John Rogers Plays "Dungeons and Dragons"

Following this summer's #0 issue that established two new comic universes set in the world of the famous fantasy role playing game, IDW Publishing's ongoing "Dungeons and Dragons" launches November 10 with a full-length #1 issue by the regular creative team of writer John Rogers and artist Andrea Di Vito. With the new "D&D" series, Rogers, who comes from the world of screenwriting with credits on "Transformers," the "Global Frequency" pilot, and the TNT series "Leverage," is taking up his first ongoing comics assignment since the "Blue Beetle" relaunch with Cully Hamner that established Jaime Reyes as a popular new teenage hero for DC Comics. CBR News spoke with the writer about this latest project and long history with the world of "D&D."

Rogers comes to the "Dungeons and Dragons" comic with a good deal of in-game experience. "I grew up playing D&D - read about it as a kid in 'Games' magazine - and then stopped playing once I became a [stand-up] road comic in my twenties. Little hard to find a group when you're doing 300 shows a year," Rogers told CBR. "But in 2000 I moved to LA, and found out that the two producers I was working with, Ross Richie and Andrew Cosby, had a regular game. We were all geeks in our thirties, kind of reclaiming the hobby. Been playing pretty regularly again for the last ten years. The two of them went on to create BOOM! Studios, by the way, and Andy created the TV show 'Eureka.' So things got busy again, and I actually wound up running that campaign for a while."

"I'm currently playing in a very political campaign set in a world patterned after DeMedici Florence," Rogers continued. "As usual, I've decided to play a side character, the working class guide for the various nobles of the other PCs. In game terms, he's a Ranger who uses warhammers."

The new IDW series isn't the first "D&D" comic, but it's the first in a few years, with Devil's Due having published the most recent titles set in the "Forgotten Realms" world. CBR asked Rogers how certain elements from the game translated into the comic, and what either needed to be dropped or added in order to make the comic work. "The big decision was not about the game, so much, as the genre," Rogers said. "The genius of the game is it's a set of rules meant to create an open storytelling space. Plus, we intentionally chose the 'Core' world, which is very... broad fantasy, for lack of a better term. Highly identifiable fantasy tropes, and I'm not using tropes as a pejorative. I mean, look, my Dad watched the 'Lord of the Rings' movies and loved them, but he'd never pick up a fantasy book. This is for the casual fan who rifles open the book and goes 'Ah, I know this, I'm interested in seeing stories told in this TYPE of world.'"

"So, the genre - I think a lot of fantasy comics try to replicate the experience of reading a fantasy novel, and I don't think that works," Rogers continued. "I'm speaking generally, of course - comics is a broad medium, and somebody talented can make any genre work through comics - but when I look at 'D&D,' I see a very social game, where people get together to have fun, banter and have adventures. So the book is very much written to be the sessions from a very fun, pulpy gaming group."

"I think that the high fantasy need is filled by books like the 'Game of Thrones' cycle, or the 'Sword of Truth' stuff, while even in fantasy I tend to run more toward Erickson's Bridge Burners in his Malazan Cycle, or Richard K. Morgan's new stuff in 'The Steel Remain,'" said Rogers of where he sees the comic fitting into the fantasy genre.

Rogers did say, however, that there was one specific gaming aspect that needed to be amended for the series. "I think the only game concept that doesn't translate well to long-form storytelling is the magic-item inventory grind," said Rogers. "Whenever you see our characters using a magic item, it's pretty damn spiffy. Assume most of the magic items in their inventory, as statted out, are actually high-end items that allow them to do cool stuff."

"Dungeons and Dragons" marks Rogers' return to comics, his previous notable project being a twenty-five issue run on "Blue Beetle," which became a fan-favorite title as skeptical fans of the late Ted Kord came to love new Beetle Jaime Reyes. Asked what led the successful screenwriter to dip back into the graphic storytelling field, Rogers said that it was simply a matter of finding the time. "To be honest, running a TV show kind of takes up your day," he said, referring to his work on TNT's "Leverage." "But man, writing comics is just such a fun process... I mean, 'Blue Beetle' was one of the most creatively satisfying work I've done in twenty years. I really dig working with an editor, too. Joan Hilty was amaaazing on 'BB,' and ['Dungeons and Dragons' editor] Denton Tipton is really a smart guy who knows both comics and gaming, so it feels like a real collaboration. And with an artist like Andrea, it's the same joy as television: you write it, you send it out, and other people make it even cooler."

The intro story in #0, which shares space with a "Dark Sun" prelude, begins very much in medias res, with a band of characters already together and in the midst of a quest. Rogers said that this will continue once issue #1 hits the stands. Rather than pulling back for an origin story, the writer will roll out any relevant background as the story progresses. "Comic readers are smart. You'll figure it out as it goes," said Rogers, adding that the story would be "action-action-action, [then] cliffhanger at the end of every issue."

"Somewhere in the middle of the chaos, you'll figure out who likes whom and why they're all out in the wilderness adventuring together. I'm working on a flashback issue where Adric and Khal meet, actually, possibly as a one-off to rest Andrea," Rogers said.

Rogers described his central group of heroes as "slightly scruffy freelance troubleshooters in a border town." "Swordsman Adric Fell is their leader by virtue of - well, he manages to regularly come up with plans fast enough that it keeps the others from arguing endlessly about what to do. This, by the way, is always how I imagined Batman kept the JLA in line," said Rogers. "Khal is a lovesick Dwarven paladin, Varis is an elf with a secret, Tisha is a tiefling - that's a new 4th Edition race, kind of a demon-touched race - who's looking for a missing family member, and Bree is a murderous halfling. She gets all the best lines. At one point, she suggests making a raft out of orphans. I love Bree."

The setup for the first arc begins with the team living in the wilderness town of Fallcrest, "and occasionally working for its local Lord (who you should imagine is voiced by Mark Sheppard)," said Rogers. "They're at ground zero during a magical plague outbreak, and in order to prove their innocence - or at least provide another slightly more viable suspect for the Lord to hang, he's not picky - they head off into the wilderness to solve the mystery and clear their names through applied violence."

If all of this and the #0 tale suggest that there will be some humor to "Dungeons and Dragons," Rogers assured CBR that this would be an accurate assessment. "'D&D' is an intensely social game. It's used to tell a wide range of stories over a wide range of world-types, but if you play in a bunch of groups you find the one common denominator is laughter," the writer said. "D&D players love to have a good time. We really wanted the book to be like the fun adventures of characters that you'd like to game with every week. We're a pulp book. Pick us up, enjoy the great fight art, laugh at the banter, and steal tons of ideas for your own campaign. Or, hell, if you really like it, maybe you'll try playing the game if you're not already a player. That would be cool."

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