The year ahead is looking pixel perfect if you ask me.
In 2020, I published my seventh and eighth novels, released my first audiobook, and contributed a short story to a dreampunk anthology—among other things.
So what’s on deck for 2021? To quote the guys from Monty Python: “And now for something completely different.”
Well, maybe not completely different.
While I have no shortage of ideas for future books and, indeed, will be working on a short story collection for release later this year, I’ve decided to try my hand at a new storytelling medium—a comic.
More specifically, a webcomic.
Even more specifically, a pixel-art webcomic.
Curmudgeons & Flagons made its digital debut late last year with a getting-to-know-the-gang Issue 0. However, the first official issue was published on January 1, 2021. Here’s everything you need to know about my wonderfully retro webcomic:
What is Curmudgeons & Flagons about?
I’ll answer that question with another question: What do you do after you save the world?
As your golden years encroach, you’ll likely leave the adventuring life behind—though never the companions who helped you conquer foe after foe. Maybe there’s a cozy little place that remembers your party and is willing to give you a discount for your heroic deeds. It’s as good a place as any to lay down roots…
Curmudgeons & Flagons follows four former adventurers who while away their retirement in an inn, drinking, reliving their glory days, and questioning the nature of reality. It’s a humorous commentary on Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs), video game RPGs, and getting older—rendered in old-school pixel art.
Whom is Curmudgeons & Flagons about?
There are four main characters:
Osmund the Oak
A human monk with a mission, this one-time master of the quarterstaff has become a major stick in the mud. Osmund was the party leader back in the day. He probably thinks he’s still in charge.
A dwarven fighter with a lust for life, she possesses a hunger for battle that is eclipsed only by her thirst for ale. As a dwarf, she has aged slower than her companion. Don’t you dare tell her she is past her prime!
Is he a human? A demon? No one has ever seen this sneaky (and sleepy) spellcaster without his shadowy hood. Although he’s the most reserved member of the party, Kaf’ael is full of surprises.
A healer and supposed prophetess, she claims to know the future. But don’t ask her what she had for breakfast. While Sidra comes off as flighty at times, her heart is always in the right place.
There will also be a few minor characters who will pop in every now and then, including the Innkeeper, Farmer Geoff, Gnorbert the Gnome, and even a rival band of heroes.
Why did you decide to create a webcomic?
Having been a fan of graphic novels since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to write a full-fledged comic book. When I was young, I tried producing my own, but I lacked the artistic chops to illustrate what was in my head.
Later, a group of friends and I attempted to collaborate on a series of one-shots that would have included a streamlined version of The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot. That group project fizzled, so I ended up transforming the inklings of that plot into a YA fantasy novel.
But I still wanted to explore this visual artform.
The idea for Curmudgeons & Flagons came out of nowhere on 3/31/20, though I didn’t know it was a comic at the time. I thought maybe it was a short story or novel about aging adventurers who have to come out of retirement to defeat the one monster they never bested. I jotted down more ideas as the months went by, roughly mapping out their unexpected quest. I even tinkered with the idea of making C&F into a low-tech video game.
Eventually, I realized that the concept could work as a webcomic as well—especially if the former heroes never leave the inn. Maybe one day I’ll try my hand at a game, but for now, I’m content to check “comic” off of my bucket list.
Why did you choose the pixel art style?
As mentioned above, I’m not an illustrator. Though I used to sketch when I was younger, I never developed that talent into a marketable skill—at least not for a medium as demanding as a comic book.
But I love pixel art. It makes me smile because it reminds me of the video games I grew up playing on the original Nintendo and Super Nintendo, including Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, Ultima: Quest of the Avatar, and so forth. And I’m amused at how many pixel-art video games are still being made—from lesser-known titles like Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic to Mojang’s juggernaut, Minecraft.
The beauty of pixel art is that it’s deceptively simple. Anyone can stack squares to create an image, but the trick is using as few details as possible to get the point across. Could I make my own sprites from scratch?
I had to try.
During the artist retreat I took with my wife last year, I began playing with different software, attempting to create my own boxy art assets. Before the week was over, I had created the four main characters and most of the inn.
And I really enjoyed doing it. On the one hand, it’s an awfully forgiving format. I mean, I’m intentionally making art that is simple and angular and admittedly janky. On the other hand, I get to use both sides of my brain to manage the aesthetics and mathematics of each individual piece.
In general, pixel art makes me smile. Creating my own pixel art makes me want to do a happy dance.
Who is the target audience for Curmudgeons & Flagons?
These episodic, five-panel comics are my experiments with a new-for-me kind of storytelling. They don’t have to be laugh-out-loud funny or masterpieces in plotting. In short, I’m producing C&F for S&Gs.
Having said that, I know I’m not the only one who grew up losing themselves in pixel-y fantasy worlds. Many a middle-aged gamer—whether a tabletop adventurer or video game geek—will be able to relate to the tropes and topics I explore in the comic.
It’s a somewhat silly project that makes me happy. Hopefully, it’ll make other fans of fantasy happy too.
Where can I read Curmudgeons & Flagons?
Curmudgeons & Flagons is published exclusively by One Million Words (my imprint) via Graphite Comics, an online hub for digital comics of all kinds.
I’ll be releasing a new issue every Friday in 2021.
— Editor’s Update: Graphite Comics is no more, but all issues of Vol. 1 can be found here!
How much does it cost to read the webcomic?
If I get enough clicks each month, I could get a cut of Graphite Comics’ revenue-sharing pool. But honestly, I’m not publishing this webcomic to make money. It’s a passion project through and through.
Will Curmudgeons & Flagons be available in print?
If I find a fanbase for C&F, I’d love to combine all of Volume 1 (the 53 issues coming out in 2021) into a trade paperback. However, that will depend largely upon readership…so tell your geeky friends to click on through an issue or two!
What do you hope to accomplish with this webcomic?
I’ve already done what I set out to do: create an original comic.
Yet it would be awfully nice if I found an audience for this enchanting example of dry humor and RPG love. Finding actual fans would give me an excuse to make (and wear) T-shirts bearing the logo, characters, and so forth. It might also motivate me to get the gang out of the inn, so to speak, either in a serialized webcomic storyline or a work of interactive fiction—such as the indie video game mentioned earlier.
And if those who stumble upon Curmudgeons & Flagons become interested in my other published works, so much the better!