To countless listeners, the McElroy brothers—Justin, Travis, and 30-under-30 Media Luminary Griffin—are known as the hosts of the My Brother, My Brother, and Me podcast. While their advice should never be followed, enough people wanted to that MBMBaM became a massive hit, spawning live shows, spin-offs, and even its own TV show.
As popular as MBMBaM may be, though, the brothers’ exploits in The Adventure Zone cast an incredibly wide net of its own. What started as three brothers playing Dungeons & Dragons with their dad became a phenomenon unto itself. And just like MBMBaM, it’s spread into other media. One such project is The Adventure Zone graphic novel, a book that aims to capture the spirit and translate the show’s charms into a visual medium.
Seriously, There Be Gerblins Here
Despite their inability to not spend the first 15 minutes of any given podcast talking about events that may or may not have happened in Thor: Ragnarok, the McElroys know how to make a tightly edited and accessible program. With that in mind, the very first page of The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins is an appropriately concise lesson in hooking an audience and giving them just enough information to know where they stand.
Generally speaking, scripts should entice their readers on the first page, and while graphic novels may not be held to that same rigid expectation, TAZ‘s opening chapter slyly stuffs its opening with all the character info you need. You’ve got a quick rundown of Travis’s human fighter Magnus, Clint’s dwarf cleric Merle, and Justin’s beloved elf wizard/master chef Taako, with a few quips from each for good measure. If you listen to the show you’ll immediately hear these lines in their voices, but even if you’re new to the series there’s plenty to go on in these first five panels.
It isn’t until page three that we meet our Dungeon Master and best friend Griffin. He plays himself in the TAZ comic, which is pretty much the key to establishing this series as something more than your average fantasy-comedy yarn. Throughout the volume, Griffin rolls dice, facilitates perception checks, and establishes settings like any good DM would. There’s restraint in his appearances, giving the audience a chance to take in both the leads and the side, nonplayer characters that make the series special.
Here They Be Gerblins isn’t loaded with NPCs, but those that do make an appearance are handled well. Barry Bluejeans is a beloved one-off character who, despite fan outcry, never appeared in the series again, probably. Klaarg Killgore, the tea-drinking Bugbear, is an absolute standout despite being renamed for the graphic novel. Klarg was the actual name of the Bugbear in the original D&D module from which this storyline originated, so he and a few others had to have their names switched—along with changing the doomed village of Phandalin to Haverdale—to avoid legal entanglements. G’nash’s appearance—and Taako’s subsequent charming of him that transforms him into a soft-spoken friend of the group—marks the point when the book really hits its stride.
Constitution Saving Show
Out of all of the adventures in The Adventure Zone‘s Balance campaign, Here They Be Gerblins is the one that’s most tightly connected to a traditional D&D campaign. It was developed and recorded during a time when Griffin had yet to sink his talons firmly into the sprawling narrative TAZ would eventually become as what was initially planned to be a simple one-off for MBMBaM, so it’s by far the most by-the-numbers arc within the grander saga. I certainly wouldn’t skip it if I were to listen to TAZ from the beginning all over again, but I can see how one might be wary of how it holds up and translates into a full-fledged graphic novel.
Thankfully, the McElroys have illustrator Carey Pietsch on their side. Pietsch isn’t just an inspired choice on the art side of things, she’s pretty much the only choice that makes any sense. From the early days of the podcast, Pietsch has been bringing TAZ to life along with a veritable army of like-minded fan artists. Because podcasts are an auditory medium, fan designs have varied widely—which upon the book’s release led to a grim illustration of what can happen when fandoms come to feel that they have exclusive creative control over fictional characters. But no one design could ever satisfy anyone, and these characters are open to interpretation, aesthetically speaking. There’s no “canonical” look to these characters—the graphic novel is simply one interpretation.
Nowhere is this multiplicity of depictions more evident than in The Adventure Zine, a crowdfunded ‘zine created in mid-2016 with all proceeds going directly to the Facing Hunger food bank. From Pietsch’s cover to the work of around 50 or so artists within, this 78-page, full-color booklet is the perfect example of how the series’ colorful and passionate narrative has impacted listeners in different ways. Sure, there are a few obviously agreed-upon attributes for each character, but anything goes in the fully-realized technicolor world of The Adventure Zone.
In many ways, The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins is a streamlined take on the events of the podcast. As detailed in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Clint McElroy handled the majority of the work in transcribing the show and pruning out the stuff that wasn’t necessary for telling the story. As funny as all those improvisational asides were, anything that didn’t actually serve character development got cut, which makes for a tighter retelling that has the benefit of hindsight in the place of hip-firing hijinks.
By the time the McElroys and Pietsch started working on the graphic novel, everyone had a more fully realized idea of who these characters were and where they were heading at the time. The emotional beats that eventually became the core of the story could now be woven back into what was, by design, a very straightforward and silly show created as an excuse to get everyone to play D&D together.
Thankfully, that framing made the cut. The Adventure Zone still feels like a family having fun and sharing a love of classic fireside storytelling. Yes, the McElroy charm is very much present in Here They Be Gerblins, but so is something else. The fire at the heart of the series is alive and well, and it’s going to be a blast to see where they take it from here.