The Adventure Zone (graphic novels)

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Title: The Adventure Zone Graphic Novel(s),
Creator: Carey Pietsch, the McElroys (but mainly Clint McElroy)
Date(s): July 16, 2017 - Present
Medium: Graphic Novel
Fandom: The Adventure Zone: Balance, The Adventure Zone
Language: English
External Links: The Adventure Zone at First Second Books

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This is a page for the graphic novelization. You may be looking for The Adventure Zone (podcast).

The Adventure Zone Graphic Novels are a graphic novelization of the podcast of the same name. The art and design are by Carey Pietsch of The Adventure Zine fame, and the story is adapted by the McElroys themselves. The first book is notable for being the first graphic novel to reach #1 on the New York Times Fiction List.[1]

Canon

Announced in 2016,[2] the Adventure Zone Graphic Novel series is written by the McElroys and drawn by Carey Pietsch. It follows the plot of the Balance Arc, with each book a different arc within the campaign. The first book, The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins, was published July 17, 2018.[3] The second book, The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited is slated to be released July 16, 2019.[4]

Fandom

See The Adventure Zone: Balance for Balance Arc fandom.

This article or section needs expansion.

Issues with Character Designs

While fan reaction to the graphic novels have been largely positive, there has been much discussion about the character designs, especially considering their relative 'canonical' representation.

Original Character Designs

While The McElroys have always insisted there is no canonical representation of what the characters look like beyond what's been addressed in the show (a stance that generates its own controversies), the graphic novel designs have a definite 'official weight of approval' to them for many fans. So on December 1, 2016, when the McElroys released a few pages from the first graphic novel that portrayed the three main characters as white,[2] many people felt hurt or betrayed.

Over the past week I’ve had people constantly telling me I’m not drawing things right, that I’m being over-dramatic, that I’m not being nice - people getting defensive of white character designs, when in reality, I’m not attacking anyone. I’d hate for anyone to think as much.

But it’s disheartening, is the thing.

It makes me not want to do art, to not have diverse ideas, to do anything that goes against the majority. And this isn’t even about me, really! Imagine wanting to draw more people who look like you, and seeing someone getting, essentially, harassed for just doing their own thing and openly speaking about diversity in fantasy, especially in a normally very chill podcast fandom that apparently “champions” it.

So, my point is. I was excited for the TAZ graphic novel for a second, but then I felt, really bad. Like I said, I’m not being “bitter”, and I’m not slating the creativity or talent of Carey, at all! I think she’s really goddamn cool, but the designs of characters are just… very white.

When I went onto my blog to talk about my feelings in regards to the announcement, I was struck with a real pang of fear that people would think I’m being bitter or overdramatic (which by itself, is very upsetting) but to my surprise, a lot of people of colour came forward and talked to me about it. They reaffirmed that, yeah, this instilled a really bad feeling in them, just like it had me.

It’s almost as if fantasy’s “anything is possible” rhetoric only applies when POC are excluded.--roswelltxt on Tumblr[5]
There are a wide range of choices one could make when creating fantasy characters. In a purely random selection, we'd have lots of diversity all the time, and there wouldn't be a problem. But historically, fantasy has been super duper white; it's been locked in a very narrow color palette.

Most of what people are asking for is just for that to be unlocked. To even just begin to take the meagerest steps towards not-all-white. It's always sounded very reasonable to me.

And yes, I'm aware of the side characters that are largely non-white, and that's definitely cool. But it's the main characters in fantasy that have been so rarely made anything but white that makes them really important.--boss1000 on Reddit[6]

These concerns were quickly addressed by Justin McElroy. Later the same day (as the character design reveal), he tweeted:

Yup, fuck, you’re right. We’ll be revisiting the designs before the book launches. We made them white cause we’re white and that’s BORING--@JustinMcElroy on Twitter[7]

Some fans were annoyed, feeling that the issue wasn't that big of a deal, or that the McElroys were pressured into changing the designs by overzealous Migratory SJ Fandom.

It was only a few people that really tried to dig into him. And they seemed like the "Everything should magically be 100% better right now or else im going to pin it all on the people who are trying to change it because they didn't do it fast enough!" type. College freshman syndrome.--darshfloxington on Reddit[8]
[Eryius on Reddit[9]]
as someone who loves and consumes fan content regularly, I don't think there's any situation in which listening to fans will improve your work. I've seen many a work get progressively worse in an attempt to appease rabid fans.

And also, I don't think creators should be pressured into changing their work by anyone who isn't their editor.

And most importantly, I've seen what happens when fans get too involved in what a fan artist makes.
[CulturalGeek on Reddit, in response to Eryius]
I disagree. I've worked as a writer and designer on projects ranging from comic books to video games and feedback is often very helpful. [...]

Years ago a friend of mine was working on a project where they got feedback about the body types of their characters during the alpha. The art director and lead character artist had both come up during an era where only the default "superheroic" body types were commonly used in games. When they saw that people actively wanted different body types they were like "Oh yeah, we're allowed to do that now! This is our game, we can do more interesting body types!"

I've also worked on projects where I was a fan of the property before I started working on official stuff, so for me the line between fan and coworker has always been blurred. I've worked on projects where we had contests for fan-inspired stories or characters. This is the direction media is going in and I've got a lot of hope for the future.

Molding your work to satisfy every single individual specific demand isn't traditionally a great idea. Modifying your work to respond to general feedback almost always improves it.
[Eryius in response to CulturalGeek]
There's a difference between "you could work on your grammar" or "That face looks a bit off, maybe you could redraw it?"

And

"There are too many white people in this story" and "you've drawn this person too thin"
[CulturalGeek in response to Eryius]
I agree.

The first bit of advice is what I'd expect to give an amateur or entry-level professional.

The second is a poorly phrased version of the the kind of feedback experienced professionals frequently give each other.

Harassing a fan artist over their interpretation is awful and dumb and mean. I'm well aware of the SU horror story and that was terrible for a huge number of reasons. I don't know a single person in any professional artistic community who thinks the Steven Universe harassment was OK in any way, shape or form. It also wasn't OK when they accused a professional artist on that show of queerbaiting. But that is not what happened here. Just because people are occasionally stupid jerks about a particular subject doesn't mean that other people can't offer constructive criticism about the same subject.

Others voiced their concern for the artist's wellbeing:

[nilrealism on Reddit[10]]
I feel bad for Carey. It can't feel good to be accused of whitewashing now, when she has been drawing these characters in this way all along.
[FunctionalOven on Reddit in response to nilrealism]
This was my first thought and also because as I think someone in the other thread pointed out Carey does draw characters of color in her fanart.

I understand especially the complaint where artists worried their fanart could be invalidated if these are the 'canon' portrayals, especially when there are so many excellent interpretations of all the characters (not just THB) out there.

I like that the McElroys have done a good job just being open with their response, and that's a good way to deal with it. I also feel, at the same time, a lot of symapthy for an artist from our community who is getting some harsh feedback based on a relatively small sample of images.

Blue Taako

On June 1, 2017, the new character designs were revealed, and included Taako as blue, rather than a skin tone found on Earth. Reactions to this delved into already existing controversy in Balance Arc fanart fandom:

firstly, taako (named after tacos) who is on the quest to create the taco (established in here there be gerblins but not left there!) should be, or rather, better be, or rather, is mexican because if not, they are using a culture as a joke. that’s not alright! unless he is mexican, it doesn’t make sense for him to invent mexican food or have the name ‘taako taaco’

also, just so we’re clear: taako is a sun elf! they have “bronze-colored skin and hair most often of copper, golden blond, and black”. having him be green - or blue, or purple, or whatever - doesn’t make sense.

[...]

and you know what? it boils down to this: why are they more willing to make someone green than to make them brown?

fans of colour continually talk about why this is important, how to do better by us - and we do it well. regardless if we are ‘polite’ (spoon-feeding) or ‘angry’ (you know, like, the emotional humans that we are) we have repeatedly tried to get through to the mcelroys and say ‘hey, you might want to do this, if you’re so interested in doing it’.

taz celebrates its ability to bring all kinds of people together. however, it kind of seems like only a few kind of people are welcome.--roswelltxt on Tumblr[11]
[193X on Reddit[12]]
It seems pretty racist to assume a blue-skinned character can't be Latinx, as if the colour of your skin is your only ticket to racial acceptance.

If the adventure zone were made by Australians, black Merle could be Aboriginal Australian, a Somali refugee, Polynesian, Indian etc. (or white Merle could be Aboriginal Australian, because there are plenty of lighter-skinned people with Aboriginal ancestry.)

Is it important that representation be given to minority groups? Fuck yes. Is the colour of the skin of a fantasy character who has no racial indicators other than his name going to help? Probably not, especially when it would make that character into a racist joke.
[fishgutsd on Reddit in response to 193X]
A blue skinned character can be latinx. The thing is though, that there is no latino or Hispanic race in this particular fantasy world. There is however an elf race.... Which is what Taako is. Taako doesn't need to be Mexican. He is an elf. A fantasy elf in a podcast. I understand the importance of representation, but this whole thing has gotten out of hand. I honestly almost wish that the McElroys just made the first draft of the characters canon, so that people stop trying to force them to alter their own originally created characters.
[@yourbudolo on Twitter[13]]
I know y'all didn't intend it but coloring taako as green (or teal-blue here) is kinda wicked antisemitic

The reasoning is that in a lot of antsemitic propaganda jewish people were colored with unnatural colors, especially greens + yellows

If taako didn't have a witch hat (which also has antisemitic roots) it might be less of a problem but the combination of these is just Bad

An easy way to fix this is to just give taako a natural skin color, preferably a brown! Because while his name is a goof, it's still "taco"
[@drillbot14kv3 on Twitter[14]]
are you jewish?
if youre not, please dont speak for jewish people like me on matters like this. youre not being helpful. thank you
[@yourbudolo, in response to @drillbot14v3[15][16]]
Many jewish people I know have expressed the antisemitism of taako being green and their discomfort at it. My intent is to speak not (1/2)
So much for them, but to offer my voice alongside them. I'm boosting the voices of my friends (2/2)
[@drillbot14kv3, in response to @yourbudolo[16]]
that is understandable and i appreciate you boosting what youve heard from other jewish people
my input would be that there are much more widespread/dangerous symbologies that fuel antisemitism than this. ur point is valid but academic

Official Response (AKA, Griffin's Post)

The next day (June 2, 2017), Griffin McElroy addressed these discussions in a post on the official TAZ Tumblr.[17] His post was quite long, and went over a few different points.

Regarding Latinx Taako

There are listeners and fans who want us to, in pursuit of better representation, make Taako a canonically Latinx or Mexican character. The result of that decision would be that Justin had made a Mexican character that he named after tacos, whose quest was to make a taco, and who spent the first half of the campaign stealing everything that wasn’t nailed to the ground. That’s an oversimplified way of describing this inherently complicated problem. We have listeners who have no problem with Taako being a Mexican character named after tacos, as created by a white man. We have listeners who do have issues with that interpretation, and I can only imagine how a decision like that would read to someone who just picked this graphic novel up off a shelf at their local shop. We feel immensely uncomfortable with the idea of retroactively declaring Taako a member of any particular real-world group without factoring in that identity at all points while playing the game, viewing each action taken through a lens that has to be the first and last thing we would consider.

Regarding Blue Taako

After wrestling with the above considerations, we landed on a look that felt right for Taako, which was based on a look that had started to become more popular among the fan art community for the show, in which he was drawn with green skin. This was a while ago, and before the pushback against green Taako really kicked off. The historical basis for these claims are kind of speculative, but we took them seriously, and, in an effort to avoid running foul of them, went with more of a pale blue hue.

Regarding Sun Elves

Yesterday, we learned there’s a High Elf variant in the PHB — which, clearly, we didn’t read that carefully when we started — called the Moon Elf that has those features. There’s also a Sun Elf variant that has “bronze skin and hair of copper, black, or golden blond,” which we also didn’t know about. (Though we’ve gotten lots of criticism saying that Taako’s original pre-made character sheet said he was a Sun Elf, and that we willfully ignored that canon aspect of his character, none of which is remotely true.)

[...]

Could we just make him a Sun Elf, and make him look closer to what the folks who are leveraging these criticisms want him to look, without addressing the specific real-world cultural identity that they want him to fill? Or is that a chicken shit half measure, and would do more harm than good?

Final Apology

There’s not an easy solution. There just isn’t. We have fans who want us to do better, to have more diversity in the three main characters of this book. But those characters were created and played by white people who didn’t consider the ramifications of their every action when viewed through a specific cultural lens while playing. Yesterday, we heard from folks who said it was problematic that we made Merle brown, considering that he has a backstory where he was, more or less, a deadbeat dad. That’s a harsh boiling down of the character, but the criticism absolutely has merit. We didn’t think of that when we decided on Merle’s new design. But it’s kind of exactly what I’m talking about here: If the Taako in this graphic novel had dark skin, how many similar criticisms could be laid at his feet? If we gave Magnus dark skin, and then he spent the campaign being the more physical, more aggressive, less intellectual member of his team, there are issues there, too. Is any of that good representation?

[...]

The solution the whole team landed on for this graphic novel is imperfect. It has disappointed some people, and it is going to continue to disappoint some people. But there is no non-disappointing solution. And that’s not First Second’s fault, and it certainly isn’t Carey’s fault. It is completely because of the rock and a hard place that we’re positioned between, and all because of our failure to establish a solid foundation for these characters and their identities when we started this show. And for that, we’re so, earnestly, deeply sorry.

Archives and Links

References

  1. 'Adventure Zone' Graphic Novel Tops New York Times' Trade Fiction Best-Seller List
  2. 2.0 2.1 nerdist.com, ENTER THE ADVENTURE ZONE WITH A NEW GRAPHIC NOVEL SERIES (EXCLUSIVE), 1 December 2016, accessed 28 June 2017. archived link
  3. 'The Adventure Zone': McElroy Family Explains Their New Graphic Novel
  4. Exclusive 15 Pages From the Next Adventure Zone Graphic Novel
  5. some thoughts on the taz graphic novel
  6. Fan artist shares her thoughts on the importance of non-white fantasy characters (and TAZ) (boss1000 comment)
  7. 1. Yup, fuck, you’re right. We’ll be revisiting the designs before the book launches. We made them white cause we’re white and that’s BORING
  8. Fan artist shares her thoughts on the importance of non-white fantasy characters (and TAZ) (darshfloxington comment)
  9. Justin providing a characteristically classy response to accusations of whitewashing in the upcoming TAZ graphic novel (Eryius thread)
  10. Justin providing a characteristically classy response to accusations of whitewashing in the upcoming TAZ graphic novel (nilrealism thread)
  11. junebuggu asked: i... dont get all of this, really...
  12. The wait is over! Presenting the first ever look at final art from the #TAZ graphic novel. (193X thread)
  13. I know y'all didn't intend it but coloring taako as green (or teal-blue here) is kinda wicked antisemitic (thread)
  14. are you jewish? (thread)
  15. Many jewish people I know have expressed the antisemitism of taako being green and their discomfort at it. My intent is to speak not (1/2)
  16. 16.0 16.1 So much for them, but to offer my voice alongside them. I'm boosting the voices of my friends (2/2)
  17. On The Adventure Zone Graphic Novel, Blue Taako, and Representation