[DISPATCH] An Interview with MAPS Artist James Stokoe
The ORC STAIN creator drifts into our orbit to talk about his new story, plus much more!
Welcome to the latest edition of the [DISPATCH], a weekly direct report from us to you, with news, recaps, exclusive content and more.
Ready for another big multi-comics week? We know you are, and we’ve got the long-awaited debut of THE DRIFT, featuring art by fan-favorite creator James Stokoe, plus an all-new episode of THE VALLARS.
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Tomorrow, we’ll be releasing THE DRIFT, the latest comic from the upcoming [MAPS] Graphic Novel Sourcebook. To make sure you’re properly prepared, we spoke with the artist – and colorist, and letterer – behind the story, the one and only James Stokoe. We had a lot of fun talking to him about his story, Orc Stain, and what he’s working on next. Be sure to come back tomorrow for the debut of THE DRIFT!
3W/3M: James, thanks for chatting with us today. You’re known for creating your own big, imaginative worlds across works like Orc Stain, Orphan and the Five Beasts, and more. What drew you to working with the 3W/3M team and tackling a story set in this emerging universe?
James Stokoe: I’m first and foremost a visuals guy, so that was the first thing that immediately leapt out at me. Everything looks so lived in and grounded in it’s own reality, while still having really beautiful and outlandish designs. I love it, and it seems to nail with apparent ease what I try to accomplish in my own work. There’s some kindred spirits working on this universe, I think.
The vast majority of your career has involved you writing and drawing your own material, be it original or licensed works. Do you find you have to alter your approach when drawing a story written by someone else?
Yeah, it’s definitely a different experience… I think I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve worked off someone else’s script. I feel like there’s more pressure? Like, if I mess up then it’s not just my buns on the line. But the script was pure cream, and had all the kinks worked out of it that I would’ve struggled with if I were to approach a similar story myself. It’s nice when things are easy!
Your story, THE DRIFT, also featured an additional wrinkle – designs from Mike del Mundo and Mike Huddleston. What was it like reimagining those designs in your style, and did that translation create any unforeseen issues or complications for you compared to your normal methodology?
Mike really nailed the design work, while I feel that Mike completely dropped the ball and should be ashamed. I only say this in the hope of starting an inter-Mike rivalry.
But nah! It was easy. A good design is like 90% of the struggle, no matter the style. The other 10% is drawing all of the crabs on the back of that monster – thanks, MIKE.
We’ll be sure to take this up with MIKE. In terms of the story itself, it takes place on Akva, and shows readers how disputes over Khor are settled. While dancing around any spoilers, what was your favorite element of the story to bring to life?
I like how it descends into a bit of a horror story set in a vivid, tropical candy-colored world. That appeals to my sensibilities like nothing else.
You’re actually the first person other than Rus Wooton to letter a story in either of the Sourcebooks, and also the first to letter a story by hand. Was there any discussion about trying to match your lettering to what’s been established in the world, or were you given free reign?
More free reign. I think if I even attempted to match Rus’ wonderful lettering, it would’ve been a disaster. I just think my lettering is the best match for my art, if only because it’s from the same wobbly hand. And more selfishly, it’s fun to learn and practice all aspects of comics; actually doing it is the only way to learn!
I couldn’t help but notice that your layouts include placements and temp lettering. Does doing the lettering yourself give you more precise control over the finished project, or do you see it as so enmeshed in the visual storytelling and the language of the medium that it’s important for you to think about the flow from those earliest stages right through to the end?
Yeah, it’s all part of the language of comics, and I like to get that sorted almost before anything else. Because of the format, I did all of the lettering on a separate sheet of paper (normally, I will draw it directly on the page), and man, my pages felt so naked without the balloons on there! I don’t know how other artists do it.
Outside of Aliens: Dead Orbit, you haven’t tackled much in the way of sci-fi. Is that a genre you’d like to explore more in future stories, or does the future hold more fantasy work along the lines of Orc Stain and Orphan and the Five Beasts?
I’m probably entrenched in fantasy for a while, even though I prefer sci-fi myself. I think I’m just happier drawing lumpy flesh goblins than machines. But, I’m no real stranger to sci-fi. My first book series, Wonton Soup, could marginally be called sci-fi, and the majority of my lesser known short form work has been in the genre as well.
While Orc Stain wasn’t your first major work, it’s the one that really took readers by storm. For anyone who hasn’t read it and falls in love with your work on THE DRIFT, can you give us a quick pitch for what it’s all about and why they might love it?
Orc Stain is a fantasy story about a world almost entirely populated by orcs; horrible little goblin people that are incredibly crude and rude, and it follows one orc who is a tad cleverer than the rest. I’ve heard people describe the tech in the book as dystopian Flintstones, where all the tools and whatnot are unwilling living creatures, which I kind of love. It ran for seven issues before I ran out of money, but I’d like to bring it back someday as it’s gained a bit of an afterlife following.
And because it’s a key element of that story and part of your Twitter handle, can you tell us what Gronch is?
Orc dong! They use it as currency in Orc Stain, and the trade paperback has a little two-page strip detailing how they turn it into coins. It’s super classy.
In addition to your original work, you’ve also worked on two pretty huge franchises – Aliens and Godzilla. What drew you to both of those franchises?
Aliens and Godzilla are the two franchises that have stuck with me for most of my life, so those were an absolute joy to get to mess around with. I like the breadth of tone that Godzilla films have had over the last 70 odd years, from really serious nuclear weapons metaphors to cartoonish quasi-superhero adventure stories. There’s a lot there to love and work with. Aliens (at least the first couple films) is just perfect to look at, and has untouchable pacing and tone… the art direction and murderers’ row of talent that has worked on some of those films is nuts.
Your last solo series was Orphan and the Five Beasts. You’ve done plenty of covers and some killer commissions since then, but what are you working on next?
I’m still doing plenty of covers, and am finishing off a commission list, but for comics I’ve been focused on the second volume of Orphan and the Five Beasts. I’ll hopefully have that one out the door soon!
Are there any other parts of the 3W/3M Universe, or any concepts we’re playing with, that you’d love to explore in a future story?
I wanna draw some of those squid dogfighters! Give me a story about Baron von Squidthofen, pretty please.
Thank you to James Stokoe for sitting down with us to talk shop. We’ll be releasing THE DRIFT for all paid subscribers tomorrow.
Now let’s look back at the week that was…
[Q&A] We chatted with Hank Kanalz, the celebrated comics executive and digital comics pioneer about his role with 3W/3M, co-writing one of the biggest comics ever, and… rollercoasters?!
[PROCESS] Mike & Mike shed light on how they brought The Great Biblioteka and The Bank to life for the Year 2 Deluxe Print Set. It’s always a treat to see the creative process in action, and this time around is no exception.
[COMICS] THE VALLARS Episode 12 is an all-out action chapter. Like every week, you don’t want to miss it. Jason Howard and Frank Martin continue to deliver the goods each every week.
Tomorrow’s new comic is a real feast for the eyes, and it’ll scare and delight you in equal measure. We’ll have an accompanying [PROCESS] post and a new VALLARS hot on its heels. More soon!