The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited (#2) by Clint McElroy

Published: 16th July 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 First Second
Illustrator: Carey Pietsch
Pages: 240
Format: Graphic Novel
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Star

In the second Adventure Zone graphic novel (adapted from the McElroy family’s wildly popular D&D podcast), we rejoin hero-adjacent sort-of-comrades-in-arms Taako, Magnus, and Merle on a wild careen through a D&D railroad murder mystery. This installment has a little of everything: a genius child detective, an axe-wielding professional wrestler, a surly wizard, cursed magical artifacts, and a pair of meat monsters.

You know, the usual things you find on a train.

I squealed and smiled and was in a delightful mess of joyous emotions as I read this story. This arc of the Adventure Zone story has some great characters and some of the best interactions. I have no doubt my enjoyment was heightened because I have also listened to The Adventure Zone podcast but I think even without that there is a lot of humour and a great story to get involved with. You don’t have to know the podcast and you don’t have to know D&D to enjoy this, there are character introductions so you are reacquainted with known characters from the first story, or introduces them if this is your first experience, but there’s also stat sheets and introduction for new characters as well. There are great meta jokes and the rules of new items and spells are integrated seamlessly into the design of the pages so you have context for actions and know about weapons and spells.

There is a connection to Murder on the Orient Express, as evident not only from the title but the great train mystery Griffin has laid out. The trio of heroes Taako, Magnus, and Merle all return as they continue the Bureau of Balance’s missions to collect the relics, this time trapped on a train with a small circle of suspects and a mystery to solve. This arc introduces some of the best characters, many are reoccurring and some are brilliant one offs.

A special mention of course has to go to Carey for her amazing artwork. Her interpretation of these characters is divine. I loved her depictions of characters like Angus, Jess and Jenkins, not to mention those at the Bureau. Angus McDonald brings all his sarcasm and cuteness to the page without losing any of his charm. The art is just as important as the story because Carey makes every movement, every background character or action count. The tiny details make it an absolute joy because not only is the story brilliant, but there is an entire other level of enjoyment from her bright, colourful, emotional illustrations. The detail is amazing, the Easter eggs to past and future campaigns/characters are there for podcast listeners and even those who haven’t listened to it get great details like other adventures happening in the background and fun details and jokes.

I actually love the changed ending. It gives a great sense of the bigger picture and the grander adventure that is yet to come while not taking away from the original story. It may be different than the podcast, but Clint has reworked scenes and it still fits with who these characters are. We get a better insight into who they are earlier on with some great intrigue and foreshadowing. At the end of the book there are once again stunning artwork by various fans, each with their own interpretations of the characters and various scenes. It is wonderful to see so many different styles and how each player has been interpreted.

I don’t think I can express enough how hilarious this story is. It is funny in book form and there are wonderfully humorous moments where they break the fourth wall and once again interact with Dungeon Master Griffin. The mystery is pretty good as well. There are clues and surprises and a few moments I had forgotten about from the podcast that I loved reliving again. One thing I find interesting reading these graphic novels having also experienced the podcast is not only knowing what comes next, but I know what lines were omitted and what other aspects have been altered for adaptability. It is amazing to see the work Clint has done to make the story flow even though Griffin had already made a fantastic story and plot, to see it be translated to beautifully to the page is amazing.

You can purchase The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

 WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins (#1) by Clint McElroy

Published: 17th July 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 First Second
Illustrator: Carey Pietsch
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Star

Welcome to the Adventure Zone!

SEE! The illustrated exploits of three lovable dummies set loose in a classic fantasy adventure!

READ! Their journey from small-time bodyguards to world-class artifact hunters!

MARVEL! At the sheer metafictional chutzpah of a graphic novel based on a story created in a podcast where three dudes and their dad play a tabletop role playing game in real time!

Join Taako the elf wizard, Merle the dwarf cleric, and Magnus the human warrior for an adventure they are poorly equipped to handle AT BEST, guided (“guided”) by their snarky DM, in a graphic novel that, like the smash-hit podcast it’s based on, will tickle your funny bone, tug your heartstrings, and probably pants you if you give it half a chance.

With endearingly off-kilter storytelling from master goofballs Clint McElroy and the McElroy brothers, and vivid, adorable art by Carey Pietsch, The Adventure Zone: Here There be Gerblins is the comics equivalent of role-playing in your friend’s basement at 2am, eating Cheetos and laughing your ass off as she rolls critical failure after critical failure. 

The Adventure Zone podcast is a love and obsession of mine. For years I have followed the McElroys and their work, inhaling anything they put out with enthusiasm. They satisfied my desire to experience D&D before I was able to get into a game myself. This is the beginning. The start of it all, the three year, emotional journey that I suffered through that was the best and most brilliant piece of creativity and storytelling I have ever had to honour of listening to.

This is not about that. This is about the graphic novel of that podcast and aside from a few legal changes to official D&D names this is still the beginning of the story I love. The podcast was adapted to graphic novel by Clint McElroy and it has all the joy that the podcast brings. It remains true to the story and is a wonderful start to what would be a seven story arc experience. This first installment has the introductions of our characters Taako, Magnus, and Merle and the beginnings of their hilarious antics. Aside from reliving this story again, the bonus of seeing it play out visually was fantastic. Pietsch has done a brilliant job and the designs of these characters feels true to their personalities. The colours are diverse and vibrant and seeing what I had imagined unfold in front of me was delightful. I also love that Dungeon Master Griffin gets to be included in visual form. His little figure hanging over them is amazing and the inclusion of the interactions with the players is part of the brilliant humour.

If you love this, then you should check out the podcast from the very beginning because it will take you on a wild ride and as the boys become more familiar with the game and Griffin develops his story it is such an emotional investment, you genuinely will have emotions as a result of this arc. If podcasts aren’t your thing, there will be a graphic novel of each of the chapters in the Balance Arc so we will be able to relive the mastery through all seven of these story arcs. I cannot wait to have all seven of these graphic novels sitting proudly on my shelf to swoon over.

To adjust a quote from Justin McElroy who commented at the conclusion of this epic adventure: “Thus ends begins the Adventure Zone Balance, the story of four idiots that played D&D so hard that they made themselves cry.” A great teaser about what is to come.

You can purchase The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Simpsons Forever! by Matt Groening

Published: 3rd November 1999Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Design
Pages: 96
Format: Paperback
Genre: Graphic Novel
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Picking up where The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to our Favorite Family left off, The Simpsons Forever! brings all the history, tidbits, and cold hard facts on every episode from the past two years, and much, much more. Fans will find the highlights of all the shows from seasons nine and ten, plus eyeball–busting two–page spreads for special episodes (like the annual Halloween show). Heavily packed into these pages are updated favourites like Best Homerisms, Famous Chalkboard Sayings, All–New Simpsons Singalong Lyrics, Couch Gags, and classic screen images. And, yes – it’s all cross-referenced!

This book is the second as part of a series released by Matt Groening that start at season one and work through the series aired at the time up until season 14. Each book is a continuation of the previous publication with multiple seasons covered within. This is important because anyone who reads this book, especially thinking they are getting a full series exploration, will no doubt be disappointed. While the first book covered seasons 1-8, this second one is very short, covering only seasons 9 and 10 but it still is filled with detail. Each episode overview for both seasons includes quotes, blink and you miss it things you may have missed, as well as fun information about background characters, songs, show highlights, character bios as well as the numerous and varied movie and pop culture references made by the writers and animators.

This is a great read if you like the attention to detail that The Simpsons have always had and the clever and creative signs, references and homage, or unique characters that have been created over the years. The trivia is enlightening and I was reminded of things I had long forgotten and even learnt a few things that made me even more in awe of the genius minds of the people who work on the show.

I went looking for these books when I learnt of them because I’m a long time fan of The Simpsons. This book is from early on in the shows run, when only 10 seasons had been aired, and nowhere near as comprehensive as the later publication featuring the first 20 seasons, which even now is old given the new 30th season. Having said that, it is still a great read. I think being closer to the airdates there were more things to include, and more focus could be put on each episode without worrying about making anything too long or cluttered. If you are a trivia nut like I am the little random facts are fun to learn and it’s great to read about just how much thought goes into background characters and crowd scenes. Hopefully I can track down the rest of these early books because I think they would be an enlightening read, especially ones that cover more seasons.

You can purchase The Simpsons Forever via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

World of Books

The Simpsons Family History by Matt Groening

Published: 23rd September 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Harry N. Abrams
Pages: 304
Format: Hardback
Genre: Graphic Novel
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

So you think you know the Simpsons? Well, think again! The Simpsons Family History unravels 25 years of Simpsons facts and fun and presents them in a never-before-seen chronological format. Travel through time with Matt Groening as he pulls back the curtain and reveals the events that turned this average family into a pop-culture phenomenon. Discover the hopes and dreams of a young Homer and uncover the sensitive and driven girl Marge was before she married him. Marvel at the hidden moments you never knew you missed, as all the pieces of Simpsons history fall into place. Chock full of art taken directly from the source, this massive tome is a must for Simpsons fans and the perfect way to celebrate The Simpsons’ 25th anniversary.

This is not a substantial book despite its fancy appearance. It is not filled with facts and information about our favourite four fingered family with a comprehensive history and trivia guide, it is, however, still quite nice.

There is humour and heart as the journey from the beginning of time, (skipping 67 million years to speed things up a bit) all the way up until Grandpa Simpsons early life, Homer’s birth and beyond. I thought I would be disappointed in this book because it wasn’t what I expected i.e filled with facts and information, and yet I still enjoyed flicking through as the history of the family was traced.

In that sense it does do what the cover says, it is a family history of The Simpsons, a celebration of the family. In full colour there are images taken straight from episodes, with no updating or touch ups, which, to my nostalgic self, loves that you can see the animation evolution, and also realise that through fate or design the entire lives of each family member has been explored in one episode of another allowing a chronological journey through their story. We see Homer’s birth, his early and ongoing meetings with Marge, and their love blossom until the arrival of Bart, Lisa and Maggie.

I can see how some people might think it has no value, but it a celebration of the family, never claiming to be a guide or any kind of anthology about the show. It’s a pictorial history that was actually quite enjoyable. If you are looking for wordier, and more comprehensive histories of The Simpsons or fact guides, then there is no shortage out there from ex-staff or fans alike. But as a lovely guide to this long running show that focus on the family it was quite a nice trip down memory lane.

You can purchase The Simpsons Family History via the following

Booktopia | Dymocks | Book Depository

Amazon | Amazon Aust

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