Review: The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins by the McElroy family & Carey Pietsch

Rating: 5 stars
Release Date: July 17, 2018
Publisher: First Second
Genre: fantasy graphic novel, humor
Format/Source: paperback, library
Status: book 1 of The Adventure Zone series

Welcome to the Adventure Zone!

SEE! The illustrated exploits of three lovable dummies set loose in a classic fantasy adventure!

READ! Their journey from small-time bodyguards to world-class artifact hunters!

MARVEL! At the sheer metafictional chutzpah of a graphic novel based on a story created in a podcast where three dudes and their dad play a tabletop role playing game in real time!

Join Taako the elf wizard, Merle the dwarf cleric, and Magnus the human warrior for an adventure they are poorly equipped to handle AT BEST, guided ("guided") by their snarky DM, in a graphic novel that, like the smash-hit podcast it's based on, will tickle your funny bone, tug your heartstrings, and probably pants you if you give it half a chance.

With endearingly off-kilter storytelling from master goofballs Clint McElroy and the McElroy brothers, and vivid, adorable art by Carey Pietsch, The Adventure Zone: Here There be Gerblins is the comics equivalent of role-playing in your friend's basement at 2am, eating Cheetos and laughing your ass off as she rolls critical failure after critical failure.

First I need to give thanks to my friend Emily of The Bookwyrm Reads for making me read this graphic novel. Her (rather forceful) suggestion will go into my Recommendation Hall of Fame (if I had such a thing) because I loved this graphic novel so much that I started listening to the TAZ podcast—AND I DON'T LIKE PODCASTS. But I'm now completely addicted to the McElroy brand of audio shenanigans so I'm already planning to listen to their other shows when I inevitably run out of TAZ episodes.

To catch any of you non-TAZphites up: Here There Be Gerblins covers the first chapter of the first overall story arc of The Adventure Zone (it's called the Balance arc & it's 69 episodes long. Here There Be Gerblins is 6 episodes of that). It's a fairly straightforward fantasy adventure plucked right out of the D&D handbook—but don't worry! You can still read it if you aren't a D&D player or if you haven't listened to the podcast. I have played D&D before, but I had not listened to the podcast, and I caught up quick! Clint in particular did a REALLY good job adapting a sometimes rambling and unrelated joke-filled podcast (and condensing 7 1/2 hours of story) into a graphic novel story arc.

For me, Here There Be Gerblins really worked because it gave me a solid introduction to our three heroes Magnus, Taako, and Merle as well as the tone of The Adventure Zone. In a word, the tone is goofy. These guys—both the characters and the people behind them—don't take themselves seriously so even with it being a straightforward fantasy story, there are all kinds of shenanigans. In order to keep the D&D flavor of the podcast, the characters sort of break the 4th wall—not by talking to the reader, but by talking to Griffin the dungeon master, who can be found in various side panels providing colorful commentary, such as Chapter 4's travel montage, discussing who is the lovechild of John Goodman and John Stamos, and angrily stating he'll buy a thesaurus during a disagreement about the past tense of the verb "cleave". It's just a cheeky silly way to connect the graphic novel with the podcast and maintain the not-at-all-serious vibe the story has going for it.

As for our three mostly-derpy-yet-heroic heroes, readers will get a really good sense of who they are. Taako is the self-involved but extremely proficient and sass-mouthed flashy elf wizard, Magnus (my darling Magnus) is a brawny act-before-you-think action hero human fighter, and Merle is the not-great-at-healing-but-he-still-tries dwarf cleric. What's really fun about them is... they're fun. I say Taako is sassy (he has some great, witty lines), but they all are, tbh. This will become even more apparent in future installments, but these guys don't always do the super obvious thing. This arc of the podcast was the guys figuring out their characters so there are changes later on (like Taako's school of magic), but even in Here There Be Gerblins, the Tres Horny Boys don't go straight from point A to point Z in a direct line, and I really appreciate that. It makes the story more interesting. These guys are also (mostly) big-hearted, but they also don't say no to looting dead bodies.... even the ones of their friends' dead family members. Which... respect. It's all well and good to be noble, but sometimes you just got to get PAID. Additionally, the side characters are all really cool.

Last but not least: the art. Carey Pietsch I know was a longtime fan of the podcast, and in addition to creating her own fanart back at the beginning, she also curated a zine full of other fanart, AND one of the other characters in the show was named after her. So I love that she was hired to do the art for this graphic novel. And. she. NAILED. it! The character art is spot on, and the illustrations are color-drenched and often sparkly. I think Carey did a good job showing the story where in the podcast, it's Griffin narrating. I loved seeing this world come to life on the page! There's also a great fanart gallery in the back of the book with some truly spectacular pieces of art featuring fans' interpretations of the Tres Horny Boys and their friends. Although Carey has drawn the characters one way, in the podcast the McElroys didn't often describe the characters on purpose so lots of artists have envisioned them lots of different ways (although I want man-bun Merle to be canon).

And if any of you are wondering, because this installment was the getting-to-know-you installment, yes, there are mostly male characters (Killian being the only exception). But there ARE a number of powerful female characters in this story. Lovers of f/f, prepare yourselves because there are a couple lesbian couples. There's also a really amazing trans woman who shows up down the line.

This review turned out WAY longer than I meant it to (isn't that always my way), but trust me: if you have an hour or two, and you're looking for something goofy and fun, give The Adventure Zone a shot. I'm already dying for book 2!

Purchase Links:

About the Author:
Meet the McElroys! Clint was born first, which recent studies have shown is the best procedure for fathers and sons. Justin came along twenty-five years later, two weeks late, actually, which caused his mother, Leslie, some consternation and more than a little back pain. Three years to the day (yes, the very day) Travis came along, forever ruining Justin’s birthday, at least according to Justin. The decision was made to not have a third child born on November 8th, so Griffin arrived three-and-a-half years later on April 17th. There followed this decade and that, during which there was a lot of school, theater, broadcasting, video games, moving around the country and various and sundry monkeyshines. Then came a time for fewer monkeyshines, so a ton of marriages happened and people were added to the family branch. In the midst of all this begetting, podcasts began springing up in even greater abundance and their names were My Brother My Brother and Me (which spawned a popular tv show), Sawbones, Shmanners, Rose Buddies, and a farcical romp called The Adventure Zone.

Carey Pietsch is a cartoonist based out of Brooklyn, New York. Her previous work includes drawing two arcs of the Lumberjanes series and the artwork for the Mages of Mystralia webcomic. Carey is also the author of Keepsakes and other original comics about magic and empathy. Along with brightening her workdays, The Adventure Zone got her to join a D&D campaign, where she’s currently playing a dragonborn sorceror who cares too much about romance novels.

Author Links:


  1. What a great review! I'm so glad you liked it! Also it was payment for all the 'forceful' recommendations you've sent me! (you know the ONE)!

    1. I was absolutely due a forceful recommendation from someone, but I don't regret AT ALL throwing books your way. Like you didn't like Song of the Current. *scoffs*

  2. Cheers to friends who push books on you that you love! Those are the best times. I'm glad this one was such a win for you.

    Thanks for sharing,
    ~Brittany @ Brittany's Book Rambles

    1. Usually I do all the pushing, but I'm such a mood reader that I'm horrible to recommend things to. I'm REALLY glad this one was such a good one!

  3. It's great that they were able to develop this imaginative story and make a graphic novel!