Punchbowl: Carey Pietsch ('The Adventure Zone' Graphic Novel)

Welcome to the Punchbowl, an interview segment about playing Dungeons and Dragons in 2018 and beyond. We talk to people who are pushing the game forward - creatively, communally, socially, just doing good work.

Today we sit down with Carey Pietsch, the artist behind the graphic novel The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins. We talk changing from gaming to audio to visual art, choosing the color of grass, and making magic items pop.

Find her on twitter at @careydraws and order the book from the publisher, Barnes and Noble (for that good good poster) or your friendly local bookstore.

This episode of Join the Party is produced and edited by Eric Silver. Mixed by Brandon Grugle.


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Eric: Hello! This is Eric, your DM, and welcome to the Punchbowl, our interview segment on Join The Party. Even on our off weeks, I’m thinking about D&D, like how do I adapt Space Jam to a tabletop game? I think Michael’s Secret Stuff is pretty OP. But I’m also thinking about what it’s like to be a player in 2018 and beyond, so I figured I’d put that to good use and talk to those who are pushing the game forward creatively, communally, socially, just doing good work. 

My entry to D&D podcasts was ‘The Adventure Zone,’ produced by Justin, Travis, Griffin, and Clint McElroy. It was a feat of storytelling that made D&D feel alive, tangible, and exciting, pulling the gameplay into new medium, which in this case is audio. So when I heard that TAZ was gonna be a graphic novel, I realized this was another reinvention of the genre. We’re going from game to podcast to visual art. This titanic feat of media is healmed by Carey Pietsch, cartoonist, artist, and all-around awesome person. If I wasn’t already assured of the success of this graphic novel by her expressive and colorful artwork, I am 100% all-in after talking to her in person. We got to chat in the game arena of Twenty Sided Store in Brooklyn, New York. After I explained to her my new addiction to Hearthstone, we got down to it.

Eric: I’m here with the amazing, extremely talented, and, um game-literate Carey Pietsch.

Carey: [laughs] Thank you for that very kind and flattering introduction. It is wonderful to be here!

Eric: You have just worked on the first section of ‘The Adventure Zone,’ and I have like so many questions about it!

Carey: Awesome!

Eric: But first, we always start out by asking our guests to share a game tale. If you were trying to get someone to play an RPG with you, what story would you tell them to get them excited?

Carey: Mmm, that’s a good question. I think usually if I’m trying to get someone to play a game with me, they are one of my friends and they already know what I’m into, so I can pitch them on, “Are you, like me, someone who is super into monster romances and teen high school drama? Please join my Monster Hearts cult, which is absolutely not a cult. It is just a gang of people who also love those stories.” 

I think it’s always hard for me to find a way to frame game stories, because one of the things that I love about tabletop games is that they really are a chance to  build up stories over time with your friends, so a lot of what I love about stories that I’ve kind of gathered in my brain bucket are things that have a lot of special context to me, either because of the people that I played with or a moment that we built to over a long time.

Eric: Right.

Carey: So I can tell you like, “Oh my god, these two characters kissed for the first time last session.”

[Eric laughs]

And like I know that was a moment we built up to for a year and it was super dramatic, but you’re like, “Okay, cool, I guess, whatever.” So my better pitch would be, it’s a way for you to build that kind of like growth and intimacy and serial storytelling over time, like make those moments for yourselves.

The first time as an adult I sat down to play D&D 5th edition was with a group of people who are all good nerds, they’re good folks.

Eric: Good, good nerds. Perfect.

Carey: Absolutely. And we had all spent like a couple of hours like building up these characters, and getting really attached, and it was a group of pretty idealistic- the characters, not us. We’re all old and jaded.

[Eric laughs]

But like idealistic, youthful teens going on an adventure just to help out a friend. Like, low-stakes.

Eric: Same.

Carey: Yeah, you know, same! Who among is is not on an adventure to help out their friends? So our kind DM like walked us through this, because none of us had played since we were teens I think at this point, and had- very clearly he had structured like, “I have built this session to try to teach you the rules of D&D and to get you acclimated to 5th edition if you’ve only played 3.5, and you don’t know what you’re coming from.”

Eric: Right.

Carey: We’re like, “Okay! Cool! We wanna, um, go on this quest to get back this record and maybe help these two people fall in love, but we’ll see how this goes.” And the first thing he put in our path was like from his perspective, “I’m gonna build an encounter that’ll teach these people how to fight.” 

So presents us with a group of goblins, goblins start talking to us, they pull out weapons, and the DM’s like, “Okay now let’s talk about how to do attack rolls.” And immediate pushback from everyone at the table like, “We can’t kill them! We were just talking to these tiny horrible lizards and I need to know a way out of this situation that doesn’t end with us killing them all!”

[Eric laughing]

So bless him, very thoughtfully he was immediately like, “Okay we’re going to take a quick time-out and I am going to draw up a power structure for this group of goblins, I guess. So we can figure out how to open up trade negotiations and work out a way through this forest where fewer people have to die.” And we did end up doing one- like a smaller murder, like a lesser murder on the cruelest goblin, but overall we managed to work out a trade, they became members of a K-Pop fan club. They’re still out in the world somewhere doing a goblin voice.

Eric: Okay, what. Wait, that took a turn!

Carey: It did. Listen, I don’t wanna give away the details. You’re gonna have to play for yourself. Just include some characters who have some special interest and you too can make this kind of magic.

Eric: Of course, the K-Pop module, I totally forgot about how they released that.

[Carey laughs]

Carey: Yeah it’s hidden way in the back of a Monster Manual. It takes some digging.

Eric: It’s really interesting the way that you’re describing 5e. Lauren, who we interviewed before, who is the owner of Twenty Sided Store, which is where we are right now- the way that she explained 5th edition is like Wizard of the Coast have been growing like a tree. In AD&D, it was like this little sapling, and then it’s been growing and growing, and growing, and it is this massive oak that is like in your front yard, and like 4 is like all of the branches is like all over the place and is like blocking your view of the street.

[Carey laughs]

And then 5th edition is like someone cut down that tree, woodworked it down to a canoe, and now you can take that canoe anywhere.

Carey: I like it. This metaphor got messy, and yet that does really well capture the feeling of- its navigable, you can guide it places, it’s not at the mercy of wherever it’s trying to go often, which is “I’m gonna tell you that you need to spend 17 hours laying out a hex grid.”

Eric: Exactly.

Carey: Which for some people is great, and if you wanna do that, that's cool, but it was not quite for me.

Eric: Exactly. Running a D&D podcast on audio is like- I can’t use a hex grid.

Carey: Mhm.

Eric: Like what’s the point?

[Carey laughs]

I mean like yeah, then my players know what’s going on, but they they’re like, “Ah yeah, my mini’s doing real well.” and I mean, you know the same thing about adapting a D&D campaign into a graphic novel.

Carey: Mhm.

Eric: The first thing is like- how do you do that? I know the story is story, is story, is story, but the two media feel so different. How do you take your first crack at adapting the audio to a written and visual medium?

Carey: Right. The first crack is absolutely Clint and Griffin and Justin and Travis sit down, and with Clint as lead I believe, though they are the folks who know how that works on their end, they sit down and do the first step in, “We’re gonna take this massive, massive chunk of audio content and actually write this up into a first draft of a comic script.”

Eric: Right.

Carey: So that’s all them, which is really cool, because they are the people who know that story the best, so they are the best suited to make that first hack at doing the really difficult thing of translating from one medium to another. It's a give and take. I don't think there is a superior medium, but there are definitely things that you lose going from audio into visual. 

I think one of the things that drew me to ‘The Adventure Zone’ the podcast is a lot of the things you can only get in audio, like the clear connections and fun that everyone is having translates so well, or are shown so effectively in listening to how people’s voices sound. Like it’s very, very natural and clear because you can tell when people are having fun with something and engaged in a story. So making that translation does require a lot of kind of lateral thinking in, “How can we get this expressiveness to work in these characters on the page?”

So that’s one reason I really like working in a pretty cartoon-y style, I think that lends itself well to doing the kind of exaggerated visual acting and showing clear details of expressions on faces that you otherwise might lose entirely if you’re drawing something that is a little closer to what humans- and I guess elves- actually look like, but would necessarily lose a lot of that fun.

Eric: Right. And it's like you’re taking things that people have only imagined in their mind and putting it down on the page.

Carey: But it also- it’s so nice to be able to talk through that sort of thing with all of them, and we sit down to-

Eric: Sure.

Carey: Like figuring out what Haverdale looks like was also a group effort, so we spent a lot of time talking about not just like, “Okay Carey go draw this thing,” but “Hey guys, let’s all have like a quick session where we check in about like- what do the buildings look like? What do people do there? What’s-” not getting into as nitty gritty details as like, “What’s the main trade export from Haverdale?” But like okay this is a travel town, this is a hub so like when you look at those pages you’ll see a lot of people are walking through with backpacks, there are wagons so you can tell- kind of get a sense of the place, like this is an area that has a lot more transit to it. It’s less peoples’ home, maybe that’s why it’s a small village.

Eric: Right. It’s funny just hearing you just rattle off the creators of ‘The Adventure Zone’ just like that, but your artistic collaborators, Clint, Justin, Griffin, and Travis, are the McElroys, as people have probably freaked out about while they’re listening to this episode. What were you expecting when collaborating with these guys? What was your first impression as you were gonna walk in?

Carey: It is always strange to work with people whose work you’ve listened to, or read, or experienced, or watched I guess, if it’s a TV collaboration, and admired. 

Eric: Right.

Carey: But I feel really lucky in that the collaboration itself has been fantastic, and they really are as thoughtful about the work as it sounds like they would be looking at the final product, so it’s really been a treat. They’re all incredibly funny, and it is a treat to get to hear them all chat while we’re all on group calls occasionally too.

Eric: That must be so much fun.

Carey: Yeah it’s- the whole process is really fun, which I really think is really important when you are entering a giant creative endeavor, because the adaptation, you know, it’s a little more than a year per book, so if you’re sitting down to do that, it is important that it be a fun process, and it really, truly is. It’s something that I look forward to- not only the work itself but also talking to the whole team about it and getting their feedback and incorporating that into the drawings is always, always a pleasure.

Eric: For people who are not fluent in comics and graphic art, what were you responsible for for the graphic novel? Did you do the coloring, the drawing, the lettering? What were you responsible for?

Carey: Oh okay, gotcha. Everybody's comics process is completely different.

Eric: Yeah.

Carey: It is a wild world out there, and I think even if you are familiar with how the comic sausage gets made- gross- the answer is going to be different depending on what team you’re asking and who you’re talking to.

So in my case, I do all of the linework, I do all of the colors - I worked with a brilliant letterer Tess Stone - he makes the comic ‘Not Drunk Enough,” he is great, and his lettering on the book is fantastic.

Eric: Oh, absolutely.

Carey: And I also worked with a couple of flatters, Megan Brennan and Niki Smith who lay in a couple of like neon flat colors that I can then more quickly get into actual blue sky and green grass, I guess- those are- I guess those are color standards?

Eric: They’re definitely colors.

Carey: Fun side note: I almost never color grass green, and someone pointed this out to me and I was like, “That’s not true! I know what color grass is!”

[Eric laughing]

And I had to go back and look and I think all the grass in this book is like pretty yellow or blue. There’s not a lot of bright neon green, which maybe is a reverse artifact of the way colors print in CMYK space, is the lie that I’m telling myself and not that I don’t know what grass looks like.

Eric: We can just go to Central Park right after this…

Carey: [laughs] We’re here in New York City, land of grass!

Eric: You know, where all of the grass is?

Carey: Known especially for its green.

Eric: I think Brooklyn just has blue grass.

Carey: You know what, that’s a- I just grew up in the suburban New York area and we just have blue grass there! That’s the way-

Eric: Just all of Westchester, blue grass.

Carey: [laughs] Bluegrass music, bluegrass grass, that is what it’s known for.

Eric: That’s why the real estate is so high- it’s all the blue grass.

Carey: Yeah. So, yeah, the comics process, making the artwork itself, is kind of broken down into stages, so I kind of start off with extremely rough thumbnail sketches which I show to nobody- or layouts, I guess- are only for me, so that’s the stage where I think about like how many panels are going to be on this page? What are those panels gonna look like? How are they gonna flow into each other? How is that gonna affect the visual timing of these jokes? How is that gonna affect giving us space to establish a scene and set up where things are gonna take place? 

After that, I move onto thumbnails which are still pretty chicken scratch, but the ideal goal is to have them be legible enough that I can show them to the rest of the team. And that’s the first chance where we all get to talk about, “Okay now that we’ve all contributed to edits on the script, we’ve all talked about making these characters’ voices work in text and dialogue,” Now this is our first chance to sit down and kind of look at how that’s flowing on the page. And we can really think about timing, and whether we need to mess with scenes a little bit more or punch up dialogue at that point. 

And again, everybody is in on that, which is really, really cool, because obviously Clint and Griffin and Justin and Travis all know their own characters’ voices best, so having them be able to step in and say, “Actually, I think that this would work better if we rephrase this slightly,” is what makes this book so special. So from thumbs, we go onto pencils, which are like a little less awful drawing, and then inks, which are ideally finished drawings. From there I color it, and Tess letters it, and then the book goes out into the world through a mysterious process which I still do not understand.

[Eric laughing]

Eric: Publishing is still shrouded in mystery.

Carey: [laughs] Publishing is a beautiful monolith. Our publisher, First Second has been wonderful to work with. And also they’re a giant company, and I do not understand even a fraction of a percent of what we work with there. But Calista Brill our editor, is there to translate that for us and I am very grateful to her for doing so.

Eric: I love that you brought up the lettering, because that was something I wanted to ask you about adapting a D&D story to graphic novel. The two things that stood out to me the most, and we can talk about each of these things separately, first of all- we got an ARC, so we got to read it early, suckers.

[Carey laughs]

Carey: Hey, if people want to read the book, they should pre order it at theadventurezonecomic.com - preordering helps us tell the publisher that they should sign us on for more books, so it helps us out a lot, and also it’s a really good book, although I am very biased.

Eric: That’s true. I preordered 2.

Carey: Thank you! Nice.

Eric: Before we even got the ARC, so I don’t know if I should be plugging Barnes and Noble-

Carey: Go for it.

Eric: But they have one of those extras that come with it-

Carey: Oh yeah!

Eric: And I was so excited about the big poster.

Carey: Yeah! Oh my god the poster was really, really fun to work on. Again, please take with a grain of salt because I did draw it.

[Eric laughs]

But it is a beautiful object and I want one very badly.

Eric: I’m so excited to see it, and it’s gonna be on the wall-

Carey: Nice.

Eric: And I’m gonna be like, “I talked to the person who made that!”

[Carey laughs]

“Goodnight Carey,” and then go to sleep.

Carey: It’s true, a little piece of my soul falls into every drawing.

[Eric laughs]

And that is why I’m dead inside.

Eric: And that’s why I’m a litch and you need to detory all the posters.

Carey: No! My secret!

Eric: So the two questions that I had were about the use of Griffin as a... I don’t even know what to call it, and there might be a comic term for it, but he exists outside of the action but has his own little demi-plane where he exists.

Carey: I like that. That’s a good way of framing it because he really is acting as- the DM is kinda there not to narrate, not to exposit, but to kind of break in and be a translator for some of the other things that are really difficult to adapt from the podcast into like a story-focused graphic novel. The table talk essentially- the players like sitting down as a group of players to talk about, “What do we want to do next?” or just to riff on whatever was funny to them on that day. 

So having a DM as a character allows us to- not quite pause the action, but look to the side in a way and we kind of have him appear as a little panel inset popping into the corners of panels so that the characters on the page can turn to talk about whatever side note or tangent we want to go off on. So having the DM not pop up wandering through the background in a wizard robe, but rather appearing as an inset- I think we settled on that because it does serve as a nice visual cue for- this is a separate person. This is not someone who has direct influence on the world in the same way that the other characters do, but obviously he is kind of running all of the rest of the show. 

Eric: Yeah. I thought that was such an interesting way to mess with the structure of the comic. I mean, a podcast of a D&D campaign is already messing with the D&D structure of it, so you are only like reinforcing the fact that we’re doing something different.

Carey: Yeah. 

Eric: And with the lettering, like I said before, the parchment to talk about everyone’s proficiencies and what they’re good at-

Carey: Mmm!

Eric: The lettering on that is beautiful.

Carey: Oh yeah, Tess’s hand lettering is so good. That was one of the many reasons I wanted to work with him, is some of the comic’s he’s done before like ‘Buzz’ and ‘Not Drunk Enough’ is the one that’s ongoing right now, just work so heavily with hand-lettering as art, and I wanted to work with a letterer who could bring that to the page.

Eric: Just to explain to anyone who hasn’t read it yet or is going to read it-

Carey: You’re just going to lure that over listeners’ heads! The secrets!

Eric: I don’t know when this is coming out! I want to explain to them what’s happening!

Carey: [laughs] I think that's fair.

Eric: So whenever you meet a new character, whether it’s Taako, Magnus, or... Merle Highchurch which is the name of his character...

Carey: I can’t believe you forgot Merle. That’s cruel.

Eric: I almost said Hightower and I’m, “No. I’m not gonna do that.” But even enemies who you meet like Magic Brian and other Magic Brian- you get a list of proficiencies.

Carey: Mhm.

Eric: And class. So it’s like you’re boiling down everything you have on a character sheet. How do you choose- what is the least game mechanics to like work with the story?

Carey: Right. I think you’ve encapsulated that challenge really well, because I am really proud of the solution that we all settled on, which was those character and item sheets, but that was a big challenge is like how do we preserve the feeling and the flavor of the game that they’re playing, which was D&D, and translate that into this more abstracted tabletop game that they’re playing through. And also not scare off people who haven’t played a tabletop game. 

It did come down to making choices about- not necessarily, like you can’t exactly look at Magic Brian the Spider’s enemy sheet and then from there figure out like, “Okay this is exactly how I’d need to roll to play this enemy,” but hopefully you can figure out like a little bit about this spider’s feelings and like what he’s into. A lot of those I think are just Clint riffing on whatever deep-set feelings he had about those characters.

[Eric laughs]

And it really was a good way to add a little story information like a Cliff's Notes version of here’s what this person is about. And also jokes. Because I’m a sucker for- I love Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ footnotes style of like sneaking in a little more information without overwhelming you on the page, so those felt like a  really nice way to give you a little bit of that flavor too.

Eric: Now that you said that Clint was the one who did it, I’m thinking about some of the proficiencies, and it’s like yeah this is absolutely not Griffin.

[Carey laughs]

This is absolutely someone who saw this from the outside, especially when you get Magnus’s.

Carey: Mhm, yeah that’s good!

Eric: And you see all these proficiencies and it’s like woodworking, folk hero, pretty much everything!

Something that I was also really interested about in terms of taking the game and turning it into a graphic novel- there aren’t really dice rolls.

Carey: Mhm.

Eric: And when I was going in, I was like, “Oh, what if there is a d20 that like bounces around the world?” The same way that Griffin could have walked around the background in a wizard robe. How do you take all the rolls out of D&D?

Carey: That was a tough decision to make, because we did want to try to balance preserving, again, the feel of playing the game without kind of lowering the stakes. 

Eric: Right.

Carey: I think there’s a danger that you run if you bring the game elements too far into the foreground that people are going to be reminded too often, “This is just a game.” And on one level, yes it is just a game, but on another level, a lot of the fun of that game and of ‘The Adventure Zone’ the podcast is that everybody buys in. Everybody is convinced that the emotional stakes are real, whether or not Merle loses an arm, Clint happily doesn’t have an arm fall off his body, but the emotional stakes are still high. You’re connected to these characters and you wanna root for them. You want them to do well. 

So I think a major concern was if we make this too much about literally showing dice every time someone tries to do something, that’s gonna be visually jarring. You know that’s very different to- I listen to a lot of tabletop podcasts. ‘Friends at the Table’ one of my other favorites doesn't do audio dice rolls, but they still will tell you how they rolled. And I think it’s much easier to incorporate that into an audio setting because it’s just part of the same audio channel of information, whereas if you’re looking at a visual picture of a die when everything else on the page is about king of the setting of the story, it is another jarring element that reminds you there is another meta level of narrative between you and the story, and as much as possible we want people to be immersed in the actual character action.

Eric: I thought it was just really interesting and we talk a lot about getting people into Dungeons & Dragons who don’t know what's going on. And this is really the best way to do it. It’s like it’s not improv anymore because it already exists.

Carey: Right.

Eric: You’re really just adapting the story and then you’re keeping the action. I mean that totally makes sense to me.

Carey: Yeah. And we were talking a little bit earlier about having the DM as an element, and that’s something elsewhere if something totally unexpected happens on the page you can have the DM pop in and say, “Here’s why,” without having to interrupt it before the action takes place for everyone to stop and roll.

Eric: Yeah. Have you ever thought about using all of the player characters? You know the distinction between characters and players, and so Griffin exists as Griffin while all of the NPCs can exist as themselves. Did you ever think about having a table with all of the McElroys at?

Carey: Yeah. That’s something we explicitly all talked about a lot. And it was a- another kind of difficult decision, because again, a lot of the charm of ‘The Adventure Zone’ is that this is a group of people who are all really enjoying playing a game together, and we didn't want to lose that. I think what it came down to was the concern that, again, if we keep cutting away back to, you know, this family at a table, one, if you haven’t listened to the podcast that’s maybe going to be confusing.

Eric: Sure.

Carey: And two, that is another reminder unfortunately, that this is- quote, “just a game,” that these people are playing.

Eric: Right.

Carey: And again, yes, and also it’s really not. It’s also a story that they’re building together and we want the focus to be on the story a lot of the time. So we try to translate a lot of the out-of-character goofs that happen in the show into the characters joking around on the page, so hopefully that translates well.

Eric: Oh, yeah. It’s really funny that you said your grass is blue-

[Carey laughs]

Because the other thing I was wondering about the coloring- everything is so bright! The stuff that was super colorful, the caves where the gerblins were, and then once the Phoenix Fire Gauntlet is on, just the fire is so colorful. What was your process about picking the colors to populate this fantasy world?

Carey: Uh-huh, Looking at a lot of pictures and videos of fire, kind of zoning out heavily, and getting mesmerized.

[Eric laughs]

It was a lot of trying to figure out what is going to print on a page, like which colors will actually be heavily saturated enough to really convey a feeling of heightened emotion and danger. I’m not especially a literal colorist, as we were talking about with my blue-green-yellow grass. I like to use color as a way to emphasize an emotion, or a tone, or a story beat, or unify a scene. 

So those- the pages we’re talking about where Bogart has the Phoenix Fire Gauntlet on and they’re kind of- the big showdown is happening, one of the highest emotional points, or the most heightened emotional points of the book, so I really did want that to feel as dramatic and over-the-top bright, and not true to real life, because true to life colors are weird anyway, but really emphasize that everyone is intensely invested in what is happening right now and it is really dangerous stuff.

Eric: I could talk about the graphic novel all day, but I also want to talk to you about these drawings that you’ve been doing of D&D weapons and items.

Carey: Oh yeah!

Eric: They are just like amazing on my Twitter feed!

Carey: Thank you!

Eric: And I’m just like pressing likes on every single one of them. Where did this come from? And it really is so many people looking at a canon text and having their own interpretation. How do you find your own inspiration in that?

Carey: The magic items specifically were kind of a challenge to myself because prop design is really something I've struggled with. I think I’m someone who a couple years ago would get bored very easily like, “Whatever this is a fork. I know what a fork looks like. I’m just gonna draw three lines and stick a bigger line on the end of it and it’s done.” 

But the unfortunate end result with a lot of the environments and props that I was making and designing and then drawing 200 times in a comic- I think for the worst that really shows, is that there wasn’t a lot of heart in them. I wasn’t thinking about like who might use this, where did this come from? With the end result that a lot og the things, the physical nouns that aren’t sentient beings that I was drawing didn’t have a lot of character to them.

Eric: Sure.

Carey: Like I wasn't treating them like characters in their own right. And one of the lessons that I’ve tried really hard to learn is to be specific, even if you’re designing a table, don’t just think that you know what a table looks like. Take the time to look at, like, open a catalog, look at what dining tables look like, what’s on trend these days, what was on trend in France in the 1600s if that’s what you’re looking to for inspiration. And really try to be as specific as possible when you’re designing a thing. 

It’s very easy to say that and it’s very hard to put that into practice when you’re working on comics with deadlines. So I wanted to come up with a  project that would kind of trick me into doing a little bit better by bringing in fantasy items, which are something that I’m very into just as a fun concept. So this was kind of a good way to merge fun fantasy drawings and also sit down and learn how to draw a fork for real this time.

Eric: [laughs] A magic fork.

Carey: A magic fork! Right, which obviously that gives you license to be a lot more playful and to not just think about, “Okay, I guess this is a sword.” But like whats the sword for? How could you have fun while using it? So for that project, I was doing the item designs, and in addition to that I was doing tiny little doodles under the items of like a character using this item in practice or in play. 

So that was kind of what clicked for me was like, this is my practice, this is my in, this is how I can think backwards and work from, “How might someone use this?” to “What should this look like?” So hopefully it’ll come through in future books, in ‘The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins’ and ‘Rockport Limited’ that items have a little more character and flavor to them too.

Eric: For sure. I was just gonna say the scenes are my favorite part.

Carey: Aw, thank you!

Eric: I mean what’s the point of using an item unless you’re actually using the item?

Carey: Yeah, yeah, oh my god, I can’t- in the campaigns that I have played, I have accumulated so many things that seem cool and it’s great to like have them on my inventory sheet in my backpack, but like nothing beats the satisfaction of like you collaboratively with your DM setting up a scene where you get to have a payoff like, “I’m gonna use this un-tearable rope that I got seven years ago. It’s gonna be in my backpack and now it’s gonna save the day.”

Eric: [laughing] The un-tearable rope?

Carey: I don’t know, man! I was trying to think of a generic object and a silly property and I- it is early.

Eric: The un-tearable rope is great, it’s like you never get rope burns, everyone else gets rope burns.

Carey: [laughing] Yup!

Eric: I love that so much. So we were talking about all the different systems of RPGs. You’ve been playing D&D for a long time but you really have this wide breadth of different types of storytelling. Do you think that your interest and experience playing RPGs has informed your art in any way?

Carey: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s made me more cognizant of what I like in a story, which is definitely part of cartooning. So that isn’t just tabletop RPGs, but I think that like the more story you consume, the more you’re able to tell what you are drawn to, what feels powerful to you, what makes you want to keep reading or keep going, and that’s kind of genre-agnostic. Whatever genre you’re in, there are going to be types of story that you are drawn to or characters you are drawn to, and if it’s a tabletop game, I think that process happens much more quickly because you’re building a story, so you’re both getting to experience it because it’s a collaborative effort and your friends, and your DM or GM are all working with you to build it, but you’re also kind of driving the story yourself. 

So maybe it’s like a car where you all have a hand on the wheel, which sounds messy. And that’s kind of the fun of it too, right. You’re never gonna quite go where you meant to go when you started out, but the process is really, really fun. So I think playing tabletop RPGs has made me a lot more conscious of like how much into character-driven story I am, into stories where kind of emotional beats take the foreground, and where there’s time and space to develop these slow moments that build up over time. Listen, I’ll watch a ‘Fast and the Furious’ I’ll watch a good action movie any day of the week. Maybe one thing that illustrates this is I tried Shadow Run for a little bit.

Eric: Right.

Carey: Which is a really cool game, but I got so stressed out about how in-peril my character was all the time that I didn’t feel like I had any space left to do the role-playing, which is for me one of the major fun parts of playing an RPG.

Eric: For sure.

Carey: So my DM was brilliant, all the other players also brilliant, but I just couldn't get into- like my heart rate was too high to ever like sit down and talk through how we really felt about the fact that we were actually going to die because there are robots with machines guns and the government is everywhere. 

So it’s kind of been a fast track process to figure out what kinds of stories I like to tell. Another more generous way to look at that would be- it’s given me room to see where I could possibly grow and take a step back and find more fun even in anxiety-inducing situations. But like listen, I’ve got a lot on my plate. That is a lesson I will earn another year.

Eric: That’s absolutely fair. And I appreciate that you brought in the self-effacing growth-bot 5000 for that. Also, I love that when you picked out an action movie, you picked out ‘The Fast and the Furious,’ because if you’re talking about character driven stories, there you go!

Carey: Yes, yes, okay [laughing] this is fair. So even then, I am not totally giving up on my- it’s about family- heartfelt storytelling.

Eric: So we were talking about the audience for ‘The Adventure Zone’ graphic novel. If you were at a convention and someone walked over and was like, “Hmm what's this. This sounds really interesting.” How would you try to get that graphic novel in their hands?

Carey: Oh well I would just hand it to them aggressively.

[Both laughing]

And then walk away such that they had no chance to give it back.

Eric: Go underneath your booth.

Carey: Yeah, “Sorry it’s nap time. You can do whatever you want out there.” I think the more accurate, or at least the more effective and less criminal pitch would be too tell them that it’s a kind-hearted comic fantasy, is how I would describe the show in super Cliff’s Notes version. It’s triumphantly fun, which is one of the many, many things I love about it is this is clearly a story made by people who prioritize taking joy in the game that they are playing and the story they are telling together. And again, I’m biased, but I think that comes through in the book, too.

Eric: That’s beautiful. I love that. Carey, thank you so much for talking with us.

Carey: Aw, thank you!

Eric: And by us I mean me. [Carey laughs]

We’re just confusing pronouns all over the place today.

Carey: It’s all good. But no, thank you. This was such a  treat to get to sit down and nerd out about tabletop games. You should preorder the book, listeners. It’s really, really good. You can get it at theadventurezonecomic.com and that links out to a bunch of indie bookstore websites, to Amazon, and to Barnes and Noble, where the special editions all live. And you can find me online at careydraws.com - that’s c-a-r-e-y, or pretty much everywhere on the internet i am @careydraws.

Eric: Yes, and please follow Carey on Twitter so that you can see those D&D items. They’re beautiful, and fun, and emotional a little bit when you see like the two monsters having fun with their little item together.

Carey: Thank you. That’s what I’m here for is monsters having a good time, no goblins dying.

Eric: Just little item friends!

Carey: Yeah.

Eric: Alright, thank you so much, Carrey.

Carey: Thank you!