Staff Picks (May): The Adventure Zone — Here There Be Gerblins

For anyone who is not familiar, The Adventure Zone is a Dungeon & Dragons actual-play podcast hosted by the McElroy family.  It is run by Griffin for his older brothers Justin and Travis, as well as their father Clint McElroy. Think of it like Critical Roll with less attention to hard rules and more heart (and more references to Tom Bodett). To say that it’s been an unexpected success would be an egregious understatement. Between constantly cresting the top 20 comedy podcasts on iTunes, having year long waitlists for ad-space, and selling out live shows in minutes, it’s safe to say that the series has enjoyed quite a bit of popularity over the first story’s three-year run.

As a longtime fan myself I can say that I’ve been anticipating the release of the first comic adaptation since they made the announcement, even before the legitimately tear-jerking conclusion of the podcast’s main story. I’m happy to say that it was worth the wait. There is more on display in this graphic novel than I expected. All the familiar and popular story beats and bits of off-the-cuff dialogue are preset, but with a degree of polish and structure that isn’t inherently possible in the improvised format of its source material. Of course, this can occasionally take the steam away from jokes that rely heavily on the unexpected timing of their delivery and on-the-spot nature of how ridiculous they can be. But the new additions by Clint McElroy and Carey Pietsch more than make up for it and help provide a rewarding feeling of novelty for fans and new readers alike.

And I need to commend Carey Pietsch on the amount of work she put into this first volume. The style perfectly captures the emotional range that the series is known for, going from the goofy lighthearted bickering between characters to the dour wordless impact of a town in ruin. The colors are simple and cohesive, and the line is sometimes sketchy but always readable. The big MVP of the comic however, is the lettering. It may seem like a small detail, but Pietsch frequently uses sound effects and important dialogue to frame and highlight the actions they represent, which is a great way to keep the layout interesting and bolster the visual effects of spells and abilities that would normally be described in the podcast. It also has the added benefit of making the quieter scenes more impactful.

Ultimately I’m impressed with The Adventure Zone’s first outing into the comic format and really look forward to future volumes. I think it’s a great read if you’re familiar with or a fan of the podcast. It’s hard for me to comment with certainty how it reads for people unaware of its roots, but its story is goofy fun and should be fairly easy to follow for newcomers. This is a story that only gets better as time goes on and I personally can’t wait to see handle it when things get really emotional.

Luke Martin

Publisher: First Second
Item Code: MAY181739
Release Date: 7/18/18
SRP: $19.99

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Staff Picks (January): The Goon #1

Recommended by Leigh Tyberg
The Goon has always played in that creepy/funny sandbox that appeals to readers’ darker sense of humor, funning on the dead and the dreary.