This post is sponsored by First Second. All opinions expressed in this post are based on the writers’ personal views.
The Adventure Zone series is a unique storytelling experience. A graphic novel series that began life as a game of Dungeons & Dragons played by podcasters Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy and their dad Clint, it has evolved into something much, much more.
The story of Taako the elf wizard, Merle the dwarf cleric, and Magnus the human warrior has multiple entry points. Let’s talk about possible pathways into the hilarious, adventure-filled world that is The Adventure Zone…
Entry Point #1: For Nerds Who Love the Podcast
If you’re one of the people who love The Adventure Zone podcast then, let’s be real, you’ve probably already consumed the first two installments of the graphic novel adaptation—Here There Be Gerblinsand Murder on the Rockport Limited!(based on the “Balance Arc” campaign featured in the pod)—with your eyeballs.
Or maybe not? Maybe you think that, because you’ve listened to every episode of The Adventure Zone at least once, you don’t need to check out the graphic novel adaptations. As a champion of the potential power of adaptations (qualifier: when done right), let me tell you where your logic has gone off the rails (of the Rockport Limited). While the graphic novel series includes the same collaborators you know and love from the podcast—yes, I am talking about the McElroy clan—it includes the very important addition of a new contributor: artist Carey Pietsch.
Pietsch, who you may recognize from her work on the Mages of Mystralia comic or Lumberjanes #29-#32, is a new artistic voice to this world (well, kind of—she first met the McElroys because she was making Adventure Zone fanart), and she is bringing it. Pietsch brings podcast elements like the Rockport Limited, the Voidfish, and Jenkins to life. In the process, fans of The Adventure Zone podcast to relive these stories for the first time… again.
Pietsch isn’t the only reason to check out these graphic novels, even if you already know the story. The narrative has the benefit of already having been told once. The McElroys and Pietsch are able to move past the slower parts of the pod’s tale (when it was still trying to figure itself out), getting to the good parts faster, and draw out elements of the story that pop in the visual medium.
Entry Point #2: For Nerds Who Love Dungeons & Dragons
Maybe you’ve gone on dozens of campaigns or maybe you’ve just gone on one. Either way, you know your way around a d20. While experience having played Dungeons & Dragons is in no way a prerequisite for reading and enjoying The Adventure Zone, there are elements that will make you giggle, fill with nostalgic, or both if you have fond experiences of playing D&D.
One of the most bombastic of D&D elements incorporated into The Adventure Zone graphic novels is the addition of a Dungeon Master (DM), a role inhabited by Travis McElroy during actual gameplay.
“[The DM is] such an essential part of what makes the show special,” Pietsch told GameCrate about the decision to keep a DM in the graphic novels. “We talked about a bunch of different systems early on in development before settling on the format in the book … I’m really fond of what we landed on, which is having the DM pop up in small inset panel windows with his figure literally breaking out beyond the edges of normal panel borders.”
“We wanted to strike a balance — sorry — between having him actually feel like a part of the story,” continued Pietsch, “and being able to talk with the main characters without being distracting or acting solely as a framing device, and I think that visual design shows that he’s a part of the narrative while also setting him slightly apart from it.”
Overall, it’s interesting to see the experience of collaborative gameplay translated into the graphic novel form. Which D&D elements make sense in a graphic novel format? Which elements don’t? How much of the experience of reading The Adventure Zone feels like playing D&D and how much of that experience can never be replicated? All questions to think about when checking out The Adventure Zone.
Entry Point #1: For Nerds Who Love Adventure
When it comes to adaptations, there can be a perceived barrier to potential new fans: the idea that if you didn’t love a story in its original form, then you’re not allowed to love it in its new one.
That’s silly, of course. One of the best things about adapting a popular work into a new medium is that you can share it with new people. We may be in the midst of a renaissance when it comes to the podcast format, but it’s not for everyone. There are so many people out there who would love the stories told in The Adventure Zone, but who are just not that into podcasts. This is the group of readers I’m most interested in hearing from when it comes to the TAZ graphic novels.
So who is The Adventure Zone for? It’s for anyone who loves comedy adventures like Princess Bride or meta-fantasies like Stardust. Murder on the Rockport Limited! in particular is for fans of locked room mysteries with a healthy heaping of hilarity (think Firefly‘s “Train Job”). Most of all, The Adventure Zone graphic novels are for anyone who has wanted to be part of this corner of pop culture fandom and conversation but has never felt like an actual play comedy podcast is for them. The world of The Adventure Zone has been waiting for you…
The first two installments of The Adventure Zone are now available for purchase. You can find out more about The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins and The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited! here.