When "epic" is used as a describe something it rarely earns it. In the case of James Stokoe's art, it's one of the few words that one can fathom to describe the work that has thrilled modern comics fans for nearly 15 years.
His distinct and meticulously detailed style invites onlookers to pore hours over single panels or covers. To describe it would require combining the works of Ron Cobb, Geof Darrow, Jim Mahfood, and Katsuhiro Otomo to get an idea of what his work looks like, but seeing is believing, and it’s clear that Stokoe stands alone.
Now Dark Horse is celebrating this maverick by announcing a new deluxe hardcover, Grunt: The Art and Unpublished Comics of James Stokoe, that will gather many Stokoe’s present illustrations, cover art, and unpublished comics spanning several publishers. Fans can start nudging their local comic shops now, or pre-order through Amazon or Barnes & Noble, well in advance for its May 22, 2019, release date.
Dark Horse will be compiling the content, and it’s not yet known how it will be arranged, but one thing that will not be present in the book is a running commentary.
“There's not too much of that in Grunt, besides a brief foreword apologizing for the abrupt endings of some of the unfinished comics and whatnot,” Stokoe exclusively told SYFY WIRE. “I find contemplating on my work hard enough when it's fresh and new, let alone when it's 10-plus years old, so I'm hoping the less I say, the more people will enjoy the book.”
Having published work with a dozen different publishers, Grunt will be a comprehensive showcase of his art, but will not be complete due to licensing reasons.
“I think the earliest stuff that I could dig up for this is Wonton Soup era, which I started when I was 19, so it's still kind of a small miracle that I had high-resolution files from so long ago. My poor, sweet editor Daniel Chabon has been handling most of the logistical stuff, and I imagine all the pages I've uploaded have already given him legal nightmares.”
“A good half of the book is previously unpublished, personal work. I'm not sure what the final edit will look like, but there will probably be around 200 or so comic pages in there that have never been printed before.”
Stokoe first appeared in the anthology Otazine #1 with a short story called “Smokedown” and contributed to other anthologies including 24Seven, Popgun, and Comic Book Tattoo before coming up with Orc Stain for Image Comics, a fantasy tale where Stokoe went wild, drawing a nonstop onslaught of orcs in an endless war.
Jaws collectively dropped when he wrote and drew Godzilla: The Half-Century War, an essential tltle for fans of the movies, then again with Wonton Soup. Over the last five years he has been doing more work for hire, doing variant covers for Marvel and projects like 100th Anniversary Special: The Avengers. One look at just his cover art for Image, Marvel, or IDW will leave you stunned.
His crowning achievement to this point is arguably last year’s Aliens: Dead Orbit, a book that made our Best New Genre Comics of 2017 as the only essential Aliens story that stands on par with the first two films. Dead Orbit is also getting the oversized treatment in April 24, 2019, and will be a nice companion next to Grunt.
Art books can cover a wide spectrum. Some are made at the end of a massive project, or a large body of work under one company. Once in a while you’ll see an art book when an artist is ready to evolve his style or is at the end of an artist’s era. Thankfully, at just 33, there is plenty more work to look forward to, but Stokoe reflected on what Grunt means to him looking back, and also looking forward.
“It's always odd going through so much old work. I think any artist would say the same. My early career was almost all original ideas, while these last few years has been spent on adapting licensed properties. I wouldn't say my older style has ever been closed, as all the licensed properties are from things that have always influenced my art (albeit from different media, a lot of the time).
“I feel like I've just been absorbing the ideas and quirks that make those stories and aesthetics so special to me, and now can move forward with my own more personal work again with a better brain about it. I'm definitely taking a break from licensed work for a little while, so seeing what I can do with the new things that I've learned is pretty exciting to me.”
It’s pretty exciting for fans too.
Grunt: The Art and Unpublished Comics of James Stokoe will be released May 22, 2019. There is no retail price set yet. The gallery below is just a sampling of Stokoe's work, but is not necessarily a selection that will make it into Grunt.