I have a confession to make: I play D&D. Not only do I play, I run a game at my local comic and game store.
There, I said it!
It's because of my love of D&D that I stumbled upon the comic I want to introduce you to today.
I recently got in touch with the comic’s creator, Brian Patterson, and he was good enough to answer some questions about the comic. We even had a chance to talk about some other gaming and geek topics along the way.
CNN Geek Out: If you had to describe to a friend’s mom who you are and what you do, what would you say?
Brian Patterson (BP): Hi, Mrs. Friend’s Mom, I’m Brian. I am a cartoonist, and I draw the gaming Web comic d20monkey. I’m a geek, and basically I draw funny pictures that make references to the games I love to play, and sometimes there’s pixelated nudity and bad language.
Geek Out: Can you give us the elevator pitch on your comic d20monkey?
BP: Sure! d20monkey is an occasionally crude and comically violent Web comic focusing on the lives of gamer geeks Sam and Brett as they observe the worlds in and outside of the games they play. The comic alternates between out-of-game experiences around the table and in-game experiences from the perspective of the cast’s D&D characters.
The shorthand I use (semi-jokingly) is, it is a Web comic about D&D, geeks and dick jokes.
Geek Out: How long have you been doing the comic?
BP: It feels a little odd saying this, but d20monkey celebrates its one-year anniversary on October 4. It’s been a crazy year, and I am excited to roll into year two of the comic. I feel like I know the characters now, and everything is wide open in regards to story and direction.
Geek Out: How did you get started?
BP: I started drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon. I’d draw all of my favorite comic book heroes, huge “Star Wars” battle scenes (Hoth in particular) and anything that caught my attention. I loved drawing funny comics that made my family and friends laugh.
As a teenager, I started dabbling in my own, more serious comic ideas with aspirations of being the next Jim Lee or Mark Bagley, working on Batman or Captain Marvel (my childhood favorites) as a full-time comic book artist.
I made ashcan comics at copy centers to hand out to anyone who would take one, worked on my portfolio and kept working at the hard-core comic style. It was the ‘90s, so everything was half-baked women, big shoulder pads, guns, and every character was required to have “blood” or “dark” in their codename.
It took a little while, but as I got older, I realized that I always had more fun drawing my way and doing my own stories that never took themselves so seriously. Honestly, I was never very good a drawing the large-breasted hoochies of the ‘90s anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire the guys who can draw perfect anatomy and craft epic tales with larger-than-life characters, but that’s just not who I am. I’d rather make people laugh and draw the way I want to draw with D&D jokes, fuzzy cartoon anatomy, and write stories filled with inappropriate references to the Kool-Aid Man.
Geek Out: Where do you get your inspiration for the storylines?
BP: Oh, man, from everywhere: Comics, movies, television, games, etc.
Open up any gaming-related news site, and within 10 minutes you’ll find something to shake your head at or wonder aloud, “What the hell are these guys thinking?”
A wise man once told me, “read 10 times more than you write, and you’ll never run out of ideas.” The lesson stuck in my head, so I read quite a lot, but to be honest, most of my stories come from personal experience.
Gamers and gaming culture is full of awesome stories and hilarious moments that very nearly write themselves. I’ve been a gamer my whole life, and needless to say, I have a lot of source material to work with. Could I make up a story about a new guy joining a gaming group and upon the conclusion of the first battle promptly announces to the group that he drops his trousers and mounts a slain goblin? Sure I could, but it’s funnier that it actually happened!
No kidding. People sat there in stunned silence before announcing that they “put their swords in the new guy.”
Geek Out: Looks like you like to include folks from the role-playing game industry and bloggers in the strip. How did that start?
BP: It started as a one-off idea, really. I have a great deal of respect for folks in the RPG industry, and there are a lot of talented bloggers out there who keep the discussion and flow of ideas interesting. Whenever someone from the industry appears in the comic, I intend for it to be motivated by respect and appreciation, even if I am ribbing them a little.
It’s rare for me to outright rip into someone out of cruelty or disrespect. It’s different when we all laugh together about something that should be laughed at, but cruelty, real cruelty, is never funny. However, jumping on someone for acting like an ass at a comic or gaming convention? That’s fair game.
Now, finding holes in a new game or referencing an odd bit from a video game or D&D module? I’m all over that. I make a lot of jokes about D&D Essentials and the guys behind it. I am personally not a fan of Essentials or the timing of its release, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect the guys who wrote it. I’m still going to draw comics with half-naked dwarves in a faux Calvin Klein ad for “Essentials for Women,” though.
Geek Out: Do you get their permission before you write them in?
BP: It depends on the context, really. If it’s someone I know personally who I intend to use as a character who contributes to the overall story, then yes, I ask beforehand. Especially in the early going, I didn’t want to step on any toes in that regard.
Other times, if their appearance is meant to be a silly, one-off appearance, I typically roll with it, keeping in mind that I do not want to embarrass them too much. With my characters, everything is fair game. I’ll have Brett or Sam running naked through a con wearing nothing but a Darth Vader mask (I need to write that down), but when it’s someone like Monte Cook or Mike Mearls, I tend keep it funny without cruelty.
Geek Out: Anyone ever get mad on how you showed them in the strip?
BP: Not yet, no. Thankfully. It’s funny to me now that I have folks whom I respect in the industry e-mailing to ask me If they can appear in the comic. It’s humbling and awesome at the same time.
I made a small list of folks I’d like to draw someday and as it fits in with the comics, I’ll drop them in. Tracy Hurly, aka Sarah Darkmagic, recently appeared in one of the rare “serious” story arcs involving Sam and his love interest, Mel. She had her funny moments, but I also used Tracy’s appearance and actions to move an ongoing story forward, which is something I hadn’t done with other “guest stars.” She seemed pleased with her role.
Geek Out: Do you think there is there a culture of angry gamer nerds?
BP: Absolutely. I think with gamer geeks there are two types: passionate and angry.
The line between passion and anger can be blurry, and there are some folks who just step right over into raging neckbeard territory. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a hypocrite. I know there are specific things out there in geek culture that get me ranting and raving (I like a good rant every once in a while), but I think that is more driven by my passion for what I love.
With the angry geeks, there is something deeper there. Rage issues, upbringing, a lack of social interaction, I’m not sure, but I do know that it isn’t just gaming that sees this kind of behavior. It’s any pastime, really.
Hell, I’ve seen the equivalent of neckbeards at chess tournaments, kids’ soccer games and senior bingo. Passion for something is wonderful, but in the wrong context, it can be nasty. I’ve seen guys at conventions lose their sh*t over the smallest thing at the table. One year at GenCon, I watched a guy (who sadly was the stereotypical neckbeard) crush a guy’s nose at 3 in the morning over a rules debate. A rules debate led to a full-on fistfight. Again, I looked on in shock and awe.
Geek Out: I see you’re adding t-shirts, and there are even Dragon Chow dice bags for the strip. How did that get started?
BP: I always knew that I’d try to produce a few t-shirts based on d20monkey. I consider myself lucky in that I work as a graphic designer full-time, and I had the resources and relationships to get that ball rolling sooner than expected. When I saw the chance to start up the online store and give it a try, I jumped. I’m kind of a t-shirt junkie anyway, and having an excuse to produce a few of my own makes me giddy.
With the dice bags, I’ve known Lyndsay over at Dragon Chow Dice Bags through Twitter and the gaming community for a while now, and it just came about naturally. She offers custom dice bags for folks through the use of custom fabric vendors like Spoonflower, and at the time, I had the idea for a Rolly the Rowl dicebag to hand to a few of the players at my table who could learn from the wisdom bestowed from Rolly (specifically “Don’t be a do-whoooo-uche”).
I asked her about making it for me, and the rest was history. Now she offers Rolly, Sam’s flaming d20 and a Brett dicebag as a kind of licensed deal between the two of us. It’s really cool, and people love the work she does.
Geek Out: Was making the swag that you always part of the plan?
BP: Yeah, it is, really. I have a day job I enjoy, but I’m not going to be coy about it: I’d love to do d20monkey for a living, full-time.
Offering some merchandise helps that dream inch a little closer, but I think I am still a few years off from that goal. I want to get up in the morning, settle in and draw d20monkey all day and know that I can pay the bills doing so. It’s the same dream all cartoonists have but only a few manage to pull off.
I’m 34. I know I have responsibilities, but part of me wants to say “to hell with it” and take a real run at doing what I love to do full-time. I might end up selling myself at a truck stop in 12 months, but at least I know I tried.
Geek Out: Are you making the swag that you always wanted as a kid?
BP: Absolutely. I love making the kind of gamer shirts I always wanted growing up, and I have some other ideas as well. I’d love to put together a board game based on d20monkey, where it is one of the everyone-against-the-game style board games where it’s the players against Brett.
I hope, years from now, I can offer some kind of small statues or toys of the main cast, and I would like to do a plush Rolly or Emma. I have ideas, but it’s still early and I want to focus on always making the best comic I can before anything else.
Creating merchandise is cool, and I will always feel like a little kid when I see something I’ve made, but the comic is what matters. Without making the best comic I can possibly make, none of the rest of it matters. I think folks lose sight of that sometimes.
Geek Out: Any more items getting added to the store any time soon?
BP: I just added the Monte Ruined/Saved My Game tee (meaning game designer Monte Cook) and it is going over well with folks. Monte is a super cool guy and has one of the best senses of humor in the gaming industry. I don’t know if it’s because he is a free agent and isn’t under the watchful eye of Hasbro or any other major publisher, but when I showed him the shirt design, his first comment was “I want one.” It made me feel good, that’s for sure.
In a few weeks, I plan to add a few new art prints, and I am going to begin offering limited numbers of commissions each month as well.
Geek Out: Do you play D&D yourself?
BP: Every week. I DM one or two ongoing campaigns at any given time, and I’m one of those DMs who probably goes a little overboard with maps, minis and music. I love to put long campaigns together full of stories with twists and turns. It’s fun for the players, and it is fun for me as well. It’s a huge payoff to construct this elaborate encounter and watch players’ faces light up when you drop a big reveal on their heads.
To be honest, if I stopped playing for some reason, I don’t think I could do d20monkey in good conscience. It’s like when you hear about folks who design games but do not play themselves. How could I really do a comic based on gaming if never play?
Geek Out: How long have you played?
BP: I played my first game just a few days short of my 10th birthday, so about 24 years now. I spend a majority of my time behind the DM screen, but I’ve played a lot as well. I won’t fall into the “tell me about your character” trope, but I have a few who are near and dear to my heart. I think it’s the same for anyone who’s played RPGs for a while.
I have adventures, campaign settings and characters I always get excited about. Tomb of Horrors? Temple of Elemental Evil? It doesn’t get any better than that. Epic stories with encounters that hit so hard your momma feels a cold shiver and calls to see if you’re OK.
Geek Out: Play any other RPGs?
BP: Oh, I am always ready to try a new game. D&D is my first and greatest gaming love, but there are so many great games out there to play now. Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu (another longtime favorite of mine), the Dragon Age RPG and with all of the independent publishers out there, it is a fantastic age for RPG gaming. The only real issue is finding the time to try everything.
Geek Out: Rebel or Empire?
BP: Empire. Cooler uniforms, and who hasn’t wanted to Force Choke someone at one point in their lives? Sure, the Death Star has a design flaw, but who cares? It’s a DEATH STAR.
Geek Out: Any last thoughts?
BP: I would only encourage folks to read more comics, support the creators you like through e-mails, Twitter, and their wares, and play the games you love (or allow your kids to play more games).
Contrary to popular belief, comics and RPGs are incredibly social cultures and activities. Sure, some in the geek community are about as personable as the underside of a rock with the social grace of a cactus. Most of us bathe, carry on conversations with ease and have a generally good outlook on life. During my 24 years of gaming, I’ve learned no collective of people could be kinder, funnier or more giving than geeks.
We live in a world of video games and multimedia entertainment, which is awesome, and I love video games, but take a moment to get around a table with friends and family play some board games or D&D every once in a while. Imagination is like a muscle: If you do not use it, it atrophies.
Geek Out: Where can folks find you?
Geek Out: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us!
BP: Thanks so much for having me. It is an honor to be here answering questions, and I enjoyed he hell out if it, and hopefully I won’t get you into any trouble.