One of my favourite stories from the comic world in 2012 has been the ascension of Paul Allor. I first met Paul at New York Comic Con 2011 – where I myself was a nervous Scot attending his first major con as a “professional” selling my wares – when he didn’t have a table or any official presence at the con. He was wondering around with printed out copies of Clockwork, an anthology of short stories he had written, handing them out to various publishers, editors and creators. He gave a copy to me, and I said I’d review it on my blog. I got to chatting with him for a while during my trip, and thought he was a very nice fellow, and that made me intrigued to check out his little book of short stories. But how surprised I was when, far from the “shows promise for a debut writer” platitudes I was expecting to give out, I was presented with a work of immaculate craft, a distinct, polished creative voice that seemed to have been birthed fully formed. Clockwork remains one of the best comics I’ve ever reviewed for The Creator-Owned Zone.
Fast-forward a year to New York Comic Con 2012, and it seems plenty of other folk have seen what I saw when Clockwork blew me away. Paul Allor wasn’t just wandering around trying to catch attention with a book anymore. He came with published credits to his name, haven written for IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. He was a guest on a panel. And when I went to chat with him afterwards, I had to wait until he’d finished working through a small queue of people looking for autographs, advice or, in an ironic turnaround, eager young professionals wanting to pass their self-printed comics onto him for his feedback.
But Paul did come armed with a new comic: Orc Girl. I was fortunate enough to be given a review copy: if his star continues to rise at the rate it is I imagine I’ll soon be having to buy all his stuff with the rest of the punters. Based on the promotional images and the marketing I’d seen for Orc Girl, I was convinced this would be a departure from Allor’s fine-tuned brand of bittersweet, lyrical melancholy. This would be a knockabout adventure with fantastical creatures, a fun, cheerful fable! And, in the opening pages of the story, it seems that is indeed what this story is going to be. Thomas Boatwright’s sketchy, simplistic art generates a light, breezy atmosphere, one “Once Upon a Time” away from reading like a sweet bedtime story. We are introduced to Fern, the free-spirited orc girl of the title, and we immediately like her. Some peril is introduced for her and her brother, Bogar, and we think we know where this story is going.
But then it turns out that this isn’t so much a departure from Allor’s classic style after all. I was blindsided by the direction the story took us, and Orc Girl turned into something richer, more substantial, and much more poignant than I had been expecting. I don’t want to give away the particulars, but it left me thinking a good while after I’d finished reading. Paul Allor surprises me again.
The comic book package features Orc Girl as its primary story, but there is also some backup material. A couple of short stories I had already read from the original ClockWorks were included. But then there were another two stories I hadn’t read. “The Last Flight of Zeppelin 223″ has some dynamic art by Koong Koong, and is driven by a clever concept, but I just didn’t warm to the story, personally. Much more successful, in my opinion, was “Dead Man”, once again drawn by Thomas Boatwright. This is a simple little short, but it still manages to hit you with a real emotional sucker-punch. Allor is such a master at being able to wring the maximum amount of impact and emotion out of the minimum number of pages. I’m keen to see if whatever longform work he tackles in the medium in future will be so precisely paced.
Plenty of people more influential in the comics industry than I are already singing his praises, and I’m sure that soon so many fans and critics will be hailing him as the Next Big Thing that my cries of “But I was hear first!” will inevitably be drowned out. But Orc Girl once again demonstrates what Clockwork made abundantly clear: that Paul Allor is a creative voice to be reckoned with, a comic writer of real note just waiting to emerge and break out. Surely one of the most exciting talents I’ve been fortunate enough to “discover” with the diverse multitude of creator-owned comics I’ve got to review over the past couple of years. He’s already made impressive progress over the course of a year. I’m excited to see where he’ll be by New York Comic Con 2013.
Artists: Thomas Boatwright, Ben Dewey, Jesse Hamm, Koong Koonh
Letterer: Paul Allor
Editor: Rob Anderson
Publisher: Challenger Comics
Price: $3 print/$1 digital
Synopsis: Orc Girl is a fantasy coming-of-age story… with orcs. Writer Gail Simone called it “one of the best comics I’ve read in ages” and “Funny, charming, bittersweet and moving…Absolutely lovely in story and art.”
Orc Girl is now available to buy in print or digitally from the Challenger Comics online store.