Irvine's "Dark Sun" Shines Bright

IDW Publishing takes readers to the unforgiving world of Athas in the publisher's second Dungeons & Dragons title "Dark Sun," a five- issue miniseries by Alex Irvine and Peter Bergting debuting January 12. Based on the D&D campaign setting of the same name, "Dark Sun" will see a small band of characters fighting against enemy armies, navigating local intrigues, thrashing through mutant beasts, and struggling to survive both the blasted desert environment and the deadly secrets concealed amongst the cadre of heroes. CBR News spoke with Irvine, whose recent credits include "Iron Man: The Rapture" and "The Murder of King Tut," about crafting the first "Dark Sun" campaign for comics.

Regarding his own experience with Dungeons and Dragons and the Dark Sun campaign, Irvine said that he began playing at an early age. "I was like a lot of kids, I think. I played heavily from about 11-16 or so and then gradually tapered off -- although I boarded in a fraternity house my second year of college and there was an intense D&D game there that I took part in," Irvine told CBR. "Now I've started to get my kids involved. They're nine, which is about how old I was when I first played. That was waaaay back when my dad and his hippie friends were all playing the first edition, those little parchment-covered books that came in a box. I still have fond memories of those, especially 'The Underworld and Wilderness Adventure.' I could draw the cover illustration from memory right now."

Asked what appeals to Irvine about the Dark Sun campaign setting in particular, the writer said, "I love the absence of gods, to tell you the truth. They remove a kind of narrative get-out-of-jail-free card. Also the scarcity of steel is a neat idea. But my favorite thing about Dark Sun is the sense that everyone there is walking around knowing that their world used to be this beautiful green place, and that's been destroyed."

Readers first met Grudvi and Rubi in the pages of "Dungeons and Dragons" #0. "Our heroes are Grudvik, a mul gladiator who has been re-enslaved and then escaped; Aki, a part-time slavehunter who goes after him and then accompanies him back to Tyr; the noblewoman Rubi, Grudvik's sometime lover who has a dangerous secret; and Haskyr, a merchant of House Ianto who has secrets of his own," Irvine said. "Without giving too much away, they're fighting against the sorcerer-kings and their efforts to destroy the history of Athas. Plus Grudvik and Aki want to get rich."

Grudvik, Aki, Rubi, and Haskyr will face a number of challenges throughout their journey, confronted along the way by "the militias of Tyr, the Toothcutters, various kinds of undead (including cacti), ensorcelled arthropods, a raaig, a thrax, and a couple different kinds of golems," Irvine said. "Plus I didn't mention the cloud ray elder and the silt horror, I don't think."

Irvine also said the harsh environment of the Dark Sun campaign setting will play an "absolutely critical" role in the first two issues, which he said take place in the desert and "along the edges of the Forked Tongue."

"Then we move into the Tyr and on into the Under-Tyr, where the history of Athas comes more into play. That's its own kind of harsh setting, of course."

Discussing how he adapted the particulars of the game for the "Dark Sun" comic, Irvine noted that not everything would translate directly. "You can't exactly have characters walking around saying they're about to cast a Sensory Absorption. So I try to build the effects of a spell into the script and the story without necessarily telling anyone what the actual spell is (although my editor, Denton J. Tipton, nails me down on this all the time)," the writer said. "The game setting is so extensive and rich that most of it can't make it into a five-issue arc, so I present an intense look at a small part of Athas. In my head, it's ready to expand into a much larger story about a brewing rebellion in many Athasian city-states, spurred by Kalak's death and led by members of the Veiled Alliance.

"There are aspects of game mechanics that are hard to represent, for example psychic damage. What does that look like? (Actually, you'll see at one point.)

"As far as elements I definitely wanted to include: a tension between city-dwellers and denizens of the wastes, the general peril of the Athasian hinterlands, and the creepy menace of Tyr's darker neighborhoods..."

Working with Irvine on the series is artist Peter Bergting, whose previous credits include "Strange Girl" with Rick Remender and "The Portent," which Bergting both wrote and illustrated. Irvine told CBR that seeing Bergting's early pages influenced some aspects of his later scripts for "Dark Sun."

"I've seen the first two issues and think they look &($#@#% great. He's really nailed a look for the desert and for Tyr that brought the whole thing to life for me. I wrote the last three scripts after seeing his art for the first issue, and I did some different things in those scripts because I wanted to see how Peter would draw them," Irvine said. "The deliberate stripped-down quality of Peter's art works well, I think, with the feel of Athas as a place where existence is stripped down to its most basic and necessary imperatives. Plus that also makes those moments where things get crazy and elaborate that much more eye-popping. It's a great-looking book, I think. Everyone who reads it will agree!"

"Dark Sun" #1 hits stores January 12, 2011 from IDW Publishing.

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