The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins
Clint McElroy (Writer), Carey Pietsch (Writer, Art), Tess Stone (Letterer)
July 17, 2018
It’s incredibly difficult to convince anybody to listen to a 60+ hour Dungeons and Dragons podcast, which is why I’m glad that The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins is finally here.
The Adventure Zone is one of my absolute favorite podcasts. Brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy play Dungeons and Dragons with their father, Clint McElroy. It could easily be boring or awful, but the care that Griffin puts into each arc of the story as Dungeon Master, along with the development of each of the player characters, is incredible. The story is one of hope and compassion and perseverance, as well as the requisite puns and goofs that result from having four fathers with comedy backgrounds doing a podcast together. But it’s long—very long—and the first arc is rougher than the others. It feels a bit self-conscious, leaning a little too hard into dick jokes, with the characters feeling more like vehicles for humor than people.
That’s where the graphic novel, adapted from the podcast by Clint and artist Carey Pietsch, comes in. In the graphic novel, we have the pleasure of hindsight—excesses are trimmed away, the plot is streamlined, and the characters are closer to their developed selves from later in the story. Reading the graphic novel as an established fan of the podcast feels like looking back at the first arc through a lovely nostalgia, and for newcomers, it’s a seamless entry into the series.
In this first volume, Merle (a dwarven cleric, played by Clint), Taako (an elf wizard, played by Justin), and Magnus (a human fighter, played by Travis) are tasked with finding Bogard Stoneseeker, Merle’s cousin, after he’s kidnapped by a mysterious figure named the Black Spider. Naturally, they end up in the midst of a larger conflict, one that changes their entire view of the world. Aided and thwarted by a memorable cast of non-player characters, as well as with commentary and obstacles thrown in by DM Griffin, the characters come to life through a mixture of the podcast’s original dialog, Clint’s new writing, and Pietsch’s inspired artwork.
Pietsch is absolutely instrumental in the graphic novel’s success at conveying the story of The Adventure Zone. When listening, you have character voices, inflection, and, in later arcs, atmospheric music to set the scene, set the tone, and convey the humor. Pietsch’s artwork does all that legwork and more, imbuing the dialog—much of which will be familiar to readers who have listened to the podcast—with character in an all new ways. Their faces are wonderfully expressive, adding texture to the dialog. The character designs speak to their individuality, echoing some of Pietsch’s earlier fanart of the series as well as fan-favorite inventions, like Taako’s blue skin.
It’s not just that Pietsch is talented; her artwork, with breezy, light lines and vibrant colors, is a natural fit for the largely improvisational podcast. It’s not that it feels slapdash, but rather that Pietsch has an excellent sense of motion. Each panel feels like a snapshot of the scene rather than a staged image, giving the illustrations momentum that carries the reader forward, just as the podcast’s comedy does. They’re a perfect fit for one another.
Likewise, the coloring and letters emphasize the humor and tone. The colors are always vibrant, but the palettes vary from scene to scene, casting the characters in warmer or cooler tones depending on what’s happening. It’s strong enough to make a difference in how you read the scene, but not so strong that it feels jarring or incongruous. Tess Stone’s letters, too, add lightness and humor, emphasizing the tone without distracting from the events. Stone’s lettering is at its finest during the scenes where characters seem to speak in static, represented by black, grungy bars and white, scratchy letters. It’s an excellent visual representation of an auditory medium; even if you haven’t heard the static before, you know exactly what’s being communicated.
Which is why, despite some name changes to avoid copyright infringement (Klaarg is now G’nash, Gundren is now Bogard), Here There Be Gerblins is an excellent introduction to the podcast for those who haven’t yet checked it out. You don’t need to be familiar with the show to appreciate it, and it’s a great hook to encourage people to give it a listen. With this volume, you skip some of the self-consciousness and get right into what makes the series so great—its humor, its characters, its earnestness. There are still some bumps along the way—you can tell, for instance, that Merle, Magnus, and Taako are played by real humans playing a game by the way they seem detached from the narrative—but it’s an excellent debut, and one that will hopefully draw new people into the delights of the story, whether by encouraging them to listen to the podcast or just to pick up the next volume.