2010/05/19

D&D comics history part 1 - Cartoon ads

In 1981/82, TSR, to promote D&D, published in comics a strip of cartoon-shaped ads.
It depicted the adventures of Saren the cleric, Indel the rogue, Valerius the warrior and Grimslade the mage at Zenopus castle...

I am very grateful to Das √úbernerd's post that made me discover these ads.
I am also very interested in the concept of the story being an endless loop... cf comments in his post.

If the first page's artist is unknown (high probability it was drawn by Keenan Powell, who is credited for her arts in early D&D rule books and extensions), 2nd page was done by Jeff Dee and all the other ones by Bill Willingham.


 
 
 

You can find funny and very inspired frame-by-frame analysis by Christopher B of the 4 first pages at his "A Rust Monster Ate My Sword" blog. Enjoy ! ;)


Then I somehow managed to get another cartoon ad for D&D, relating adventures of Auric, Tirra and the wizard Khellek in the Dungeon of Roakire.
(Also by Bill Willingham)

It s dated 1981.

My first bet, checking the TSR "reply-coupon" (not sure of translation here... :P) which doesn t include the UK address, was it started to be published before summer '81 as well as first 2 ads from the Zenopus series.
I did some digging, and in fact these ads ran from october '81 to april '82 in magazines like Dragon or Epic illustrated...

This is a 4 pages strip :



And, icing on the cake, it also exists a third set !

This one has a title : Quest through the Savage Country
Dated 1982 (released from june), it is featuring a ranger named Rory Gellan and Shadrak the gnome rogue being recruited to help Khellek, the wizard from Roakire series.

It is obviously the sequel of the precedent story.
We could bet it was meant to be also a 4 pages strip but story ends in midstream as the following pages were never drawn according to Bill Willingham.

Here s how it starts :


Any further infos about these ads or any other I am not aware of would be greatly welcomed !

*I finally decided to insert here the part of the interview of Bill Willingham that concerns these ads for a record... web-pages tending to disappear in the limbos after a while... :

DEPPEY: Generally, when most people think of your work at TSR, unless they were there buying the modules at the time, most people that I know associate you with the ads that appeared in Marvel. In fact, in that comics interview that you did for David Anthony Kraft, they ran a random Marvel Dungeons & Dragons ad and, if I remember correctly, it wasn’t even your artwork. You weren’t the first person to draw those, correct?
WILLINGHAM: No. Myself and a fellow named Jeff Dee were the two artists in the art department that were very into comics. We’d even gotten to the point of getting a meeting with Gary Gygax to try and convince him to start a line of comics, TSR-published comics. He gave that idea to the Dragon magazine person, who just hated comics and everything about them and who said he looked into it and it’s not viable. So we were kind of disappointed that we’re both frustrated comic artists working at TSR. And TSR’s ad department, which is completely separate from the art department, did a deal with Marvel Comics to run ads in the comics and they did this little comic-strip ad. They hired some outside person to do the first one, who knew nothing, turned in this wretched first episode or whatever you call it.
DEPPEY: Yeah, it was ugly.
WILLINGHAM: And yeah, Jeff saw that before I did and went storming to the other building, pointing out, panel by panel, everything that was wrong with how they did what they did. And rather than fire him, they said, “Well, that all makes sense. Why don’t you do it from now on?” He did the second one and did a wonderful job and then — I cannot recall why — either he got bored with it or decided not to do it. I took it over with the third one, attempting to draw like Jeff Dee, who’s a terrific artist, whereas at the time I was anything but. And I think the results are pretty obvious for anyone who looks at that stuff now.
DEPPEY: Somebody posted all of the Marvel Comics ads on your message board, and I got a chance to look through it, and you could actually see your style improving from ad to ad.
WILLINGHAM: Oh really? I can’t.
DEPPEY: Really?
WILLINGHAM: All of that stuff just… I can barely look at it, it’s so embarrassing to me.
DEPPEY: The story stopped in midstream; was that because the ad department had done something or was that because you had left TSR?
WILLINGHAM: No, actually, I left TSR before those stories ended, and they kept… Steve Sullivan was writing those things, I was drawing them… and they kept us both on on a freelance basis to continue doing them, but at some point, we’d finished up one little storyline and were just starting another, and someone in some other department or whatever had decided, “You know, maybe running comic-strip ads in a comic book is not the way to go.” Which I agree with, by the way. You want your ad to stand out. It’s like, if you run comic-strip ads in a magazine that isn’t comics, it’ll grab your attention, but why see a commercial that’s just more of what you’re reading anyway?
There were a lot of restrictions. TSR was getting very weary about the bad publicity it’d been getting. Remember when James Dallas Egbert disappeared in the sewers at some point, allegedly playing Dungeons & Dragons, and all that?
DEPPEY: Yeah, and somebody did a very bad after-school movie on it.
WILLINGHAM: Yeah, Mazes and Monsters with Tom Hanks. TSR was getting a lot of bad publicity then, even though it turns out he didn’t disappear in the sewers playing D&D, that he had decided to hitchhike to Texas to see his dad. His parents were divorced. But, you know, that’s not a sexy story. Any case, TSR was very worried about, you know, “We don’t want to get a bad rap.” Some of the religious groups were saying this was promoting magic and demonics, so there was a lot of rules. We have this group going to the dungeons: Don’t ever show them actually killing anything; don’t ever show a cleric doing anything because that will get the religious people upset; don’t show them grabbing gold because we don’t want to promote greed. [Deppey laughs.] Very sort of silly, silly rules. So if you’ll go back and notice, a lot of the comic strips are… you know, they’re wandering through the dungeons, some animal leaps out at them and then that’s the cliffhanger ending. Then the next strip will pick up later, after they slay the jackalwere, or that type of thing. We showed a lot of what happens between all the interesting things happening. But at some point, I think someone in the ad department just decided, “This isn’t going anywhere, we’re gonna try a different tack,” and canceled it mid-story.

10 comments:

  1. I used to love reading these adds, back in the day, and always wondered why they were never collected into a comic.

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  2. Thanks for your comment !
    Glad this post found some reader ! :)

    I am still looking for other D&D cartoon ads, if ya remember having read any other one, dun hesitate to tell me. (I tried to find the following pages of the last sequel but without any result yet...)

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  3. From what I understand, there aren't any additional pages. The guy that was in charge of creating the adds felt that they just didn't stand out enough, and stopped having them produced. Bill Willingham talks about how they came out in an interview he did.

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  4. Interview found (I added the link in post as well as artists' ones).
    Thanks for the hint !

    But damn... I wanna know the end of the story...
    T___T
    how frustrating heh... XD

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  5. I used to love these, back in the day, as well! I'm pretty sure that Stephen Sullivan had something to do with them (he might have even done the art on the first one), as I remember talking with him about it at Gary Con two years ago.

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  6. I saw the one where tirra the elf is fried by a beholder and thought khellek set this up to off the lawful elf and leave lawful auric to recieve the helm of alignment change turning him into warduke...

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  7. Indeed it really looks like Warduke's helm... interesting point !

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  8. Photobucket fucked it all up...
    Pictures will be reloaded soon...

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  9. Added the W.Billingham's interview part concerning these ads for a record.

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