A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Jim Wampler, the man behind Marvin the Mage, a webcomic that started up only a few weeks before. So, I read the comic, wrote up a review, and then sat down to do an interview with him.
Apollo: How did you get the idea for Marvin and his pals?
Jim: The main idea behind Marvin the Mage was to do a D&D comic in the spirit of the ones that used to run in the back of Dragon Magazine. For those of us who go back that far, the pinnacle of D&D comic strips were Finieous Fingers and Wormy. J.D. Webster and David A. Trampier were gaming cartoon geniuses.
Most of the main characters in Marvin the Mage are loosely based on D&D characters and players from games in which I’ve played. As a GM, I’ve developed a theory that whatever alignment a player chooses for his character, 90 percent of all players are themselves chaotic neutral — which is reflected in the comic. As a very young player I ran a sarcastic and chaotic mage who’s main running buddy was a halfling thief named Tarrin, and we were the bane of our DM’s existence. In another campaign my two best friends ran a redheaded elf cleric and a lawful good knight (though he was considerably brighter than Sir Bruno), so that’s where those characters came from. I also steal shamelessly from every media source that I’ve ever been exposed to, so there are innumerable meta-jokes crammed into every page because it amuses me.
Apollo: Do you play any D&D style games?
Jim: I grew up playing 1st edition AD&D (which is still my favorite version of the game) and barring the occasional use of dramatic license, those are the rules that operate in Marvin the Mage. I’ve run a Gamma World campaign off-and-on for decades, and new player characters always start in a huge castle that really exists in Versailles, Kentucky close to where I grew up. I’m currently lucky enough to be playing in former Dragon editor Tim Kask’s OD&D campaign. Tim runs Original D&D from the small brown books circa 1974, so it’s old school even by my standards, and I love it. Whereas it can take all night to kill a small band of Kobolds in D&D 4E, it’s nothing for our group to get halfway through a dungeon adventure in a single night – in other words mondo big fun!
Apollo: I noticed you have rules for a card game on the site, that is mentioned in the comics. How did you come up with it?
Jim:Because I’m also a game designer and slightly insane, so I can’t just let a one-panel throwaway joke alone — I had to write up the rules and try it out myself. I don’t know how much of a card gameFollow the Enchantress is, but I can tell you that our playtest group got many a great beer-and-pretzels gaming night out of it — and no one had to open a booster pack to do it.
Apollo: How far ahead to you have the story planned?
Jim: I have plots outlined about six stories ahead, and full scripts written before I begin each individual story. Because I’m the writer and the artist, it’s a very interactive process however, and things change all of the time. An example of this is Ma’at the Moocher in the current storyline. The script for the prior story just called for a generic annoying retail customer-type character to come along and give Marvin a hard time, but while drawing it I decided to base the character on the Batman TV show villain King Tutt. By the next story he’s now a secondary character who gets three pages center stage in order to set up the plot McGuffin. Asmodeus (as played in the strip by Star Trek TNG’s Michael Dorn) will also be back in a story or two.
Apollo: What’s the hardest part of the comic making process for you?
Jim: Doing a comic book the old fashioned way in a labor-intensive process. I can sit down and knock out a 12-15 page script in an afternoon, but pencilling and inking a page is a solid day’s work, not counting scanning the page, and lettering and coloring it digitally. Coloring a page in Photoshop takes me anywhere from 3-4 hours, depending on how nuts I want to go with it. You’ll never meet a comic book artist who doesn’t absolutely love what they do, because otherwise no one would subject themselves to all of the work involved…
Apollo: Are there any comics that inspire you?
Jim:Besides the old Dragon Magazine comics that I already mentioned, I adore Jolly Blackburn’s Knights of the Dinner Table. Jolly really is the gold standard today by which all other gamer comics are measured, and he’s a helluva nice guy. He recently let me put the Knights in as background cameos in a 4-page Marvin story that’s appearing in this year’s Gary Con IV events guide. In the single-panel cartoons, I sometimes have Marvin and the gang sitting around a table gaming, and those are all homages to Jolly and KODT.
I’m also a huge fan of Rich Burlew’s The Order of the Stick and Rob Balder’s Erfworld webcomics. Both are about the best written gamer comics out there, deftly combining comedy with drama and adventure.
Apollo: Any comments you want to leave any potential readers?
Jim:Read my webcomic, please! I’ve got gambling debts to feed… But more seriously, I just want to thank the readers who have already taken the time to respond and comment on the comic. Launching a gamer webcomic out onto the immense ocean of the Internet where it must compete with thousands of others is a daunting task to say the least. It’s always gratifying to know that I’ve amused anyone besides myself.