“Dungeons & Dragons” thrills players with its unique character creation, daring escapades and fantastical settings. If you want to add more “D&D” in your life but can’t find the time or players, what do you do? Listen to “D&D” podcasts, of course!
One such podcast, “The Adventure Zone,” follows the lovable dwarf cleric Merle, human fighter Magnus and elf wizard Taako (pronounced Taco, and yes, that’s important), as they navigate a quirky, magical world.
Brothers Justin, Travis and Griffin and their father, Clint McElroy, began their fantasy adventure in December 2014. Each were known for their presence in podcasts and/or radio, particularly for “My Brother, My Brother and Me.”
Now that the 69-episode “D&D” series is finally complete, the creators are turning “Adventure Zone” into a full-fledged graphic novel, “The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins,” with the help of artist and writer Carey Pietsch.
The entire first story arc of “Adventure Zone” is set to be released July 17 through Barnes & Noble. That’s only a month away! A few preorder options are a signed edition and an exclusive collector’s edition. Already several pages from the graphic novel are available to preview through Nerdist and the publisher, First Second Books.
But what do fans want to see when they finally get that shiny new graphic novel in their hands? Since they finished playing a campaign, that means the entire “Adventure Zone” story already exists. They already have the basics — plot, characters, setting, description. In my opinion, just a few bonuses will take “Here There Be Gerblins” to the next level.
It makes sense for the story to be a little wordy because the McElroy boys figured out what to say and do live during the game. The graphic novel version will most likely condense some of the wordiness. In Episode 2 of the podcast, a goblin — er, “gerblin” — named Yeemick suggests a favor in exchange for something the players want.
In the podcast, he says, “I want you to depose our current employer.” As seen in the First Second Books preview of this part, however, Yeemick succinctly says, “I want you to murder my boss.” Changing to a shorter phrasing makes the scene more dramatic. It also allows the hour-long audio episodes to shrink into manageable, fast-paced chunks. I’d love to see more of this.
Not that I don’t love the extra side chatter of the show. The banter is what makes it feel like you’re hanging out with the players while you listen. It seems, though, like all the chatter in “Here There Be Gerblins” is related to what’s happening in the story as it passes.
Like when the characters hear a roaring creature ahead, Merle says, “Well someone sounds very gnash-y.” Magnus replies, “I would say he sounds gnash-ish. I don’t want to cast aspersions, and I don’t want to judge a book by its cover, but that certainly sounds like the voice of a creature that would probably be known as G’nash.”
This sort of dialogue is irrelevant for the plot but develops the characters, shows their camaraderie and carries the humorous charm that “Adventure Zone” is known for.
What else should “Here There Be Gerblins” include? Fantastic art, of course! A key component of a graphic novel is actually wanting to look at it. Carey Pietsch does an excellent job in just these few preview pages of capturing the goofy essence of “Adventure Zone.”
When Merle gets shot with an arrow, rather than falling dramatically, the dwarf is pictured just crossing his arms and rolling his eyes in a gesture of total “Ugh, really? This again? Unbelievable.”
The color scheme is slightly muted, which helps set the adventuring, “Dungeons & Dragons”-esque mood. The lines and angles used in each panel shows lots of motion and action. The style could also handle some of the more heavy-hearted episodes later, if they turn it into a graphic novel series: a perfect mix for these offbeat heroes.
If you’ve already seen the pages of the graphic novel that have been released, you might notice something strange about the characters. In the 2016 Nerdist article, the comic pages feature the three main characters with Caucasian skin tones.
This early version received loads of backlash for lacking representation of people of color. The team readily accepted the criticism and got to work right away on fixing the problem. Because the family is Caucasian, and they didn’t expect the podcast to be anything more than a one-time deal, they used their own racial features for their characters.
They said in an “Adventure Zone” announcement that if they had known the fanbase they would gain, they would have geared it more toward their people; they regret not thinking about that as they casually made their characters Caucasian as well.
One of the characters, Taako, has an ultimate quest to build the perfect taco, which doesn’t actually exist in the “D&D” universe they played. Fans pushed for Taako to be a Latinx character. In the new art design of the comic as seen in the First Second preview pages, The McElroys changed Taako to a Moon Elf.
They gave him a blue skin tone to avoid placing the negative aspects of the character on a generalized race of people. They also changed Merle to a darker skin tone because he’s a “Beach Dwarf” and would naturally get more sunlight, to make the racial changes suit a broader audience.
Some fans appreciated the changes and some did not. But either way, the “Adventure Zone” team is trying to listen to their fans and produce a high-quality, representative graphic novel.
What I want to see in “Here There Be Gerblins” is the attempt to represent all people, to provide content with which readers can relate and to shower the reader with the great art and humor they have already produced.