Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Travellers

In general, I'm not a fan of "gaming comics." With the exception of Wormy, which, in my opinion, isn't really a gaming comic anyway, I find most of them decidedly un-funny, primarily, I think, because their creators don't really get the fine distinctions between humor, satire, and irony that are necessary to make comics of this sort work.

Mark Harrison's The Travellers, which appeared in the pages of White Dwarf between 1983 and 1986, is a rare example to the contrary. Based, as its name would suggest, on GDW's classic SF RPG, Traveller, The Travellers tells the story of the five-man crew of the trading vessel Osprey, as they go from world to world in search of easy credits. What I really like about the comic, though, is the way that Harrison manages to capture the feel of what it was like to play Traveller in the early 80s without being self-conscious about it. The Osprey's adventures are comedies of errors, fueled by equal parts greed and violence, and filled with characters, places, and situations ripped bleeding from every SF novel, TV show, and movie within easy reach. That's how I remember actually playing the game, even if my aspirations were often much higher.

I'd never make the claim that The Travellers is high art, but it's a gaming comic, so I take that as given. It is, however, a fascinating window on the past, one that reveals a lot about the culture surrounding one of my favorite RPGs. And, besides, "Gavin's Swan Song" is a joy to behold.

24 comments:

  1. Why does Wormy get so much love from folks?

    (I'm not saying it shouldn't! Just curious why it always gets a shout-out; I only saw a few of the comics, never in any useful story order, so I don't have an opinion on it.)

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  2. Even though somebody is going to leap on me for advocating torrent sharing (because they are better people, of course), you can get the White Dwarf Archive at demonoid.com. The only catch is that you have to be a member and they only open that up once a month or so. Even still, the WDA is worth trying to get.

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  3. Why does Wormy get so much love from folks?

    I can only speak for myself, but I feel is Wormy great, because it presents interesting characters in an imaginative setting that's impressively realized through its art. It's a quirky, idiosyncratic take on fantasy that is unlike other fantasy, in its own era or now. I also think its humor is well done and subtle.

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  4. brasspen,

    In the case of The Travellers, no torrents are needed, as Mark Harrison has kindly made all the episodes of the comic available online for free, via the link in this post.

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  5. I really ought to read these posts more slowly...

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  6. A thumbs up for The Travellers from me. I also liked Thrudd The Barbarian and Gobbledigook, both of which also appeared in WD. However, although they were well drawn, they never got close to the humour of The Travellers.

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  7. I loved Wormy; it's a shame Tramp walked away from it all.

    Though, as far as gaming comics go, I have to admit my secret shame of enjoying KoDT. I could never game with the groups depicted on its pages, but it does make me laugh.

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  8. Thrud made a reappearance a few years ago, with some of the early stories redrawn in Carl Critchlow's new art style. Critchlow also contributed to some of WotC's D&D3.5-era books, in a completely different style again.

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  9. What's funny is that I was reading the WD that had Gavin's swan song last night and wondering, 'maybe I could google Travellers and find an archive or such'
    Thanks for reading my mind!

    Cheers,
    Blaise

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  10. Wow. I still don't get most of the Travellers, just like I didn't then. Inconceivable!

    Did like Thrud and Gobbledigook though.

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  11. Anthony,

    Nothing shameful in liking KotDT. That comic is very reflective of a real gaming culture that existed (and probably still does exist in some places), so I fully understand its appeal.

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  12. Snarfquest was my fave. I never had enough of the Wormy story in one place to make sense of it.

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  13. Loved The Travellers, thanks for the reminder. It was so very similar to every Traveller game we ever played that it was great fun to read. I remember the Atari Death Squadron particularly. Sadly WD was hard enough to come by where I lived that I only ever saw a few of the strips. Very excited to be able to see them all on Harrison's site.
    Wormy, on the other hand, I read a great deal of, given that it was in Dragon. I still think it was the best gaming-related comic (I agree that it was not really specifically a gaming comic) that I have ever seen. Trampier's art was so much above any other gaming "comic" that it was elevated to a different level entirely.

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  14. That art style is really similar to some of the strips from MAD magazine from the 70's and 80's...I want to say Harry North.

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  15. Loved "The Travellers". It actually had a minor influence on my gaming as I like to describe NPCs as looking like actors or other celebrities(as per the rundown of the "cast" of PCs in one of the strips).

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  16. Interestingly enough, The Travellers (the first few episodes at least) was actually based on the on-going events in a real campaign, which is why is does such a good job of capturing that early-mid 80s Traveller vibe.

    I didn't play in the campaign itself, but two of the players also played in my Champions campaign at the time. The characters are all based and drawn to resemble the players in that campaign and are the characters they ran in that campaign. The stats you see presented in one episode are (more or less) the stats that were actually rolled for those characters. I won't name any names (to protect the guilty) but the guy who was playing Captain Flynn is a life-long buddy to this day and still bears a pretty good resemblance (although, like me, we're both a bit horizontally challenged these days).

    His girlfriend at the time played the Serena character, and the Hayes character is another long standing buddy. He was (and is) a talented graphic designer and drew the deckplans for the Osprey for use in the game (you see snippets of them in the strip). He also did a lot of other graphic work in White Dwarf, including the amazing beanstalk plans and all done by hand too with pen and ink - no computers back in those days!

    Ahhh, happy days.

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  17. This one isn't exactly as I remember it.
    http://www.2000ad.org/markus/travellers/image.php?page=18
    Anyone happen to have the original issue to hand?

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  18. This one isn't exactly as I remember it.

    What seems different?

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  19. Ahhh, happy days.

    I'll bet! Thanks for sharing these memories.

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  20. Well, and you'll have to take my word for this, the stormtroopers Hans and Fritz used to have my name emblazoned on their chests. This was because I'd written a snooty letter to WD where I criticised the strip for not being serious enough.
    I was younger then, and oh so much more elitist!

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  21. Well, and you'll have to take my word for this, the stormtroopers Hans and Fritz used to have my name emblazoned on their chests. This was because I'd written a snooty letter to WD where I criticised the strip for not being serious enough.

    You are correct; the comic has been altered. In the original version, the stormtroopers have the name "BP Stevens" written on them instead of "Hans" and "Fritz." How bizarre! I could have sworn they'd always had those names on their chests, but, checking it now, I can see that a change was made at some point.

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  22. And I am Barry Philip Stevens.
    Infamy at last!

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  23. I don't understand why KoDT would be a secret shame. I'm too often reminded of many gaming groups when I read it.

    The comic also depicts some of the interesting Con going experiences in a fun and satirical way.

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  24. Ah classic, "Lets laser them" continues to be one of my favourite 80's songs. Even though, as a straight man, I am of course beholden not to dance to it ;)

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