Saturday, March 11, 2006

While You Were Reading The Big Two: Knights Of The Dinner Table #113

Knights of the Dinner Table #113
Company Name: Kenzer and Company
Writer: Jolly Blackburn, David Kenzer & Steve Johansson.
Artist: Jolly Blackburn

Let me say something right at the start; this book is not for everyone.

As far as subject matter goes, this book is 100% pure geek material. It caters to a niche, specifically role-playing gamers who read comics.

It doesn’t have any big, complicated storylines. The plots usually center around the characters sitting around the tables playing their games or doing things related to their gaming. There’s no action to speak of except for the occasional fight over a sexist remark or a bad call by the gamemaster. There is romance, but it is usually limited to us knowing two characters are involved with very little depiction of the relationship outside of the context of their mutual hobby. But mostly, there is drama – both on and off the dinner table of Muncie Indiana’s respective gamers.

It doesn’t have any big fancy artwork. In fact, the comic’s artist freely admits to having no talent and most of the comics feature the same clips of various characters, with the mouths changed slightly. If you look at the cover of this book and say that you could do better, Jolly Blackburn would probably be the first to agree with you. Indeed, his opening address to the readers at the start of this issue talks about how he had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into doing a cover for this issue – his first in nine years, because he fully believes he is a bad artist and his work would keep people from buying the book.

So why on earth should you spend your money on this book if I, a huge fan of the series, admit that the art isn’t the best, the writing isn’t that complex and that unless you’ve ever gone to a LARP, played Magic: The Gathering or spent a Friday night rolling d20s you probably won’t like it?

Because it is funny.

Simply put, there is a reason why Knights of the Dinner Table, or KODT as we initiates call it, is the longest running gamer-related comic in the world. It is because in spite of and perhaps maybe because of its’ ”flaws”, it is the most true depiction of its subject. And call me crazy, but isn’t that the most basic point of art?

As I said, this probably isn't a book you’ll enjoy if you’re not already a gamer – much of the humor will be lost on you. But in spite of it being a niche comic, Blackburn and company infuse more real characterization and story than any similar comic.

Take a scene from this issue, for instance, where Bob, Dave and Brian (three friends) are discussing a magical item from D&D called ”The Deck of Many Things”. All you need to know is that it’s a magic deck of tarot-style cards that bring great fortune or great misery upon the drawer of the cards depending on what cards are dealt out. Brian makes the point that if such a thing were real, nobody would use it for fear of what might happen. Bob challenges him on this point and as Brian uses a mock-card deck as a test, the men begin to discuss just WHAT would happen if they actually drew the cards they do.

This, in itself, is not that funny. What IS funny is when the usually unlucky Bob goes off on a winning streak and wins three magical wishes as well as the services of a henchman – a 4th level fighter of unwavering loyalty. And that leads to Dave pointing out, as Bob ponders the implications of having a thug to do his bidding, that nothing says it couldn’t be a female fighter. And THAT leads to the men discussing just which ”chick who can literally kick my ass” would be the best one to have at your beck and call; Buffy, River from Firefly, Xena, Trinity, Gabrielle, the chick from Underworld or Lara Croft.

If you’re any kind of geek, you’ve probably had tangential conversations to similar effect. That is the genius of this book – it reads like something that happened to you and even if you aren’t a gamer, you likely know somebody like Bob or Dave or Brian. The characters are true to life, in spite of some of the zanier aspects of the strips. Among these is Squirley the Chimp, the unfortunate centerpiece of this issue.

I say unfortunate because about half of the comics of this issue are devoted to Squirley, pet and employee of Weird Pete; owner of the local game store. In the last issue, Pete was wrongly jailed and used his one phone call to get Squirley to call for help – a task which Squirley is easily distracted from.

As much as I hate to say it, the number of comics in this issue showing Squirley sitting on the chair watching TV just smacks of a lazy attempt to pad out the drama and the issue. That is why I’m giving this particularly issue a lower rating than usual, even though the comic itself is usually one of my top 5 monthly books.

But there is more to this book than just the comics. As the cover says, this is KODT Magazine despite the comic-size. In addition to the comics, there’s a number of articles on gamer culture, game reviews, sections that allow the readers to contribute their war-stories or character designs. There are even comic reviews if you’re into that kind of thing. But for my money, the best of these features is Noah Antwiler’s A Gamer’s Rant on the Movies – a column which does to bad sci-fi and fantasy movies what I do to the collective works of Ron Zimmerman.

In short, while it does cater to a niche market, KODT is the best at what it does and what it does is funny. Not convinced? There’s plenty of free comic goodness on the Kenzerco website so you can give it a looksee without paying for a single issue. You can also read Noah Antwiler’s movie rants on-line at The Spoony Experiment.

Score: C

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