Writers: James Stokoe
Artist: James Stokoe
Colorist: James Stokoe
Letterer: James Stokoe
Cover Artist: James Stokoe
Editor: Daniel Chabon
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
The thing about style, whether it refers to literature, cinema, or art, is how hard it is to acquire, and how easy it is to identify when confronted over a period of time. That is a lesson this month’s publication of Grunt: The Art and Unpublished Comics Of James Stokoe teaches quite effectively, in a manner that is as refreshing as it is compelling.
The book is a Greatest Hits edition, as it were, of everything Stokoe has put his mind to since he first began emptying its contents onto paper. He has described it as the equivalent of throwing ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ at his editor, Daniel Chabon. The result is a mix of unpublished work that goes back to when he was in his teens and includes later successes from Orc Stain and Wonton Soup to the Godzilla and Alien franchises. What stands out, as one flips through these pages, is obviously the high quality on every page, along with a highly evolved sense of how color can change the tone of an illustration.
There are examples from Orc Stain here that serve to remind readers why Stokoe found a large audience in the first place. The series is a world-building exercise, after all, and one that only an artist who takes up empty spaces as a challenge can pull off effectively. It chronicles the story of an orc named One Eye, a safe-cracker who actually cracks living creatures inside of whom are stored valuable things. That intriguing premise allows Stokoe to unleash the full breadth of his unbridled imagination not just upon scenes of shocking violence but on the nature of the orcs themselves, and Grunt showcases examples of how he manages to give them specific character traits. I didn’t compare these pages with his published comics, but I suppose one could to try to get a better sense of why he chose some pages and rejected others.
It’s obvious that this is a man drawn to battle scenes, but he can’t be resented for it when one considers what this interest leads to in the form of his other work such as Godzilla: The Half-Century War. Grunt doesn’t always specify where some of this art has come from, or where it was originally meant to go, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it allows us to see pieces of puzzles that presumably didn’t fit. What they manage to do is shed light on the evolution of a published work, functioning in much the same way film outtakes do.
A particularly interesting aspect of the book, for me, was how Stokoe reveals a palimpsest of sorts, giving us access to his intricate process of replacing sketches with solid lines before inking them in. It also showcases his vital grasp of how the right hues can transform a page, taking something merely impressive and turning it into a jaw-dropping piece of art.
Publications like Grunt are valuable not only for the glimpse they provide of how an artist has evolved but also for the many possible directions they hint towards. It is the kind of collection that ages well because it chronicles the development of someone who is clearly only just getting started.