If you haven’t heard of the McElroy brothers, don’t worry; this review isn’t here to shame you. But if you have, it’s no surprise: since 2010, brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy have launched numerous successful podcasts, beginning with My Brother, My Brother, and Me (or MBMBaM) and expanding into a literal family [link] of shows. Beginning as a special MBMBaM episode during Justin’s paternity in 2014, The Adventure Zone follows the brothers, joined by their dad Clint, as they create an expansive fantasy world through playing Dungeons & Dragons. The Adventure Zone has become immensely popular; it currently sits at #33 on the iTunes Comedy podcast charts, has sold-out numerous live-shows, and has, most recently, spawned a graphic novel adaptation.
The Adventure Zone via Official Website
This is the subject of our review today. Recently, I had the luck to grab a copy of The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins through a Goodreads giveaway of advanced reader copies.
That’s right, folks. I’ve been nerding out over this book for days.
Here There Be Gerblins is an adaptation of the very first TAZ story arc. The adaptation is written by the McElroys along with Carey Pietsch, who also serves as illustrator. For those completely unfamiliar with the podcast, it serves as a great introduction into the world of TAZ. Podcasts aren’t necessarily the most accessible form of media for everyone, so right of the bat the novel serves as an easier introduction for those who may be intimidated by TAZ’s back-log of episodes. And though the podcast itself tries to stay away from too much of the technical aspects of DnD, the novel pushes this even further. Because TAZ is an “actual play” podcast, it’s necessary for the audience to listen as the boys discuss how a certain rule, weapon, etc. works. Though this doesn’t affect the podcast’s quality or listen-ability in anyway, the graphic novel is able to shed all of this in favor of a tighter story. There’s the occasional reference to perception checks or spell slots, and of course Griffin keeps his title and appears as the “DM,” but there’s nothing too obscure that would interrupt your understanding of the story. Also, each character that has at least a minor speaking roll gets a nifty little scroll with their name and some basic info, plus a joke or two. So even if you don’t know exactly what a bugbear is, you can still see what it is, and also learn this particular bugbear is a tea brewing, wolf training gang leader.
The Adventure Zone via The AV Club
Because comics and graphic novels are very visual media, and these visuals are new to the story, it’s important that this adaptation has strong illustrations, and Carey Pietsch nails it. Her style is wonderful, the expressions are funny and communicative, and the action is clear to read. The colors are also great; a flip through the books shows sections of greens and blues and purples and, when appropriate, fiery red. While there are definitely some parts changed or left out in the transition from podcast to comic, there are also some good additions, be they bigger scenes like the travel montage or the spring break, to smaller jokes in character expressions or background jokes. There are also some great ways to visualize points of the story,[SPOILERS] like the static the boys hear until they are inoculated at the Bureau of Balance. The static is neatly represented, and the page where everything is finally revealed to the gang is done so well. The broken mirror and decoded words form what is ultimately one of the greatest pages in the book. [NO MORE SPOILERS]
The Adventure Zone via First Second
I doubt any fan of the podcast will be disappointed in Here There Be Gerblins, and it’s also a great introduction for new fans. It has great visuals, comedy, and story. There’s even a little section in the back to celebrate the community of fans with a gallery of fan-art. Ultimately, it leaves me super excited for the big reveal at the end of the book: Murder on the Rockport Limited, the second Adventure Zone arc, is coming soon.
The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins is on sale today, July 17th.