Review: The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins – The Best (and the only) D&D Graphic Novel I’ve Read

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Title: The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins
Author: Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, Carey Pietsch (Artist)
Publisher: First Second Books
Release Date: July 17th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s):
Graphic Novel, Fantasy, D&D
Page Count: 256 (paperback)
Goodreads

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

I tried to not make this a review about The Adventure Zone The Podcast because you can 100% read this comic as a standalone, but I’ll just say this: if you’ve never listened to TAZ before, I highly, highly recommend that you give a couple of episodes a try. Even if you’re someone who’s like, “D&D what? Fantasy who?” I have converted non-gamers and fantasy naysayers into worshipers of this podcast. My friend, whose only knowledge of RPGs came from what she saw on The Big Bang Theory, is now a fanatic. The McElroys will do that to you.

It will fill your life with giggles, rainbow dust, and baby penguins. In fact, here’s a baby penguin imploring you to please, oh pretty please, go check out TAZ:

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C’mon. How can you deny that face?

And if you’re thinking, “But I already watch/listen to Critical Role! I don’t need another D&D podcast in my life. That’d be cheating!”–trust me, TAZ is an entirely different beast. So think of it as loving your significant other but also loving your dog. Nothing wrong with that! (…Right?)

  • Podcast HERE
  • Full transcripts of the episodes HERE

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First, let’s introduce our main cast and crew:

Taako
Meet Taako (pronounced “taco”), an elf wizard played by Justin McElroy. He used to star in a cooking show called “Sizzle It Up with Taako”, but it ended in a bit of a disaster, so he’s now stuck being a full-time adventurer. (He’s also super queer but we don’t find that out in this first arc)

Pietsch’s early sketches of Taako showed him to be white in skin tone, but due to backlash from the fandom, he’s been changed to…blue. Which is fair.

 

Magnus

 
Here’s Magnus Burnsides! Played by Travis McElroy! He’s a human figher who lives by the motto of “act first, think later,” with his catchphrase being “Magnus rushes in!” He’s proficient in many things including animals and vehicles. (And wolf-throwing, apparently)

 

 

 

 

Merrle

 

Merle Hitower Highchurch, a dwarf cleric played by Clint McElroy (father of these goofballs). He carries around an Extreme Teen Bible to help educate the modern youth on the good word of his god Pan. His favourite go-to spell is “Zone of Truth” (which makes everyone in the immediate area tell the truth).

 

 

And finally we have Griffin McElroy as the illustrious Dungeon Master.

Our heroes’ tale starts out with an offer from Merle’s cousin, Gundren Rockseeker, who claims that he has “the last job [they’ll] ever need to take.” Which sounds, well, pretty awesome!

…And a little too good to be true.

The trio soon find themselves neck deep in a cave full of goblins (“gerblins”), tangled up in goblin gang politics, uncovering a mysterious artifact, and having some nice tea with an enemy.

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I can only imagine the sheer head-splitting frustration that comes with trying to adapt an audio-only improv media, so kudos to the McElroys and Carey Pietsch for pulling it off.

The art is perfect. It’s cute and dynamic and everything from the characters’ facial expressions to the scenery is done with a lot of care and detail. We get the iconic moments from the podcast plus some new scenes that will delight both the veterans and the newcomers.

The story itself is goofy, action-packed, and super charming (and filled with swears, so probably not something you want to be reading to your kids). This first arc is kind of your standard fantasy adventure, but it lays down the foundation for the rest of the campaign story, where the really crazy and exciting stuff happens.

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Despite me yelling at you to go listen to TAZ, I’m aware that not everyone can access them, so I’m happy this comic provides a way for more people to get acquainted with these beloved, idiot characters and the start of an adventure that’s stuffed to the brim with imagination, gut-splitting humour, and a lot of heart.

So buckle up, folks. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Diversity Spotlight Thursday: Royalty | 3 Days, 3 Quotes [Day 3]

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks. Each week you come up with three book for three different categories: a diverse book you’ve read and enjoyed; a diverse book that’s already been released and is in your TBR; and a diverse book that hasn’t been released yet.

Today we’re donning all the crowns, the jewels, the unwieldy layers of fabric, and exploring some diverse books that feature royalty! This was a hard one, but it was either royalty or diverse pilots (you’ll see why in the second half of the post).

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The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

Captive Prince was the first “royal” book that popped to mind, but that one has issues regarding sexual violence, so instead I’m picking the next diverse yet controversial book that immediately popped to mind (because I hate making things easy for myself, apparently), which is The Tiger’s Daughter. There are those who absolutely hated the representation of Asian culture in this book (Japan and Mongolia in particular), others who loved it, and others who didn’t much care. It’s a matter of inspiration vs. appropriation, and while I do think the worldbuilding is lazy in some respects, I don’t believe it portrays East Asian countries in a disrespectful or malicious manner.

So with that immediate digression…

The Tiger’s Daughter is an epistolary novel that follows the lives of Shefali, a child of the nomadic Qorin tribe, and Shizuka, the future empress of Hokkaro–two young girls whose fates were entwined from birth. The prose is breathtaking and the romance between the two characters is beautifully drawn out. The second book is coming out this October and I’m quite eager to get my hands on it.

A-book-on-my-tbrThe Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a standalone graphic novel that stars a prince who loves wearing dresses and his best friend who loves making those dresses. It seems like a sweet story reminiscent of the Princess Jellyfish manga series, and it’s been getting heaps of praises, so I very much look forward to checking it out.

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Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

 
In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

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This book doesn’t have a royal protagonist, but it’s set in a royal environment and has a king as a major character, so I figure it’s close enough. The premise reminds me a little of Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy (except more queer and Asian), and I find the “forbidden romance” aspect rather intriguing.

Releases November 6th, 2018

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This is Day 3 of the 3 Days, 3 Quotes, for which I was tagged by Alyssa from Serendipitous Reads!

The Rules

1. Thank the person who nominated you
2. Post a quote for 3 consecutive days (1 quote for each day)
3. Nominate three new bloggers each day

For this last day, I’d like to feature a quote from my favourite littlest prince of all time:

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The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is my favourite children’s book and one of my favourite books of all time. It’s one of those stories that sinks its claws into you and refuses to let go, becoming more and more meaningful as you grow older.

It also comes with a rather romantic and tragic backstory (or afterstory, rather). The Little Prince opens up with an aviator crashed on a desert, and Saint-Exupéry himself just also happened to be a pilot (he’d inserted his experience with his own near-fatal crash into the story). He’d flew with the Allies during World War 2, until one day, during one mission, he vanished without a trace.

A partial wreckage of his plane has since been found, but I like to believe that he flew himself all the way to Asteroid B-612 to be with the Little Prince. I hope that wherever he is, he managed to find some measure of peace and comfort as I found in his story.

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Today I tag: You! Everyone! If you wish to be tagged, consider yourself tagged!

Top 5 Wednesday: Favourite Non-Written Novels

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic.

This is my first post for rewind month and my chosen topic is: Favourite Non-Written Novels (comics, manga, audiobooks, etc). I’m going to cheat a little here and showcase five of my favourite graphic novels and five of my favourite manga. Because choices–they’re hard.

Graphic Novels

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  • Saga (Written by Brian K. Vaughan; Art by Fiona Staples):
    Hands down the best scifi graphic novel out there.
  • Descender (Written by Jeff Lemire; Art by Dustin Nguyen):
    Think Artificial Intelligence (the movie) but not as depressing. The worldbuilding is fascinating and intricate, and the artwork is done in gorgeous watercolour.
  • The Wake (Written by Scott Snyder; Art by Sean Murphy):
    While I hate how the ending of this one-shot graphic novel was handled, the first half is just absolute perfection. It’s about a Marine Biologist who gets sent to an underwater oilrig and discovers ancient creatures that humans weren’t meant to find. It’s spine-tingling horror at its finest.

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  • The Woods (Written by James Tynion IV; Art by Michael Dialynas):
    An entire highschool (the building plus the students) gets transported to a different planet on a whole different universe, and a group of teens must figure out a way to survive. It’s fun, exciting, and super super diverse. The series has also been greenlit for a TV adaptation at Syfy!
  • Unsounded (Written and illustrated by Ashley Cope):
    Unsounded has to be the best fantasy webcomic out there. Ashley has created a world that is ludicrously rich and complex and characters that dig into your heart with tenacity. There are 12 1/2 (meaty) chapters so far, and it updates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Manga

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  • Blade of the Immortal by Hiroaki Samura:
    This sweeping pseudo-historical epic spans 31 volumes and I had to restrain myself hard from devouring it all in one week. Set in an alternate 18th-century Japan, it stars a teenage girl named Rin, who’s on a quest for vengeance, and her companion/bodyguard Manji, who’s been cursed with immortality. The artwork is the beautiful balance of sensuous and violent, and the characters (especially the antagonists) are all wonderfully complex. The series took 20 years to finish (1993 to 2012), and Samura has said that he never wants to draw a single kimono ever again. And you know what? Fair enough. He’s earned a break.
  • 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa:
    Honestly, I could add all of Naoki Urasawa’s work on this list and be happy with the result, but if I must to pick a favourite, it’s got to be 20th Century Boys. It’s a coming-of-age story to end all coming-of-age stories. It’s also a part mystery, part scifi, and part superhero/supervillain story. Words can’t do this masterpiece justice. Just go check it out.
  • A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima:
    A Silent Voice gives one of the best depictions of the pains of childhood and bullying I’ve encountered in recent memory. The MC is not immediately likeable from the get-go–he’s a bully who’d tormented a deaf girl to the point of her switching schools. Years later, he’s wracked with guilt and is determined to do whatever it takes to make it up to her. It’s a hard read but a necessary one–filled with as much hope and compassion as pain and horror.

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  • Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori:
    OHSHC was (and still is, in my opinion) the bar to beat for Shoujo mangas. It’s a reverse-harem story that subverts usual reverse-harem tropes. Starring the most unlikely heroine and a group of eccentric boys, this series is at once funny, charming, and heartwarming.
  • Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP:
    This was the very first manga series I’d read as a kid and it’ll always hold a special place in my heart. The story just radiates with so many positive themes–friendship, love, courage, just to name a few. It was also probably my first introduction to queer characters in fiction, which is pretty wild.

 

 

April Wrap Up – Books, Games, and Ninja TED

I finally got around to doing a monthly wrap-up. I read 10 books (and short stories) this month, which wasn’t as many as I’d hoped, but still not too shabby!

Novels and Graphic Novels:

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  • From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris (5/10): This was a bit of a disappointment. I couldn’t connect with the characters and the setting was more historical fiction than alt-history/fantasy, which . Review here.
  • Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence (7/10): Though I had problems with Nona’s character in this sequel to Red Sister, it was still an enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to seeing how things will conclude in Holy Sister. Review here.
  • The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards: Review to come…
  • Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer (9.5/10): I absolutely loved it. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are complex, and the worldbuilding is fascinating. Review here.

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  • The Lost Path by Amélie Fléchais (4/10): This was a weird, weird graphic novel. I was expecting something similar to Over the Garden Wall, but that wasn’t at all the case. Though the artstyle is nice, the plot is just absolutely nonsensical.
  • This I Know by Eldonna Edwards (3/10): A big resounding NOPE. It started out with a lot of promise and then just took a nosedive. Review here.
  • Algeria is Beautiful like America by Olivia Burton (7/10): This was the first autobiographical graphic novel I’ve ever read and I actually quite enjoyed it! It
  • Dragonoak by Sam Farren (8/10): An f/f fantasy romance featuring a necromancer and a knight. It’s chock full of diversity, the worldbuilding is interesting and fun, and the romance was just so sweet.

Novellas and Short Stories:

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  • All Systems Red (Murderbot 1) by Martha Wells (7.5/10): This was a fun read. Murderbot should be relatable to anyone who is an introvert and/or has social anxiety.
  • Ground Floor, Second Room to the Left by Chris Srantopoulos (6.5/10): An atmospheric horror short story that had some interesting moments but ended a little prematurely.

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Games:

For the past week and a half, I’ve been thoroughly obsessed with this obscure little indie game called God of War. I’m not even halfway through and it’s already shaping out to be one of the best games I’ve ever played. It’s a fun, glorious romp through Norse mythology, but it’s also an incredibly personal tale of parenthood and the legacy that we pass on to our children. The relationship between Kratos and his son Atreus is utterly compelling and played out by the two actors to perfection. I’m very excited about finishing it but also scared about finishing it.

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Ninja TED:

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So I went to my fourth annual NinjaTED on April 11, hosted by the one and only Amanda Palmer, who is one of the most brilliant and passionate artists I know and also happens to be married to Neil Gaiman (I honestly don’t know which of the couple I’m more jealous of). What is Ninja TED, you ask? The whole thing started out in 2014 at the last minute (you can read more about its inception here) and it’s a way for Amanda to bring the TED people to the plebians of Vancouver who can’t afford to shell out $6000 for the actual thing. And to help out the local food bank in the process. It’s since become one of my favourite annual events.

We get performances from various musicians, poets, dancers, scientists, and magicians. A glorified talent show for nerds, basically–with more swearing and casual talks about genitals. This years roster included Adam Savage, Sarah Kay, Maria Popova, Neil Gaiman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a surprise last-minute Riz Ahmed (cue screaming), and more. (If you’re interested, you can watch the recorded Facebook stream of the whole show here.)

And I just about fell out of my chair when Neil and Joseph Gordon-Levitt started performing the Morpheus vs. Chronozon scene from Sandman vol. 1.

For those who are unfamiliar, Morpheus is the Lord of Dreams and Chronozon is a demon of Hell. Chronozon has possession of Morpheus’ helm and so they both decide on  a little game. If Morpheus wins, he gets his helm back; if Chronozon wins, Morpheus becomes a slave to Hell. The game? One person says “I am ____” and the other person has to counter it with another thing. For example, Chronozon says, “I am a snake, spider-devouring, poison-toothed,” and Dream’s response is, “I am an ox, snake-crushing, heavy footed.”

They go back and forth, with no one having the advantage of the other, until Chronozon smugly comes up with his trump card: “I am anti-life, the beast of judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything, the end of universes, gods, worlds…of everything.”

To which Dream answers: “I am hope.”

And wins.

And I think that’s an appropriate ending to a monthly wrap-up.

Here’s to books and hope.