great artist, not a great writer. And I love Stokoe’s art. It has a sense of frenetic quality and strength that I really admire.
But I want to zoom out for a moment. What is it that we actually want from comics art? What is it that a comics artist that we love looks like, artistically? The big artists of our moment – people like Ivan Reis, R. B. Silva, Pepe Larazz – they’re basically photorealists. The art that they produce is supposed to be like the real world. If the real world had Man-Spiders and Magnet Masters and all that jazz.
But, in the art world outside comics, that’s essentially a dead consensus. That’s not what art is about, and it hasn’t been about that for a very, very, long time. The great innovation of the impressionists, and the great step that the 19th century brought to European art, was that a work of art does not need to be a picture of something, necessarily. Instead, it’s supposed to make you feel what you feel when you see that in real life. And then the great innovation in the twentieth century of the abstract expressionists was that art does not need to represent any real-life analogue at all.
Now, of course, the nature of comics as a medium means that it can’t be non-representational. You still need to tell a story, after all. But when I look at a Modigliani, for instance, I know that there isn’t anyone who actually looked like that. Rather, he wanted to create the feelings of people – to capture pictures of people as they were, not just how they looked.
Is that significantly different then what a Rob Liefeld comic does? From what a Frank Miller comic does? From what a James Stokoe comic does?
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that James Stokoe is the twenty-first century’s Edgar Degas. But I think that artists that deviate from this trend towards photorealism need to be appreciated and recognized as a significant part of the current artistic milieu.
Anyway, go buy the book. It’s great art, great storytelling, and just generally an interesting comic which, I think, is an important artistic trend.
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