Interview: Writer Clint McElroy and artist Carey Pietsch discuss The Adventure Zone Graphic Novel
Since 2014, brothers, and (until recently,) video game journalists Justin and Griffin McElroy have recorded a podcast called The Adventure Zone with their brother Travis and their father Clint. It’s a highly regarded Dungeons and Dragons campaign starring Taako the Wizard (Justin), Magnus Burnsides the fighter (Travis), and dwarven cleric Merle Highchurch (Clint), with Griffin McElroy as the DM.
Now, the first story arc from the podcast is being turned into a graphic novel, titled The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins. It will be published by First Second Books in paperback on July 17th.
To find out how they transmographied their fantasy podcast into a comic book, we spoke to papa Clint and artist Carey Pietsch about how this comic came to be.
GameCrate: For those unfamiliar with the podcast, how did The Adventure Zone come to be?
Clint McElroy: It started as a chance to hang with my kids for a couple of hours a week and recreate those halcyon days of their childhood, sitting around the dinner table, trying to out-goof each other. The infrastructure was three guys and their dad sitting down to play Dungeons & Dragons, with barely a whiff of D&D experience between the four of them. It quickly evolved into an involving, affecting story that listeners became invested in, with characters that they loved...without ever losing that "out-goofing" element.
GC: At what point did you guys decide to adapt The Adventure Zone into a comic, and what led to this decision?
CME: The Balance arc went three years, and we were about a third of a way into it when it became apparent that we were on to something very special. Griffin's story was resonating with a huge number of people, and it was a no-brainer that we began thinking of other media where this tale would flourish. I have been reading comics for over a half-century and the boys have shared my love for them. It seemed like a logical progression.
GC: Was the goal of the graphic novel to accurately present what happened during the podcast, or was it more about telling a good story?
CME: We felt a very real obligation to be as faithful to the story and characters as possible. At the same time, we didn't want to completely boot Justin, Travis, Clint, and Griffin off-stage.
Let me put it this way: We tried not to break the Fourth Wall...but went put a helluva lot of dents in it.
GC: Did you make any major changes to the story?
CME: Nothing I would call major. We changed a few character and place names but I would say the biggest challenge was adapting gags that were audio-oriented into a visual approach.
GC: In the podcast, Griffin served as the Dungeon Master. But how does it work in Here There Be Gerblins, and how much of a presence does he have in the graphic novel, compared to the podcast?
Carey Pietsch: We all agreed that it was really important to find a good way to incorporate the DM into the graphic novel. He's such an essential part of what makes the show special. We talked about a bunch of different systems early on in development before settling on the format in the book, including one weird fun one where he would've temporarily possessed whichever NPC happened to be in the scene. I'm really fond of what we landed on, which is having the DM pop up in small inset panel windows with his figure literally breaking out beyond the edges of normal panel borders. We wanted to strike a balance — sorry — between having him actually feel like a part of the story and being able to talk with the main characters without being distracting or acting solely as a framing device, and I think that visual design shows that he's a part of the narrative while also setting him slightly apart from it.
GC: What appeal do you think Here There Be Gerblins will have outside those who are already fans of The Adventure Zone?
GC: So Clint, how did you and the kids come to work with Carey and what made you think she was the best person to illustrate this graphic adaptation?
CME: Divine Providence. She was a fan of the podcast who kept posting these amazing pieces, and we were spending so much time sending each other links to her stuff we figured it would just be easier to collaborate with her. We realized she "gets it"...whatever that means.
GC: Carey, what role, if any, did fan art depictions and fan perceptions of the characters play in guiding their visual design in the graphic novel?
CP: The fandom for The Adventure Zone is made up of such passionate, brilliant people. I was drawing a ton of fanart when I first started listening to the show in 2015, got to know a bunch of wonderful people that way, and had the chance to work with an even larger host of artists making gorgeous fanwork when Megan Raley and I co-ran The Adventure Zine . It was such a pleasure to see The Adventure Zone fan community make that project happen, and I'm still in awe of how generous and kindhearted everyone we had the chance to talk with was.
And to the question of creating the visual designs for the graphic novel: this was an extremely collaborative process between the McElroys and me. The process included me reading through the script closely and going back to re-listen to relevant chunks of the arc, discussing what everyone had in mind for various characters, creatures, locations, and props, and then several rounds of revisions until we landed at designs that worked for everyone.
GC: Finally, given the success of Game Of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, and the Marvel movies, I have to ask: Has there been any interest in making a movie, TV show, or video game out of The Adventure Zone or Here There Be Gerblins?
CME: I would be 100% onboard with it being a game, as long as it was a combination of Dig Dug, Zork, and Bioshock...and I get to voice Merle.
The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins will be available in paperback on July 17.