“The Adventure Zone” started as a sort of throwaway episode of the podcast, “My Brother, My Brother, and Me”, a comedic advice podcast by three brothers, Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy. In the episode, they’re joined by their father, Clint, and they play their first session of DnD, for what boils down to essentially the first time ever, for all four of them. Griffin takes the reigns as DM (Dungeon Master), and the other three, Clint, Justin, and Travis, are the only players. They just wanted to see if anyone would like it. People liked it so much it became its own podcast, now nearly eight years running at the time of writing (beginning in 2014).
Then, Clint McElroy, in collaboration with Carey Pietsch, adapted the campaign into a graphic novel. And it is fantastic. I’ll start by giving praise to Carey Pietsch, whose illustrations are both fun and beautiful. Art style can so often be overlooked in reviews such as these (especially when the reviewer doesn’t actually know anything about art, like me), buried by the need to talk about plot and character, but art style can be a dealbreaker for some people. I’m guilty of this as well, I couldn’t get through the first episode of the anime “Eyeshield 21” because of the art style (sorry!). But Pietsch’s art is so great. It’s clean, legible, stylistic, and overall, just aesthetically pleasing. Also, shout out to the fan art section in the back of the book, how fun is that!
The book itself is fun. I already knew the plot going in, as I had listened to the podcast, but it’s definitely not a necessity. The story makes just as much sense if you had listened to the podcast than if you hadn’t. It’s truly an exceptional adaptation in that regard. Sure, there was a twenty-minute fight scene that had been condensed into a single panel. However, this does nothing to change the story, it’s one of the most inconsequential fights in the podcast and does nothing to change the plot. In adaptation, changes are necessary, and the changes made to this adaptation both make sense and helps make the story even better than its original form.
Even if you don’t know much about Dungeons and Dragons or even tabletop role player games, this is such an enjoyable read. It’s a fantasy adventure with funny commentary and fourth wall breaks with the inclusion of appearances from Griffin McElroy as the DM, a charming nod back to the source material, and a great storytelling tool to drive the plot and keep the characters moving, just like how an actual DM does when running a campaign. It gives it a meta feel to the entire book which is fun as a reader.
But the most important thing is what the story is actually about. “Here There Be Gerblins” follows the story of Merle Highchurch, a dwarven cleric, Magnus Burnsides, a human fighter, and Taako, an elven wizard, as they go on an adventure. (Warning! From here on out there will be spoilers for this book!) in the beginning, their quest seems simple, help Merle’s cousin and his friend Barry Bluejeans escort a cart of supplies to a neighboring town. And then they’re attacked by gerblins, and Merle’s cousin and Barry Bluejeans are nowhere to be found. Then the quest becomes a lot more interesting and dangerous.
What follows is a quest to save their kidnapped compatriots, fight a giant spider in a large mine, find a mystical relic, attempt to save a town, and discover a hidden organization tasked with saving the world. The story takes so many twists and turns that once you’ve started, it’s impossible to put the book down.