Thursday, January 31, 2019

Mr. James Gifford

Why is it when I see something like this, I don’t automatically think, “Cool, what a great way to depict teaching people about D&D …”? Why is it my first instinct is to tear it all down? It is a thoughtful, richly effective manner of presentation. We can depict the game table, the players, the DM, the fantasy setting, all at the same time as we need to; if I had a comic artist as talented as James Gifford at my side, I would certainly take advantage of this strategy.

And yet … groan. There is this deep, acute scraping I can feel on the vertebrae of my lower back as I read the comic. Right off ~ the DM’s self-righteous introduction, his face, the pretentious choice to have one of the players get Shakespearean out of the gate (inaccurately using the idiom), the very idea that people who know how to fill out their own character sheets don’t know what a saving throw is, the cheesy internet complaint (never heard in real life outside a cheesy mass tournament setting) about “homework” … it all just rankles.

I put myself in the scene, I suppose. I don’t react well to anyone that speaks patronizingly to my questions; or tells me that he’ll answer them later when he thinks it’s the right time. I automatically distrust people who say, “I will inform you on what you need to do when we get to that point.” I mean, it sets bells ringing in my head; like the bells everyone ought to hear when reading anything that starts, “I am a Nigerian prince …” You’re asking me to invest myself in something I don’t understand, that you do, when very obviously there’s an other shoe that is going to drop at some point. Uh, no. Fuck you.

I’m going to say this. D&D is a game. I am a storyteller and I can say without a doubt that D&D is absolutely nothing like storytelling. Whenever I see someone return to this old saw to describe what the game is, I immediately go to this place where I think, “How? How is it like storytelling? When I tell a story, I carefully formulate every part of the story, already knowing the whole story, so that I can decide what order the story will be told to get the best effect. For example, my uncle Max used to be an explorer, and was particularly interested in strange and obscure birds. While in Australia, he heard tell of a bird called a Fu. This bird, he was told, had a biology that would transform its diet into a deadly poison, discharging this poison through its excrement. The poison was very harmful to the skin; but only if the skin was exposed to oxygen after coming into contact with the Fu’s guano. Well, as it happened, while exploring the Fu’s territory, my uncle Max was pooped on by a passing Fu ~ and without thinking about it, he wiped the discharge away. Immediately, the air reacted with the place the excrement had touched and my uncle was stricken with fever. He would have died, except that his faithful friend Joseph managed to get him to a hospital on time. I’m glad to say my uncle lived to tell me this story; and he would always say, “When the Fu shits, wear it.”

This is how storytelling works. I know the ending; each part of the story is carefully crafted so as not to reveal the ending. I use specific phrases and words so that although the reader knows I’m going somewhere, the destination is unsure. Each sentence fits into the story like a puzzle piece, until you see the whole picture. It is a craft to tell a story.

Supposing that because we don’t know how a D&D game will go means that it’s a story is like saying if I ask five people to glue sticks of wood together for a time it is like making a chair. When I read or see people use this analogy, it doesn’t just tell me they don’t know what the fuck D&D is, it tells me they don’t know what a story is, either. They’re stupid twice.

This is NOT a good way to teach what D&D is … no matter how nice the pictures are or how cheerful and friendly we make the little depictions of cute, air-headed players.

Perhaps this is it. Perhaps it’s because no matter how elegant the presentation is, if you’re just going to shovel the same shit, I’m going to tell you it stinks.

Three times in my life I have made a partnership with an artist in order to create a graphic novel [see? I’m starting another story]. Each time, the arrangement was the same: I would write the story and the dialogue and the artist would draw the images and color it. Frank Miller was able to work with Bill Sienkiewicz, Alan Moore was able to work with Dave Gibbons, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez were able to work together … but every time I tried to make it work the comic artist would decide, “Why don’t I just do the writing, too?” The reason why is obvious ~ not to the artist, but to everyone else. The Art Spiegelmans of the world are rare.

Just because you can draw doesn’t make you a teacher. Just because you’re a DM doesn’t mean you’re not just apparently kind and helpful, but in fact a condescending, ignorant, self-promoting, toffee-nosed git. Is that fair? Look at the comic. Note how after the pompous delivery (“through courage, blah blah, your boundless imagination”) the immediate go-to joke is to depict your players as a murder-hobo. Followed by an enormously contemptuous, “sigh.”

Hey, Mr. Comic-Man … you made the choices here is your “story.” You chose to cast the DM as the Hero, as the snooty, stuck-up fancy-pants while casting your players as crazy-eyed, whining, lazy cry-babies. Why is that? Because while you’re explaining what you think a story is, I think it’s fair that I explain what your story is.

From out here in the cheap seats, your research looks half-baked. Your motives seem suspect. Your agenda looks awfully facetious. What makes you think you’ve got the answers? Who the fuck are you, besides being a comic book artist?

He’s probably cribbing. And since I don’t like the sources he’s cribbing from, there’s not much reason to like this, either.

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