The popular podcast The Adventure Zone is polymorphing into a comic book. Later this week, First Second Books will release The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins, an adaptation of the podcast's first arc.
The Adventure Zone was one of the first popular Dungeons & Dragons podcasts and featured Griffin McElroy (of My Brother, My Brother, and Me podcast fame) running a D&D game for his brothers, Justin and Travis, as well as their father, Clint. The Adventure Zone could arguably be considered one of the predecessors to the popular D&D liveplay scene, which is dominated by liveplay streaming shows like Critical Role and Dice, Camera, Action.
"When I think about The Adventure Zone, what comes to mind first is it's a kind-hearted comic fantasy," illustrator Carey Pietsch said in a recent interview with ComicBook.com. "And the comedy is a really important part of that as is the fact that it's not played straight high fantasy."
Although the group started off playing "The Lost Mines of Phandelver" from the D&D Starter Kit, The Adventure Zone quickly spun off into a grand adventure involving secret societies, ultra-powerful artifacts, and a war that no one could remember. Here There Be Gerblins introduces readers to Magnus Burnsides (Travis), Merle Highchurch (Clint), and Taako (Justin) as they explore a lost mine in search of Merle's cousin.
The graphic novel took over two years to produce, with all four McElroys playing a role in developing the script for the graphic novel. Clint (a former professional comic book writer) took point on writing the script, and Pietsch, a longtime member of The Adventure Zone's fan community, was brought on to illustrate. Pietsch noted that it was a very collaborative process, with weekly phone calls with the McElroys and many, many re-listens of the podcast itself.
"I went back and did a whole run through of everything that was out at the time before I started drawing," Pietsch said. "And I also got into the habit of listening to scenes while I was drawing it because so much of the character of their personality comes through in things like voice acting and tone and inflection and the way that the McElroys are portrayed on the podcast. And I wanted to make sure that was fresh in my mind when I sat down to actually draw the thing."
Although it might seem a bit strange to adapt a podcast into a comic book, Here There Be Gerblins does a remarkable job in capturing the tone, humor, and banter that makes The Adventure Zone so popular. The comic isn't just an adaptation of the story told in The Adventure Zone; it illustrates the McElroy family playing a D&D game in a unique (and hilarious) way.
Although he's technically the dungeon master, Griffin plays a major role in the comic as well, popping in to narrate the story and occasionally bantering with the other characters.
When asked why it was decided that Griffin should play such an active role in the comic adaptation of the podcast, Clint noted that Griffin was just as important as the other characters in the story, and also served to keep Here There Be Gerblins from being "just" a fantasy comic. "One of the decisions we made early on in having Griffin be represented was the fact that we never wanted people to totally lose touch with that we're playing this game," Clint said. "By having the Dungeon Master have a voice and a face and be represented keeps the reader in contact with that."
Using Griffin in the comic also served a technical purpose in adapting the podcast into comic form. "Because we had to move some jokes around, it felt a little bit more natural and not so off-setting if they were voiced by Griffin," Clint explained.
However, not every scene from the podcast made it into the comic. Clint explained to ComicBook.com that some scenes just could not be presented in visual form, like one in which the group had to speak in a whisper or suffer from poison damage. The group continually made noise mainly to screw with Griffin, but the scene just couldn't be condensed without taking up multiple pages.
However, Clint also suggested that the humor is actually stronger in the comics. "I think that the jokes and the banter stuff are better in the graphic novel," Clint said. "We came to realize that when we're doing the podcast, we have the energy of it being improvised and our tone of voices sell the joke. And with scripting the graphic novel and what's going into our novel, we didn't have those as crutches to fall back on."
"In the end, we ended up with better jokes and better banter because we had to really think about it and refine it," he added.
The comic did have some other growing pains. When the first piece of promo art was released, the McElroys received some harsh criticism due to a perceived lack of diversity in the main characters of the comic. "The fact of the matter is, they were right," Travis told ComicBook.com when asked about the controversy. "When we really sat down and looked at it, we discovered there were some much more visually interesting choices we can make in the character design."
"I regret that people got upset, and it was a thing that hurt people because that is of course never our intention, but I'm glad that it resulted in getting such feedback from people," Travis continued. "We got a chance to really think about the choices we were making and then that led to taking that insight and continuing it through the rest of the development process of the graphic novel. I always think it's better and better as a creator to listen to that feedback rather than just shut it out and to convince yourself that you're always right. "1comments
Here There Be Gerblins also serves as a way for fans to revisit Magnus, Taako, and Merle. The Adventure Zone has since moved on to other stories and other characters, and neither Clint nor Travis thought that the podcast would ever return to a full storyline with the original characters. "It was very important to Griffin and the rest of us that we tell a whole story and [the Balance Arc, the story that features Magnus, Taako, and Merle] was a whole story," Clint said. "And that was the intent. We're very proud of where it ended up, very proud of what Griffin did and proud of it as a whole."
And now, fans will get to see a new version of that complete story, beginning with Here There Be Gerblins, which releases in bookstores on July 17th.