By: Clint McElroy and Carey Pietsch
Interviewed by: Ivy
The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins by Clint McElroy and Carey Pietsch is the graphic novel adaption of the popular actual play podcast The Adventure Zone, where the McElroy brothers and their dad play D&D so hard they make themselves cry. Whether you’ve surgically made your ears pointed or never rolled a d20 in your life, you’ll be sure to enjoy this first foray into what is soon to be a graphic novel series capturing all the goofs, gags, and incredible story telling that follows the questing adventures of Magnus Burnsides, human fighter, Merle Highchurch, dwarven cleric, and Taako Takko, elven wizard.
Griffin McElroy, one of the notorious brothers, is the Dungeon Master for The Adventure Zone. He writes and controls the story, plays a countless number of NPCs (Non-Player Characters), and composes all the music for the podcast, from background beats to the iconic theme song.
Last Friday, I, a humble 14-year-old and avid McElroy podcast fan, had the opportunity to interview youngest brother Griffin McElroy. This is that interview.
Ivy: I have some teen related questions just to keep it on theme.
Griffin McElroy: Teen related questions. I’m going to crush these!
Ivy: Okay, start off with the hardest: Why do think there’s such a large teenage following of TAZ? Why do you think it’s so popular with the teens?
GM: That’s a really good question that I’ve never thought about until this moment, so I’m going to just make up some stuff. The Adventure Zone and My Brother, My Brother, and Me, which are the two tentpole podcasts that we do are just that, they’re podcasts, and podcasts are sort of a techy thing, right? A lot of people who I talk to don’t even know what a podcast is and I find that that info is a little more saturated in the younger… market? Market’s a gross word, but the younger audience. I think that’s a big part of it. None of us are teens, but I think The Adventure Zone specifically… I think that once you start dabbling in fiction, especially kind of accessible fiction that we try to do, it does attract a younger audience, that style of fiction. Which was not our goal when we started out, because we didn’t even know it could be a goal? Whenever we talk about The Adventure Zone, and this isn’t a bunch of bullcrap, we had no intentions for it. We were like innocent, guileless babes. And, so, that wasn’t our intention, but looking at the audience of our live shows and the book tour that we’ve just come back from, it seems to have definitely reached out to those folks.
Ivy: This is sort of the same question, but how does it feel being one of the biggest forces in making RPGs accessible to a new generation of players?
GM: It’s wild because I’ve been playing them for, how long have we been doing The Adventure Zone? We started in 20… 14, I think? So like, four years? I don’t know that much about RPGs is the god’s honest truth, and D&D we played for three years and I think anybody who ever listened to The Adventure Zone will tell you that I still don’t really know how to play D&D. It’s still very, very, cool for us, the fact that other people are having that experience because of us is mind-boggling. I was exposed to D&D because of actual-play podcasts as well, and so the fact that other people, lots of people are getting into it the same way I did, but with our show, is really beautiful.
Ivy: What’s a powerful moment in the podcast, that you’re excited to see Carey translate to the page?
GM: There’s a powerful moment in the podcast… there’s a powerful moment that should’ve been in the podcast that Carey translated to the page in book two, Murder On the Rockport Limited, and so that one is very exciting. I mentioned that during the book tour too, and I realized that nobody’s going to know what I’m talking about, I’m literally talking to nobody, I’m saying it just for me. I literally just saw it like two weeks ago and I got goosebumps, I was so psyched. For everything that I’m excited about, like Hurley and Sloane in Petals to the Metal and the whole of Stolen Century… and the Junebug scene in Refuge, and there’s a lot of stuff, the stuff that I’m most proud of, story beats that I can’t believe the four of us bozos managed to hit on this podcast. I’m excited to see those on the page, like aw, that’s gonna be great, and then I remember I’m one of the people responsible for adapting the narrative of it to fit onto the page, and then I get very, very nervous. But, I think after finishing book one, which took us a year to do, no, two years, maybe even a little bit more, I’m now less scared to tackle that, because now we have a bit of a roadmap, and now we’re just excited. The other truth is that when we started doing this book, Here There Be Gerblins, I was excited about the idea of an Adventure Zone graphic novel, but this first arc was not really representative of what made the rest of the podcast really great in my mind, and I think in the audience’s mind too. There weren’t a lot of these big dramatic moments and these big dramatic beats, so we tried to work some of that in and work on the character building a little bit more and the world building a little bit more and stuff that maybe wasn’t entirely reflected in the podcast. The response to that has still been really great and I’m really, really excited to get to the stuff that comes after.
Ivy: This is kind of a sillier question, but what has been your favorite fan reaction to the graphic novel so far?
GM: It’s a tough one. I can’t think of a specific fan reaction. The thing that has been so touching to me in the last day is when we found out we were #1 New York Times Best Sellers. People were excited for us in a way that was very genuine. And people being excited about the book when it came out… I’m also, obviously, very excited that they’re excited. That’s the ideal relationship that you want for a creator. Like, you see people who are excited about the thing you were excited about making and having that sort of feeling matchup, that’s great – this is different. This is just them being exciting that something good has happened to us as people. I’ve sort of been on emotional thin ice for the last couple days or so since we found out. I can’t really think of anything specific, but that that broad category of people being so excited for you to be #1 New York Times Best Sellers has been really amazing.
Ivy: The creator/audience relationship with MBMBaM and TAZ and all McElroy stuff is different than most podcasts. What’s that like, what does that feel like?
GM: There’s a lot of nuance to that answer… From my position, it’s amazing, and the overarching feeling it gives me is that I want to make something deserving of that thing that you are showing me, of that appreciation for our stuff that we do, whether it’s dumb jokes on MBMBaM or the stories we try to tell on Adventure Zone. It’s grown significantly over the past couple of years, Adventure Zone especially. As we were moving into the finale of the Balance arc, that first arc, every two months our audience was doubling and we had no idea why, we had no idea what was going on, and that was thrilling because we had hit this critical mass with this story and it was all I thought about for a year. Well, not all I thought about, I also had an infant child that I was very, very, excited about, but I thought about it a lot and then this audience grew and grew and grew. That was very exciting, but also my perspective of our relationship as a creator and an audience is when you show that excitement and enthusiasm for the stuff we make it makes me want to fulfill that. It becomes a little bit more daunting. Our fan base, though, is not like any other fan base in the world, and I think that maybe every creative type would say that but I feel like you can prove it with evidence and stuff. I think we’re very, very lucky to have the fans that we’ve got.
Ivy: The Adventure Zone is different than other fantasy stories, it’s more positive, more joyful, but still has it’s dark dramatic moments. Did you set out to tell a different kind of D&D/fantasy story, or did that just happen?
GM: It evolved. I mean, of course, it evolved because it started from nothing. It started from a book, The Lost Mines of Phandelver, and then by episode six, it had gone completely off the rails… I’ve never written fiction before in my life, so I don’t know what the structure for a good story is or how to achieve the kind of tone you want to go for. I don’t even know what kind of tone to target, and so at times I would prepare stuff, or start to prepare stuff that would be very dramatic very, very, dark. Travis wrote a backstory for Magnus that will never see the light of day because it is pitch black, like woah dude that’s some Game of Thrones stuff. And then we talked about it, and he was like ‘What am I doing, that’s not the tone’… I think the reason it turned out to be… Like you said, joyful. I think that’s probably a good word for it. The reason it turned out to be a joyful thing is because it’s us recording it and because we all love each other very much and want to make each other laugh. Even when you’re in the throws of a big climactic battle or this big dramatic moment, that doesn’t go away just because we’re playing these characters, and so it informs everything… We all loved this story and this world so much, and I kind of hit a point where I didn’t want anything bad to happen to it anymore. And I’ve heard authors talk about that, and I thought it was nonsense, but then once we were in it, it broke my heart to do bad things to the people in the world and some of that still happens, but I think there’s a lot of reasons it turned out to have the tone that it did.
Ivy: This is kind of a weird question, but when you’re looking at fanart of The Adventure Zone, you can tell who characters are, even though the podcast is an audio-only medium, there’s fan consensuses on character design. How do you think that impacted the graphic novel?
GM: I don’t necessarily know that it did. Carey was a fan of the show before we brought her on to do the art for the graphic novel, so a lot of the designs she had in mind as her own sort of thing. And I do think there are some consensuses for some characters and then there are other characters where it’s just like nobody knows. But even the ones where there is consensus, everybody draws them in a different way and I see that and I still know who it is. The diversity of the fanart and takes on the characters is something that’s always been really important to me, and something that I think all four of us kind of realized was important to us as we went on. This might sound bad, but it was another thing we didn’t really think about, a side effect. We didn’t even think that people would draw the characters when we started… But then, seeing all these different takes on these characters is something that was really special to us and so… I don’t necessarily know if it informed Carey’s design, although it is something that is important to all of us. That’s why we included a bunch of fanart in the back of the book because I think it goes to show that people draw these characters in different and very, very, cool ways
Ivy: How far do you see The Adventure Zone growing? I mean, past the book, or just plans for the future in general.
GM: I’ll be completely candid: We’re working on the next book. Other than that, my focus is on next Tuesday, when we’re recording the next episode of The Adventure Zone. I know it sounds like I’m evading the question… When we found out we had made the New York Times Bestseller List, Justin and Travis and Dad, we all got on a call and were just screaming and then I hung up the phone and starting writing notes for the episode we’re recording Tuesday, and that’s always kind of been the deal. I’m very excited that this world and this story has found as much success as it has and there’s probably going to be more stuff that we’re going to do with it but if we only focus on that stuff rather than the thing that originated it, the podcast is not going to receive the kind of focus that I want it to have. And so, that’s the short answer. There will be a new episode up in roughly thirteen days. There’s a big clock hanging over my desk that’s counting down until the next Adventure Zone happens. That’s not true. I don’t know why I said that.
Ivy: It’s okay to lie. It’s just an interview. I’m just a teenager. Nothing matters.
GM: I thought it would be fun where I did one interview where I just lied every answer. I’ve never done that before so I would want to see how it played out.
Ivy: This is something you kind of talked about, but would you consider yourself, and everyone who works on TAZ, a fan of your own show?
GM: Oh yeah! I’m not very good with any amount of internet fame, because I feel like I say things that if I saw anyone else with even a modicum of internet fame say it, I would get douche chills to the max. But, I feel kind of okay saying how big a fan we were of the story that we told because none of us individually told it, we all told it together in a very collaborative and improvised way. Things changed and moved constantly because of the way that some dice hit a table. That’s crazy, right? There’s a book that we published, that’s an adaptation of our podcast, with story beats that only happened because Justin threw a polyhedron that bounced off his can of Diet Dr. Pepper. None of us feel like the sole author of the thing. I think all of us, to this day and to the day I die, will be in disbelief that we were able to tell this story, that it was us who did it. Aw man, I can’t believe the words that are coming out of my mouth right now, I sound so full of myself, but what I’m trying to say is I love this story, and I don’t feel entirely responsible for it, and I shouldn’t, because I’m not. And for that reason, I feel okay being as in love with it as I am.