Creating a biographical work in comics is a very distinct venture. It requires a fine agility as you’re balancing a myriad of facts, more than you will be able to neatly fit into one graphic novel. Any number of factors can add to the complexity, such as the writer figuring what to use if he has personally conducted interviews. David Kushner was one of the last journalists to interview D&D co-creator Gary Gygax prior to his death. He has now teamed up with award-winning illustrator Koren Shadmi on a nonfiction comic book chronicling Gary Gygax’s life and the creation of D&D: RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D, recently published by Nation Books. It is an ambitious undertaking, the first of its kind, and well worth a read.
Kushner and Shadmi do a wonderful job of laying down a behind-the-scenes narrative to Dungeons & Dragons, a pop culture phenomena that we all know to some degree. You may have never seen yourself as a role-playing game enthusiast, but you can’t help but get caught up in the details and history of a bona fide subculture. This book succeeds in putting a face to what has become known the world over as Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, there are two prominent faces involved here: Gary Gygax, the original guy to tinker with new ideas for role-playing games (instead of always military themes, why not include wizards?); and Dave Arneson, the guy next in line who refined what Gygax set in motion (don’t get lost in the rules and keep it fun!). Gygax was a middle-aged man with a family and Arneson was a young security guard working his way through college.
The best moments in the book are once we get to observe Gygax and Arneson just being themselves, warts and all. Gygax turns out to be more motivated towards turning his innovations into a profitable business. Arneson is far more the dreamer, only interested in refining the game. Arneson is so caught up in his own D&D world that he is left out of the burgeoning D&D business venture by Gygax and his associates.
Kushner’s script places the story in various first-person points of views. At times, the narrative boxes are quoting Gygax or Arneson or simply become omniscient. While this narrative shift can be disconcerting at times, it’s understandable given the many segments to cover. You have a broad canvas to fill with this person saying this and that other person doing that. And, given the interview source material, there are times that you want to do a flashback scene and other times that you want the person to speak in the present moment. Overall, Kushner and Shadmi do a commendable job of bringing this tale to life. One thing is for sure, you will never look at Dungeons & Dragons the same way again.
RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D, published by Nation Books, is a 144-page black & white trade paperback. For more details, visit Nation Books. You can also purchase the book directly from Amazon right here.