Welcome to the Punchbowl, an interview segment about playing Dungeons and Dragons in 2017 and beyond. We talk to people who are pushing the game forward - creatively, communally, socially, just doing good work.
Today we sit down with Vickie Lee, the artist behind the comic DnDoggos. We talk drawing animals, navigating r/DnD, and the pups behind her players. Find her work at dndoggos.com or @DnDoggos on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Patreon, Ko-Fi, and Teepublic.
Find Us Online
- website: jointhepartypod.com
- patreon: patreon.com/jointhepartypod
- twitter: twitter.com/jointhepartypod
- facebook: facebook.com/jointhepartypod
- instagram: instagram.com/jointhepartypod
- tumblr: jointhepartypod.tumblr.com
- merch: jointhepartypod.com/merch
- multitude: multitude.productions
Cast & Crew
- Dungeon Master: Eric Silver
- TR8c (Tracey): Brandon Grugle
- Inara Harthorn: Amanda McLoughlin
- Johnny B. Goodlight: Michael Fische
- Multitude: multitude.productions
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 what my modifier is for ear scritches. It is very high. 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. A few months ago, I'm scrolling through D&D Reddit which is by far the nicest place on Reddit. It's Friday late in the afternoon and I need something to just while away the rest of this day. So I click on the link for a webcomic that combines D&D and dogs and I'm like, "All right, who made this comic exactly for me?" This thing is funny, cute, and sweet, but what surprises me most is how it seems like a real D&D campaign. It captures what it's like to be at a table, except the players and DM are good old doggos. So I knew I had to talk to the creator, Vicki Lee. I got her to Skype in from Tennessee to tell me about the stars of her comic, her relationship to animals, and how Reddit spread her pups like wildfire. Vicki, how's it going?
Vicki: Hey, Eric, it's going pretty good.
Eric: Thank you so much for talking with me. I am so excited to talk to you. I saw your comic in the Reddit thread for D&D and I clicked through all of them immediately, and I am so glad that I get to talk to you about your love of dogs and D&D and everything. I've got to ask you the first thing that I love asking our guests: if you could share with me a game tale, something that you tell people to get people excited about playing Dungeons & Dragons.
Vicki: So, in my first campaign- I'm currently on my second campaign - we play with my brother, who's the dungeon master, his wife, my sister and her boyfriend, and myself. So it's a pretty small group, tight-knit group. There was one time in our first campaign where we were exploring a dungeon and we came into a room that had several different things that seemed like puzzles, when my sister decided her character, who was - I think she was a halfling monk - she is very short and fat. She decided she would step out of the doorway as we touched an orb that was in the room, and the doorway slammed shut.
Vicki: Throughout the whole combat she was locked out, and she kept saying, "Well can I try to knock down the door?" and he's like "Yeah, you can try!" and we just love to make fun of her for getting locked out of a dungeon.
Eric: Oh no, that's terrible!
Vicki: It was hilarious. So I think that she was just trying to avoid a bad situation, but then she missed out on all the fun.
Eric: I would literally go and get a snack. I would walk away from the table. I'd be like, "All right. Well I'm in a different room. I'll see you guys later. Does anyone want a Mr. Pibb from the fridge?" like "Nah, I'm good."
Vicki: She was just like surprised and kind of outraged. I also have to apologize for calling her out on this podcast. It's one of my favorite tales and we bring it up sometimes about like, "Oh are you sure you don't want to step out of the door now? Maybe something exciting is going to happen."
Eric: That's so funny. I love that she only has like 14 hit points, so if she does anything wrong after this she's done.
Vicki: She kind of made some bad choices building her character sheet.
Eric: Always, yes, always!
Vicki: But what was hilarious is that she had nunchucks to use, but if she missed with that she could also use a backhand attack, and so she always missed with her chucks and always killed people with her backhand. Like she was crazy powerful. So last year for Christmas I made little plaques for my brother with little quotes from our game and one of them was "The backhand is stronger than the nunchuck."
Eric: Oh my god that's amazing! I want that so bad! I brought up your website and I just keep looking at the cast photo that you have up there just with all the dogs and they're all so adorable. So for someone who hasn't seen your comic before, can you give a really quick summary? What is someone coming into when they're going into Dungeons and Doggos?
Vicki: All right so Dungeons and Doggos is a comic about my four real life dogs. Yes, I really have four dogs.
Eric: Awww, they're all so cute!
Vicki: They all play Dungeons & Dragons together so it's a lot of like dog humor and B-humor, but kind of on the lighter side. I try not to get into too much of the spell checks on the rolls and stuff because I want to keep it accessible to people who maybe don't know a lot about D&D.
Eric: I'm looking at all of your dogs right now, so we have Magnus, who's your DM, Tonka, who's the big doggo (laughs) I just - oh my god I just want to play with your dogs so much - Pickles, who is the fighter, and Zoey who is the cleric.
Eric: Do you see aspects of games that you've played in your dogs? Like who are all of your dogs embodying when they're playing the game?
Vicki: I think honestly they're mostly embodying themselves, but there are definitely times where something that we've done in one of our actual campaigns crosses over into what the dogs might do. Zoey is more of the serious one. I mean she's the cleric, she's an older dog. She's about 14 years old, so she really likes to just take naps and hang out, but she gets like super excited sometimes and she loves being petted. So that kind of flows over to her. And Pickles is just- she is off the walls bonkers just (laughter)… She goes 110 percent all the time but she's so sweet. So that's why I thought she was good for the fighter. She's just got that personality to go, go, go. Tonka is just such a big sweetheart and he's the bard because he loves singing (laughter)
Eric: That's amazing. And what about Magnus makes him the DM? Is he just like responsible?
Vicki: Magnus is the DM because the very first comic that I created, which was "The Ogre" started based on a real life event that happened unrelated to Dungeons & Dragons.
Eric: Oh, no way!
Vicki: It was that I was very tired. I'm not a morning person and it was mostly Pickles and Tonka decided that it was time to play. I decided it was still time to sleep. So they were making a bunch of noise in the next room and when I got out of bed to close the door, Zoey ran out with me thinking it was time to eat, and I closed the door and Magnus was laying quietly on the bed. It kind of started with him being the dungeon master because he doesn't get in trouble as much and maybe that's because- don't tell the other dogs- he might be my favorite dog.
Eric: Oh no! Magnus!
Vicki: He's such a good boy. He's such a good boy. But you know I love all of them so I can't really say he's my favorite... (whispering) but he might be my favorite (laughter)
Eric: We have exclusive insider intel that Magnus might be in the room. So Magnus, if you're out there we want you to know that you're a very good boy and you're a very good DM. Good, good DM boy!
What I love about the comic, along with like all of the dog jokes and all of the punchlines about bacon that you have, this is like the embodiment of the alignment chart. People put like their friends and like their favorite television shows and like all these characters on the alignment chart, but you've literally taken your dogs and like put them on there. This is like next-level loving of D&D. I'm really interested in how you pick their classes as well. Because when I saw Pickles I assumed that like Tonka was going to be your barbarian because he's the biggest and then Pickles had like a halfling fighter thing going on.
Vicki: I always imagined that in the world that they're playing, they are actually playing themselves but they just pick like a class so they're just dogs in the world. Like I said like Tonka just- he loves to sing. If there is an ambulance that goes by, or like a siren, or other dogs are howling, he loves to sing and you can get him singing just by howling yourself and then he just goes crazy and he loves it. And every single morning the ritual is that when we wake up, Tonka and Pickles go out into the living room and Pickles just beats him up.
Vicki: She is about 100 pounds smaller than he is and she just - she loves wrestling with him. She will just charge and leap on him and knock him down and there's all this like growling and stuff. Like happy playful growling, nothing bad, and he loves it so much and he'll like flop over and she just jumps all over him. She's just tenacious.
My sister's boyfriend played a cleric and so those pictures that I mentioned I made for my brother, one of them was "Always listen to the cleric," because he would never listen to him and he was always right. So I figured Zoey's pretty old. She has a lot of knowledge. I think that even if that was just kind of our campaign where the cleric is very knowledgeable, I just felt like it suited Zoey very well.
Eric: I want to know where Dungeons and Doggos came from. What were you thinking when you started this series?
Vicki: I never intended it to be a series ever. I never thought that I would be at almost 30 comics now. I never thought this would happen. I drew the first comic and I sent it to my brother and my sister because I thought that they would think it's funny and then I put it on my personal Instagram and one of my other friends who does comics- he does the 4amShower comics that are really cute daily inspiration comics - he said, "Hey you need to post this on Reddit." And I put it up on Reddit and the next day it had like thousands of up-votes and I was just like, "What is going on?" and my brother was like, "This is amazing! What did you do?" like it was just kind of an overnight success and I never expected that, and I'm just - I'm honored that people love it so much. I never thought I'd be doing comics. Especially comics about my dogs. That's amazing!
Eric: Comics about your dogs playing Dungeons & Dragons!
Vicki: I know!
Eric: It's peak everything people love about the internet at this point. You've gotta throw a cat in there and then you're totally set.
Eric: Oh no, did I spoil it? That's like the Big Bad?...
Vicki: No, no, no, no - no spoilers yet. Ever since literally the first comic I post people said there needs to be a cat so I know I haven't put that in there yet, but eventually there will probably be a cat. Can't say when or where or what will happen, but there might be a cat.
Eric: You are like the DM behind the DM. You're trying to dictate this campaign for Magnus to run. I don't know if you ever DMed before, but do you feel like you have pressure to make their campaign as interesting as a real Dungeons & Dragons campaign might be?
Vicki: Yeah, so I've never DMed before. In fact, I've only been playing Dungeons & Dragons for about a year.
Eric: Oh wow!
Vicki: Yeah, so just over a year. I have to say I owe a lot of it to my brother and my sister because when I'm working on the comics I will send them either like scripts in progress or sketches of pages in progress and I'm like, "Does this work? Does this make sense?" And they both work full time and I'm freelance, so I'm constantly, constantly emailing them or sending them messages and then they take too long to reply and I get nervous. In the beginning, the first several comics were just kind of random funny instances that I thought could happen with the dogs. "This would be funny" or "That would be funny," and then I thought it would be a lot easier and it would be fun if people could follow the campaign. But it has an idea of like where I'm going to go with it and stuff, but every once in a while I'll have another fun idea where I can slip in pieces here and there like a side quest.
Eric: You put your bacon side quest right in the middle. I love all the ones- everything that revolves around food for the dogs. I'm running a campaign as well. So much revolves around food. My players in game just want to put foods in their mouth.
Vicki: I'm glad that that part hits home for you because I'm always like worrying like, "Am I talking about food too many comics in a row?" But I mean that's what dogs love, you know. Especially my dogs. They're extremely food motivated and they like playing too but it's just- it's food. They love food!
Eric: It's so funny. Your dogs capture so much that I see, and I know a lot of people just from the community see, in themselves as players. You have the combination between in-game food and again like I love this comic so much- when Pickles is like trying to describe and like give context to the tavern they're in and they just get themselves all worked up about bacon. I love that one so much! But then the next one you had was they brought all these snacks and then you have all the snacks on top of the board that they have.
Vicki: Both of those were really fun because I felt like Magnus just kind of wanted to keep the campaign rolling and keep the session going and Pickles was like, "No, no, no, no, we're going to talk about bacon and I'm going to ruin this moment for you!" And then the following one where there's food all over the table like that is every session for me. Like every session there's like little cookies here and Cheetos there and drinks everywhere and it always covers the map that my DM has painstakingly made.
Eric: Yeah, you were saying that like D&D is a family affair for you and that - you were telling me before that you play with your brother and your sister and everyone's respective significant others. How did you get into D&D in the first place?
Vicki: So my brother I think had always been interested in playing D&D. We never really got to play it growing up. I think my sister played with a couple friends years ago. The final push was when we watched Stranger Things and then about a week later my brother was like, "Alright I gotta do this." So he actually DMs for two different groups and then he plays in a third one night group.
Eric: Oh, nice!
Vicki: Yeah, so he's busy. He does that, you know, a couple times a week but I only have the one group that I play with with them.
Eric: What was it like learning? Like it seems like your brother's super invested. I'm sure he's one of those guys who just like read the entire Players and DMs Handbook like cover to cover. So then what happened when you tried to learn?
Vicki: It was a little bit difficult. My sister had played once or twice before so she kind of knew and she helped me build my character and my first character was tiefling druid, which after playing that character I realized that I am not able to keep up with the spellcasting. (laughter) It was kind of difficult and I have to say that my brother was really nice and he didn't always make me make sure that I had the ingredients for certain spells and stuff so. I mean it was an intro campaign so he took it a little easier on us. There were certainly times he could have killed all of us and he didn't. After that one I made a barbarian. So the character I currently play is a barbarian because it's just easier for me to keep up with.
Eric: I looked on your website which is vleeillustrations.com - plug plug plug, plug, plug plug plug!... and I saw that this is not the first art that you've been putting on the internet. I love all the animal art that you've been doing. Please tell me a little bit about the direction that your art is going.
Vicki: I've always liked art. I think like a lot of people as a kid, I just drew all the time and then I never stopped drawing. And at some point I decided that that's what I'd like to do, I'd like to be a professional illustrator. I'd really like to get into the picture book market and make children's books, so that's what I'm trying to do. If you go to that website you'll notice that it's more picture book illustrations and less comics like DnDoggos, but I've always been just fascinated and obsessed with animals. It's so easy to draw inspiration from animals. There's so much you can do there and the animals all have different personalities and just traits with wild animals or dogs or whatever.
Eric: Was there one that you've connected to?
Vicki: Oh that's a hard question. One of the pieces that I really liked- I don't think it's on my website right now. It's a red dragon with some little forest creatures. The idea is one of the rabbits has brought this giant red dragon for show and tell with her class where a little turtle off to the side she just has this little rhino beetle. I ended up making it a portfolio piece. It was for a contest for the SCBWI, Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators. I went to a conference in the fall and then I created two more pieces that went with it that showed the personality more of the turtle and the dragon and the dragon actually is very scared of the rhino beetle that the turtle has.
Eric: That is adorable! When I was looking through all of your art, it was just like you're getting these really human personalities and emotions coming through from these animals. How do you use animals as representations of humans?
Vicki: I think that animals are just really relatable for a lot of people to relate with that, you know, you can relate with a dog character versus you may not be able to relate with a human character based on, you know, any kind of factor. But with the animals, you can look past that and you can just kind of see, "Well Tonka is a big goof when he plays D&D and so am I!" or, "Oh yeah you know I totally derail a session talking about bacon"
Eric: Yeah that's me. I definitely don't have floppy ears but that is exactly what I do.
I feel like animals come up all the time in D&D campaigns. We can do anything. We can do magic, we can go on magical adventures all across fantastical realms, and yet we need animals with us in our campaigns. Why do you think that your campaign has gravitated towards having animals in your games?
Vicki: I want to say it's because it's the magical land of D&D and anything could happen. But I think it's probably because my brother knows that I love animals. So he's probably like, "Yeah let's make this something fun." You know animals are just fantastic mostly because they don't talk back and so they just listen and hang out with you. They're not super annoying. Maybe a little annoying, but not super annoying. (laughter)
Eric: Right, you're just projecting whatever you want onto the animals.
Vicki: Yeah (laughs)
Eric: That's perfect for Dungeons & Dragons. You're just coming up with things that you really want and wish was happening in the universe, and then there it is. And animals are the perfect way for that.
Vicki: I think if I could have anything I wouldn't want like a scroll or fireball or anything, like that would be pretty cool, but I would just want some kind of mythical creature that could be my own pet. So if I can have that happen in the magical world of D&D where anything can happen, I think that's awesome.
Eric: I'm really fascinated in how popular your comics have gotten in such a small amount of time.
Vicki: It pretty much just came out of nowhere. I hadn't posted on Reddit at all before I posted the first DnDoggos comic. And I had posted some of my art here and there, you know on Tumblr or Twitter or something, but it only got a handful of notes and then, I don't know DnDoggos is just super relatable I guess and it just took off so I'm kind of fascinated by it too.
Eric: Is there any response that you've gotten so far that you've been particularly moved by or surprised from?
Vicki: Yeah. One person today commented on Instagram that said he shares the comics with his dad and his dad doesn't have Instagram or anything so he spends time to share them with his dad, and other people share them with their D&D groups. I had a fan reach out to me who said that he doesn't draw himself so he commissioned a different artist to draw my dogs and they sent me this illustration of my dogs in this amazingly cute style, sitting at a table and they're like fighting over this roast and they're like eating. And Zoey's like holding a plate above her head and Magnus is just kind of like, "Oh these guys!" And the artist was kind enough that he let me print it out. And so I've got it hanging on my wall and the fact that somebody drew my dogs! Like that's amazing.
Eric: That's so sweet. You got to send me a photo of that thing!
Vicki: Yeah I will!
Eric: That's crazy that this thing that came out of your relationship with your own family is now letting other people connect with their families over Dungeons & Dragons.
Vicki: Oh, I even had another fan who messaged me and said that she loved the comics and she was kind of familiar with D&D but she never had a chance to play. And then a couple of weeks went by and she said, "Hey I don't want to bug you or anything but I just want to let you know I'm learning to play.” And it was awesome. I'm just like, "That's amazing!" You know, I have so much fun playing D&D and it's such a good time just hanging out with family and friends. And I want other people to be able to experience that.
Eric: Well, Vicki, that's all the questions I have for you. This was great! Thank you so much for talking with me!
Vicki: Yeah, thank you, Eric! It's been a pleasure!
Eric: Where can people find you on the Internet?
Vicki: OK so we've got DnDoggos- D-N-Doggos - D-N-D-O-G-G-O-S. And that's on Tumblr and Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and DnDoggos.com DnDoggos has a TeePublic shop where you can buy shirts and mugs and notebooks. And then you can also find me as an illustrator at vleeillustrations.com. So I can do freelance illustrations and I can do DnDoggo commissioned comics.
Eric: Oh that's awesome!
Eric: Man I want that!
Vicki: I've done a couple! Oh yeah. Email me.
Eric: Also you're wearing the t-shirt right now
Vicki: Yes I am!
Eric: It looks so cool! I need a shirt with Magnus on it.
Vicki: I've got Magnus and Pickles and my boyfriend bought Zoey and then he said we couldn't leave Tonka out so he bought a Tonka one too, so we've got all four.
Eric: Oh that's amazing. I love that so much! All right Vicky thank you so much. This was great!
Vicki: Thank you so much, Eric. I really appreciate it.
Eric: And I'll see you on the Internet!
Vicki: Awesome thank you.
Eric: Two quick things. One: DnDoggos got a Patreon since we last recorded! Head over to Patreon.com/doggos and give her some love! And Vicky sent me a whole lot of art, so keep an eye on her Twitter and Instagram to see more of her amazing work. All right. Get out here!