For Orctober I've been discussing the evolution of the orc, from Tolkien to the present. There's one feature I'd like to zero in on today... the colour of their skin. How did they become green?
I've already noted how Tolkien envisaged most orcs as having sallow (i.e. yellow) skin. However, in The Lord of the Rings he wrote about different breeds of orc. In Tolkien's mind, the nastier the orc, the darker his skin. In Moria (in The Fellowship of the Ring), Gandalf surveys a war party of orcs and mentions that some are stand out as "large and evil: black Uruks of Mordor". (Uruk is the word for orc in Black Speech). And in The Two Towers (1954), the narrator describes one of Saruman's elite orcs as "a large black Orc". Whether Saruman's black orcs and Mordor's black orcs are the same breed is not clear from the books, but the important thing for my purposes is that they were black.
Hmm, asiatic orcs, black orcs... Tolkien does seem to be hitting a lot of squares on the Bingo Card of Unfortunate Stereotypes. Well whatever - we know from the Old Man's speeches and letters that he abhorred apartheid and antisemitism.
In any case, Gary Gygax's pig-faced orcs were not really green either. The Monster Manual (1977) describes them as "brown or brownish green with a bluish sheen". Ah yes, the colour of a spoiled ham... but still not the snot green that we've come to expect.
I have two theories for how orcs became green. The first is that it is all Spiderman's fault. Although I can't find any trace of green goblins in early English poetry or children's books, Spidey's nemisis, the Green Goblin, has been kicking around since 1964. The influence of Marvel Comics has been so great, it seems natural to me that the bright green of this villain's skin would have leached into the fantasy genre.
My second theory is less likely but more fun. I think (or hope) is was Fungus the Bogeyman who turned orcs green. For those of you who were cruelly deprived of bad influences when you were children, Fungus the Bogeyman (1977) is a children's book by British artist Raymond Briggs. It has been called "the nastiest book ever published for children" and "a masterpiece of complex nihilism". The titular character has that fluorescent green which became the hallmark of Games Workshop's orcs in the early 1980's. So how did orc's become green? It was Fungus' fault.
Harboth's Orc Archers, Citadel (sculpted by Kev Adams, 1987)