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King of RPGs Vol. 1
Story by Jason Thompson; Art by Victor Hao
Del Rey, 240 pages, $10.99
Jason Thompson is a talented, erudite guy. He knows more about manga than I can ever hope to absorb in the rest of my lifetime. His Manga: The Complete Guide is one of the best reference guides on the subject around and one of the most frequently pulled books off of my shelves. His monthly (or whenever) column on Comixology brims with intelligence and wit. Plus, he’s got a helluva collection.
All of which makes it more than a bit sad for me to report that I didn’t very much care for King of RPGs, Thompson’s his first official entry into the world of published comics (along with artist Victor Hao). Part of the problem may entirely be with me, as I’m not much of a fan of the comic’s (or OEL manga if you prefer) subject matter, classic, tabletop role-playing games, to begin with. My friends in high school in college would constantly attempt to get me involved in a game and I’d go along to get along, only to be bored stiff after the first hour. Why is it taking so long to set up my character? What do you mean I have to “roll for initiative”? It’s been three hours, can we stop playing now? Aren’t there better things we could be doing with our time?
But I don’t think my dislike for the book is solely due to my distaste for the topic. The main problem with King of RPGs is it’s too loud. The characters are so broad and two dimensional, and the situations so over the top in their attempt to be “zany,” that they stretch the limits of credulity to the breaking point and sink any hope the reader may have at identifying or at least sympathizing with the characters. With the volume constantly turned up to 11, there’s no room for nuance. I didn’t once find the main character Shesh’s split personality — he turns into a psychotic maniac when he gets too involved in role-playing — amusing, mainly because Thompson seems to find the situation itself funny and doesn’t try to make it funny, if you see the difference. It doesn’t help that guy has a name like “Shesh” either.
Hao’s art has some of the same problems as Thompson’s text. It’s unnecessarily cluttered and busy, bearing a rough, shakily thin line that suggests a lack of polish more than anything else (there’s way too much greytone shading as well). His backgrounds feel generic and boxy — I never got the sense that I was in an actual town or college, more that the walls and tables were mere decorative props that would fall over if someone leaned against them too hard.
King of RPGs had the potential to be a rich, amusing look at an offbeat hobby. It’s certainly full of colorful characters, both in the real world and in the various games. But Thompson and Hao haven’t entrusted the subject matter enough to give the work any real depth or humor, relying instead on thin cliches and forced absurdity. The end result is a comic that’s unlikely to please either hardcore devotees or those unfamiliar to the medium.