C2E2: IDW Enters the "Dungeons & Dragons"

Announced Friday at the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo, comic publisher IDW grabs their wizard's hat and rolls for initiative this August when they begin a new line of comics based on the popular role-playing game "Dungeons & Dragons."

A cultural behemoth, D&D began as a tabletop, paper-and-pen game that encouraged players to use their imagination and wits to overcome obstacles while adventuring in a fantasy world. As the game expanded, incorporating new rule books, worlds, creatures and races for characters, so did the franchise. Novels based on the series soon followed, then online games, songs and even movies. Today, millions of people across the world enjoy "Dungeons & Dragons," from hardcore gamers to casual fans. Now, with the announcement of the new comic book line from IDW, the comic community is once again getting its slice of the D&D pie.

CBR News spoke with IDW Senior Editor Andy Schmidt and Editor Denton Tipton about the announcement and the new line.

CBR News: What can you say about the upcoming comics that readers will be seeing? Can you give us a quick rundown of the different comics and what each will generally be about?

Andy Schmidt: We're taking a deliberate approach to the comics, launching with an introductory #0 issue in August. It will have 16 pages of story along with lots of cool back-up material, and is priced at only a buck, to help get anyone interested to take a look at what great stories we've got cooked up. And they are great. The first book, simply titled "Dungeons & Dragons," is our eye-level book, easy for any adventure fan to jump into and enjoy. It's got a wide appeal, with fun and engaging characters. It follows a small band of travelers as they go deeper into the world of D&D. It's a lot of fun and I'm sure will really surprise people with exactly how much fun it is. It's a serious world the characters inhabit, but that doesn't mean the characters themselves have to be deadly serious all the time. What surprised me about the story is the highs and the lows and the contrast between high adventure, to romantic tension, to some good old fashioned fun. It's all here in a great package in a fantastic, no pun intended, world.

Denton Tipton: The #0 issue will also include a short story that takes place in the "Dark Sun" campaign setting, which will lead into a "Dark Sun" miniseries launching in January. This post-apocalyptic world was a favorite of gamers when it debuted in 1991, and Wizards of the Coast has brought it out of the vault to be re-imagined for the new edition of D&D in August. Our comics will be set on this desert planet of savagery and desolation, where deadly monsters roam and survival is the order of the day. Also, the familiar fantasy races have new and unexpected twists in this brutal world, where slavery is commonplace. Staying true to the setting, this miniseries will be darker in tone than the D&D series, and we'll explore the mature themes that it evokes.

Did you ever play D&D yourself? What was your character?

Schmidt: I have played a couple of times, but I'll be honest, I'm more a sci fi fan than fantasy. So I've played a lot more Star Wars and Star Trek and Battle Tech in my day than I did D&D. Also, at the time that I played roleplaying games regularly, D&D had already grown quite complex as a game and I wanted something a little more simple. Do you guys remember the Marvel Super Heroes game and DC Heroes? Man, I loved those! That is, until my brother told me that Blue Devil took class 1000 damage and was dead (astute readers will note that Blue Devil is a DC character and that "Class 1000" was from the Marvel Heroes game. We would create our favorite characters for the different games so we could play all the super heroes on either platform). All I'm saying is this: Blue Devil is awesome. And you can't just decide to kill him and then taunt your little brother. That's totally uncool. Still, 20 years later - that's just uncool, Craig.

Tipton: I became somewhat of a roleplaying junkie in high school. A new group of friends invited me to my first game of D&D, where I thought I'd be funny and create a character called Opie the Barbarian, who was this brute with a bastard sword. The joke was on me, though, because those new friends began referring to me by my character's name and would not stop. But after four years, I left them at the bottom of a pit with a tarrasque, never to be heard from again.

What are some of the creators that will be working on the comic, and how familiar are they with the D&D world?

Schmidt: They are very familiar with the D&D. I'll be honest that I'm not a huge D&D fan. But that's okay, because Denton Tipton, who is also editing the D&D line, is. He's watching for all the right D&D tropes and such while I'm there making sure everything makes sense to me in a simple way. Between the two of us, this should make for a great read for all D&D fans as well as newcomers. But, I digress. The writers are familiar with the D&D settings and worlds, and the artists are freaking genetically engineered to draw these books. You're going to see some killer stuff here.

Tipton: We're not ready to reveal the creative teams yet, but several of the names will be familiar to comic fans and others to gaming fans. When the books arrive, both comic and gaming fans will take notice of our creative teams. The concept sketches alone already have me drooling.

What is it about the D&D world that appeals to you and what do you think makes it so long-lasting in pop culture?

Schmidt: The idea of roleplaying is what appeals to me, as someone who has played the game. Getting into your character is a really powerful narrative device, and I think we're going to tap into that in some interesting ways. More on that later. But the world that Wizards of the Coast and TSR before them have created is so rich with possibility and dramatic conflict that the hardest thing to do is pick a direction to start in. We wanted to tell so many stories, that figuring out which one to tell first was really difficult. When I was working on the X-Men, or Avengers or whatever,  there are definitely new takes and new spins on things, but you know what the core concept is with established characters. But when the world itself is designed to empower you, the player in the game, or the Dungeon Master, or in this case, the writers, to do whatever kind of story you want, it's really a very different animal. It's in many ways much more challenging because of just how free it is, creatively.

Tipton: D&D's lasting appeal lies in that it's only limited to the imaginations of its players. A group of friends get together and build a world and characters, and then create a collaborative story. It doesn't get much cooler than that in my book. We're well aware this appeal can be lost when translated to the comics medium, but we have plans that will make gamers very happy and interested in picking up our books.

How will the comics incorporate the vast mythology of the D&D world? Will readers familiar with the expanses of the gaming world see a lot of that reflected in the comics?

Schmidt: There will be nods to certain things in the game, and asides and such like that. But we're designing this to be new-reader friendly. It's definitely D&D. Our primary reference, and the primary reference the creators use, are the Guide Books and Manuals. We're incorporating the spells, powers, weapons, armor and clothes, locations and all of that stuff right from the game itself. But, if you're new to D&D, you'd never know that, it's just the way things are. So, it's heavily referenced and will be very familiar to die-hard fans, yes.

What are some of the unique challenges you'll be facing when working on these comics?

Schmidt: I hit on the first big one already, the sheer openness of what a D&D story can be. I think, frankly, it's going to be a challenge to reach out to readers and get them interested in something they haven't tried before. If you're interested in fantasy stories, this is a good place for you. If you like high adventure, you're in the right ball park. If you enjoy witty dialogue and funny situations, definitely here. And if you enjoy intense drama with characters you love to hate - again, that's us. But actually convincing a new reader to pick up another comic at this time, in this economy, is a really tough thing to do. And the best way to do that is to put the proof in the pudding. I think anyone who picks up D&D is going to know - not think - know - they got their money's worth.

Tipton: We're looking to appeal to both gamers and comic readers, which has some crossover, but not as much as you'd think. As Warren Ellis has pointed out, you go into comics alone. You can't read and experience a book simultaneously with someone. But gamers are social creatures and thrive on that interaction. So, we're looking to bring that interaction, but above all else, we are aiming to craft a good comic. If we have a compelling story with lovely art, everything else will fall in line. Thus, we're offering the #0 issue for only 99 cents to get it into as many hands as possible.

Much of the popularity of D&D extends from players creating their own characters and building them up as they face the world around them. How does that aspect play into creating these comics? Is it that the journey of the character in the comic reflects that of the player through familiar worlds and creatures?

Schmidt: There are a lot of new characters in our comics, and there will be a lot of ways for fans to interact with these characters. There will also be some established characters as well. Obviously, you can't "play" a comic, but role-playing games are based on a story first. So, we've already got a lot of overlap. But we're trying to create characters that surprise you at every turn, that live and grow old, that get hurt, get wounded, that gain power and grow the way the life of a player's character will. It should be very familiar territory to fans of the game. We're also going to give exclusive content, at no extra charge, that can be used when playing the game. We'll have more on that later, but this is going to be very friendly coming to players of D&D.

The idea of the comics certainly appeals to many D&D fans, but what about those not familiar with the games? What aspects of the comic would you say will appeal to them and help draw them in?

Schmidt: At the end of the day, it's about story and compelling characters. We've really gone to the mat to get some top-level creators who are familiar with D&D and fans themselves. Ultimately, the onus is on us to bring readers in so that they want to read D&D comics more than they want to read anything else. And that's exactly what we're going to do.

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