Why We Loved Dream Daddy #1

Dream Daddy Game promotional art

Dream Daddy #1

Wendy Xu (writer), Ryan Maniulit (art and colors), Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (letterer)
Oni Press
August 2018

Hello and welcome to this group review of Dream Daddy #1. WWAC will be hosting group reviews of each of the Dream Daddy comics in the series.

Cover to Dream Daddy #1 by Kris Anka, featuring a pinup-style illustration of Craig lying on a dorm bed half-undressed

What are your thoughts about the Dream Daddy comics series in general and the surprise reveal?

Alenka: I LOVE Dream Daddy; I don’t play a ton of games but initially became interested in it because it blew up my Twitter, and various indie artists I like seemed to be involved (like Maddi Gonzalez!) I played it as a fun break before my final semester of library school and had such a good time that I began seeking out other visual novels/dating sims.

I’m interested to see if these stories feel like stand-alone additions to each dateable dad’s story, or if they connect in some kind of larger narrative. Because of the nature of the game, which involves mostly separate stories—although there are some nice, sweet connections, like giving Hugo a dog in you-know-who’s third date ending—separate stories without continuity make the most sense as companion pieces. However, the ending of this first issue seems to hint that there may be an overarching narrative to the comics? I’m excited to see what they do!

Kate: I’m not a huge gamer, but the idea of Dream Daddy was one I couldn’t resist and even got over my fear of Steam for. I’m so glad I went for it. I loved the narrative feel of Dream Daddy, so I think the idea of using a comic to further explore that narrative is awesome. It’s basically fanfiction, and I love fanfiction. I’ve never really seen a comic book series announced like this, so that took me a surprise. Like, BOOM! Here’s the comic series we’ve been working on with your faves in secret. I have to say that I kind of like it as a change from the norm and the three-month pre-orders, etc.

Lisa: I’m a Game Grumps/Ninja Sex Party fan, so I knew Dream Daddy in general was in the pipe before it debuted (met Vernon Shaw quite briefly at a Game Grumps live; he’s very shy and kind). The end result surprised me in its tenderness and its charming nature; Kate’s noted its tendency to poke at fannish tropes which seems to be intentional (Vernon did research within fandoms and Leighton was in the Game Grumps/NSP art fandom before she developed Dream Daddy with Vernon). I would never have expected a comic since Vernon especially’s been very quiet on his social media after Dream Daddy’s fandom suffered something of an implosion. But I’m excited to read what they’ve come up with.

Melissa: I love the idea of tying in comics with video games. Visual novels encourage multiple playthroughs, but video games are so often tied to a feeling of completion that we end up funneled from one objective to the next rather than taking some time to just sit in the setting and enjoy the character when they’re not, like, experiencing some kind of crisis. Taking these characters out of the game setting, which often leads us to think of them as prizes or rewards rather than people, allows them to breathe a little. It’s nice to see Dad and Craig being boyfriends—we get a different sense of who they are when they’re not actively trying to impress one another. There’s no player to choose optimum choices, just Wendy Xu, Ryan Maniulit, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou telling a story about two characters we have a bit of familiarity with. You can’t win a comic, and I think that’s part of why this story feels very cozy and warm in a way that the game never quite got to for me.

Let’s start things off right—which dad is YOUR dad?

Alenka: My favorite dad is Robert, and I own a gorgeous illustration of him done by Cathy G. Johnson. I think his story was one of the last that I played through and it’s very intense, wild, and very emotional—it stands out from the other stories and features, in my opinion, some of the best writing. Robert’s sense of humor is dark and highly attractive, and his love for cryptids is icing on the cake. My second favorite is Damien because he’s sweet and beautiful and I just want to hug and cuddle him along with our beautiful pet cat and/or dog. His story is also the first that I successfully completed.

Kate: I love Craig a lot. Like A LOT. And I love the storyline he has with Craig because it’s all about Dadsona teaching Craig how to self-care, and at the same time, Craig challenges Dadsona to be a better version of himself and I love that. And I will own up to the fact that watching Markiplier play Dream Daddy and identify with Craig probably contributed to the fact that Craig’s my fave. I do also love Robert, though. He’s so unexpectedly delightful in his whittling and cryptid hunting!

Lisa: You’re gonna make me choose?! Gasp! I love Damien and Hugo and Mat and Craig all equally, durnit! (And Robert. Oh, Robert.)

Melissa: It’s such a tough choice because I love them all for different reasons! Robert and Joseph have my two favorite stories (for wildly different reasons) in the game, but the two I would most likely to know in real life are probably Mat and Hugo. Damien definitely appeals to that part of me that still thinks about buying a pair of vampire fangs, though.

Separate, but related to this, what are your feelings about how the Dadsona is being drawn? In the video game, everyone could create their own Dream Daddy character.

Manda and the Dadsona from Dream Daddy #1 by Oni Press
Artwork from Dream Daddy #1 by Ryan Maniulit, Oni Press.

Alenka: I don’t have a lot of feelings about it, which, considering how the game treats Dadsona, makes sense. Dream Daddy isn’t a game that is about the character you play; it’s mostly about the dads you interact with, and after designing my dad and establishing the initial setup with Amanda (past partner, if she was adopted, etc.) he always sort of faded into the background, except when a shared experience of grief or parenting became relevant. He’s a Dad who makes dad jokes and might not have a job (although after a throwaway comment about a writing workshop I assumed he was a freelance writer). The Dadsona in the comic has enough personality I hope the writers to continue to leave him nameless, just for fun.

Kate: I really like what Alenka said about how Dream Daddy isn’t about the character you play, it’s about the dads you interact with—it’s true. The choices that you make as Dadsona don’t really have an effect on the narrative of the game itself except in the aspect of affecting which dad you end up with. I think the way that they have the series set up to be a different comic for each Dad storyline means that you still get that sense of either interacting with all the dads, or picking a dad and getting that storyline exclusively, so the way the Dadsona himself is drawn doesn’t matter as much.

Lisa: Alenka’s observations are extremely pertinent; his personality is a lot of fun and fits with the game’s general writing. I am a little disappointed that they decided to make Dadsona white tho.

Melissa: Yeah, agreed. I didn’t put a lot of thought into my dad, and it didn’t feel like the game put a lot of thought into him, either—but that’s not really a bad thing. Sometimes visual novels want you to embody a preexisting character, sometimes they want you to project into an empty shell. Dadsona seems like a bit of both; seeing Ryan Maniulit’s take on him didn’t disrupt my vision at all because I guess I think of Dream Daddy as some kind of multiverse of infinite dads dating infinite dads. My Dadsona is my Dadsona, no matter how he appears in the comics.

What do you think about the first issue being released digitally right now? What do you think about print issues of the series being available only through the Oni online store or at RCCC, Pax West, NYCC, and Pax Unplugged?

Alenka: I see the reasoning behind targeting an audience who played a digital game with digital comics. Obviously we are people who don’t mind and maybe love to read stories online! On the flip side, owning a hard copy of something that initially was exclusively digital has a special feeling to it, and I love the idea that I might get to hold that cover with Robert and Damien wrestling in my greedy little hands.

Kate: I think it’s a bold move, and I wish that more companies would do that. I love the idea of instant gratification, but I’m also someone who treasures print copies. I’m a little leery about having to buy them exclusively from the Oni online store if you’re not going to be at a con where they’re selling, and they only have cons listed through October although the series is going to be released through December, so I don’t know what that means either. I’m hoping that means I can pick up the rest of the series in print from ECCC, but if I wasn’t located in the Pacific Northwest, I’d be super bummed to not have an ability to pick these up at all.

Lisa: In my opinion it’s a bad idea. They seem to be treading along the lines of their known connections in the gaming world, but that’s not going to help the fans I know in England who’re stuck paying double the price for shipping because they’re not shipping them out any other way. In fact, apparently overseas shipping prices have doubled since we first began this round robin, which is pricing out a lot of friends of mine from the fandom.

Melissa: Lucky for me, I was headed to PAX West when this was announced and nabbing a Kris Anka variant was my second stop as soon as I arrived. That said, I have mixed feelings. I don’t love buying digital, but I also hate buying physical copies online—I forget! If I hadn’t been lucky enough to already be on my way to PAX, I don’t know that I would have ever gotten a physical copy, which means I would have been far less likely to read it. Forced scarcity is not my favorite marketing tactic, and often backfires on people like me.

Let’s talk about this amazing line up of creators. Who are you most excited about as a writer and/or artist and/or collaboration?

Alenka: I am PUMPED for that C. Spike Trotman (writer), Drew Green (artist), and Reed Black (colorist) triple-threat super queer team-up for the Brian issue!! I never played through Brian’s story because honestly, I hate those mini games with a fiery passion, so I’m excited to get a better taste of his character AND the adorable Daisy through such a super talented creative team!! It’s great to see gay men working on a comic about gay men, and gosh, I know it’s all about the kids but maybe we’ll get a steamy aside from Spike?! (How many of us have read Yes, Roya?) D.J. Kirkland is drawing the final issue, Dungeons & Daddies, which in my mind means it’s going to be gay, bright, nerdy and glorious—a recipe for perfection.

Kate: I also really really cannot wait for Dungeons & Daddies. I’m a big fan of Josh Trujillo and D. J. Kirkland and having them together is better than icing on the cake. It’s unicorns and rainbows and M&Ms. And even though I don’t know the creators slated for the next issue, the summary makes me so excited for it. Robert thinking a new dad is a vampire and going on a vampire hunt is like a Supernatural crossover dream come true.

Lisa: Leighton and Vernon are writing the third issue, in which all of the dads try to help Mat boost his business with clever application of a commercial, which sounds like a lot of fun. And like everyone else the Kirkland D&D issue has me in anticipatory mode. I’m also interested in seeing how Lee C.A. and Jack Gross tackle Robert going cryptid hunting.

Melissa: I literally cannot wait for D.J. Kirkland’s issue. I love his art! I love D&D! Every team is incredibly talented; these are legit some of my favorite comics creators (Wendy Xu! Spike Trotman! Ahh!) and it’s so refreshing to see that this is a comic largely created by people who are not straight white men. I haven’t dug into the identities of every single person working on the series, but it’s really nice to be browsing through the names I’m not familiar with and see queerness and racial diversity reflected everywhere I look.

We can’t not talk about Kris Anka doing covers for this series.

Alenka: I am not attracted to men super often but I say yes to Craig on that first cover. Yes, buddy, get stuck in that shirt just for us.

Kate: I would have bought these titles without the Kris Anka cover, but I will spend $10 for the Kris Anka covers. Which, considering how cheap I am, says a lot. And it’s a centerfold!!

Lisa: MUCH THIRST. I’m looking forward to holding these babies in my hands eventually.

Melissa: I love how much personality comes through in every cover! Kris Anka’s Craig cover is so fun, and also, you know, attractive. Craig is a hot dude, but there’s also this great sense of playfulness about it that makes him more than eye candy. It’s what makes these characters so great, I think! They’re more than just empty cute characters, and that each one shows a facet of them beyond their appearance is what makes them so special. Like Joseph would be a paladin, right? Like lawful good whatever but it’s far more telling to me that he would choose to play a paladin because he’s playing a paladin in his real life despite not actually being one. Also, what’s the over/under on someone calling him a “pal”adin?

Let’s get into it! What did you think of this first issue?

Alenka: Wendy Xu’s writing is SO GOOD. It’s sweet, which is just the right tone for a reflective Craig comic, romantic (that seagull chase!) and full of perfect subtle moments that left me wanting to comb back through for all the small, cute interactions. Of course Dadsona has no idea what Craig’s mom cooked for him—“those awesome noodles”—and of course Craig didn’t tell Dadsona the kegstand story when he had food poisoning! That’s selfless, thoughtful Craig—unwilling to toot his own horn if it’ll make his already-barfy crush/friend feel like barfing more. The bit about the dog killed me too, because oh my god of course Craig rescued a puppy and then found it a gorgeous forever home! I… might cry. Excuse me.

Kate: I already mentioned that Craig was pretty much my favorite, and this issue is so, so good to Craig. It was basically like getting another Craig storyline in the game except without the pesky gameplay part, ha! I loved that their “date” is a high school reunion, because one of the things I love most about the Dadsona’s relationship with Craig is how they used to know each other really well, and they’re getting to know each other again and who they are now. Plus, you get the getting dressed scene, which is A+ Dad Objectification. And I loved that they kissed at the end. I mean, how is Craig not the OTP??

Lisa: It made me love Craig 500 times more than I already did. Really sweet-natured, really lovely overall, and wonderful to look at.

Melissa: It’s just really sweet to see two characters pushing one another and learning more about themselves and each other in the process. I touched on this a little earlier, but video games often explore people at their most intense, and this issue had a few small adventures and learning moments but was largely about support and understanding—that’s important, too! As Alenka mentioned, we got to see how much these characters care for one another without it being particularly schmaltzy. I love high-stakes romance, too, but letting them just be a couple without big misunderstandings or wild circumstances or a really intense conversation lets us appreciate them as a couple!

Other thoughts/general joy/sorrow/hopes/fears?

Alenka: I think I want Damien and Robert to kiss. Actually, I just… want a steamy scene with Robert. Also, if Dungeons & Daddies isn’t filled with flirting I’m going to be a bit disappointed, because anyone who has played D&D knows that flirting is a VERY important game component. Mostly, I hope that each issue is filled with joy while still address themes of grief, healing and growing as a parent—just as the game was.

Kate: Honestly I just want more of them! There are seven dads and only five issues and this is a grave injustice, imo. I’m really curious if the Dadsona is going to be drawn the same way in every issue, and whether he’s going to romance/be romanced. It seems like some of the summaries for future episodes don’t include the Dadsona, and I’m kind of intrigued by that and what’s to come. But give me more issues, please.

Lisa: Alenka’s wishes run along the lines of mine, especially for the Robert/Damien interaction. I definitely want to learn more about the kids of the cul de sac as well, and am hoping for some more Amanda.

Melissa: Alenka hit it all! Dream Daddy surprised me with its emotional depth, and the way that each character’s relationship with Dadsona fleshed them out more, even when those stories were full of tricky emotions. From what I’m seeing so far, the comics might be focused more on the fluffy bits, which is fine, but I’d love to see those stickier emotions, too. Relationships are a journey of growing and caring, and I’d love to see a little more push and pull that ends positively for both characters.

Kate Tanski

Kate Tanski

Recovering academic. Fangirl. Geek knitter.