This article is a companion piece to “Dungeons, Dragons and Computers” (Designers & Dragons, pages 20-21). It talks about how the world of Dungeons & Dragons and the business of comic books have intersected over the years. For other related topics in Designers & Dragons, you may also want to read “The View from Comic City!” (page 149), which talks about Hero Games and comics. There are a lot of pseudo-Champions comics out there, but over the years, D&D has surpassed them in sheer volume.

This article ended up being about twice as long as any of the boxed material in Designers & Dragons itself, but I let it expand because online publication allows for more “space” for this sort of thing. —SA, 12/5/11

This article was originally published as Designers & Dragons: The Column #5 & 12 on RPGnet. Its publication followed the publication of the original Designers & Dragons (2011) and preceded the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014). A more up to date version of this history can be found in Designers & Dragons: The 70s in the article on TSR (except it doesn’t have the massive comicography down at the bottom of this article).

Dungeons & Dragons has a long history with the comics industry. Some of that history was related in Designers & Dragons in the histories of TSR (pages 19-23) and Kenzer & Company (pages 310-311).

But, there’s more to the story than that.

The First Comics: 1981-1982

Our (hi)story begins in either 1979 or 1980 at the art department of TSR. By this time, TSR had realized that D&D was a big success, and as a result the company had been split into two separate buildings: one for the business employees and one for the creative ones. The art department was located with the rest of the creators, and at the time included Jeff Dee, Erol Otus, Paul Reiche, Evan Robinson, Jim Roslof, and Bill Willingham. Within that group, Jeff Dee and Bill Willingham were both interested in comics. In fact, Dee had already produced his own comic-book super-hero RPG, Villains & Vigilantes (1979), as is described in the Brief History of FGU (pages 71-77).

Because of their interest in comics, Dee and Willingham approached Gary Gygax about the possibility of starting a line of TSR comics. It was an idea whose time had probably come, as underground fantasy comics like The First Kingdom (1974), Cerebus (1977), and ElfQuest (1978) were coming of age and in the next decade would lead to comics more explicitly derived from D&D, such as Arrow Comics’ The Realm (1986). However, Gygax turned the idea over to the Dragon magazine editor–perhaps because the magazine had usually included some comics–and it died there.

Meanwhile, TSR’s ad department was thinking about comics of their own. They had decided to produce a series of full-page ads in both black & white and color that were designed as comic strips. The first 9-page strip, probably drawn by Keenan Powell, featured a group of three adventures–an elf, a fighter, and a magic-user–exploring a dungeon, fighting a shadow, and then facing green slime. It appeared in Marvel Comics in 1981.

When Dee and Willingham saw the ad, they didn’t like it. And, looking back, it does have issues. The art style is crude, and the panels aren’t separated like they would be in most modern comic books. Besides that, the D&D continuity is somewhat poor. The wizard chases away a Shadow with a Hold Monster “charm” that also lights up the dungeon. And the party doesn’t even have a cleric! Dee rushed off to tell the ad department about the problems with the strip … and was promptly given the job of continuing it.

Jeff saw [the first comic strip] 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?’

Bill Willingham, Interview, The Comics Journal, 2006

Jeff Dee drew the second strip (which includes a cleric suddenly stepping out of the shadows), then Bill Willingham drew at least six more. Steve Sullivan was meanwhile doing the writing. These eight (total) strips were broken into two adventures. The first four, starting with that shadow fight, detailed a journey into a dragon’s lair. The next four took many of the same adventurers out into the wilderness and then ended mid-story, with the final words of the comic being, “Could the end of the quest lie here?” (Answer: apparently so.) These comics all appeared in Marvel Comics between 1981 and 1982 and were largely focused on the Dungeons & Dragons Basic and Expert Sets of the era.

A second series of strips that ran simultaneously in 1981-1982 is less well-known. They appear to have been published in Dragon MagazineEpic Illustrated, and/or Heavy Metal. The first four strips featured an expedition into the “Dungeons of Roakire” while the last two, labeled “Quest Through The Savage Country”, began a new adventure that was cut-off midstream. The paneling, captioning, and coloring style for these strips are quite different from the work in the Marvel Comics strips, so they might not have shared the same creative team. A “WTW” signature which doesn’t match the “Willingham” that Bill Willingham typically used confuses things more.

In any case, in 1981 both Dee and Willingham left TSR. They’d go on to work with FGU, then pass out of the industry for a time. Willingham did the last of his strips freelance, after which the ads department decided to cancel them, returning afterward to more traditional ad design.

For several years, those 14 pages of comic ads would be the sum total of the TSR comic corpus.

The Dragonlance Expansion: 1987-1991

By the mid-1980s, TSR was growing increasingly sophisticated with its expansion into other media. They’d pushed into the book trade in 1982 with their Endless Quest (1982-1987) books and onto television screens with their Dungeons & Dragons cartoon (1983-1985). Much of this new sophistication culminated in the Dragonlance project, which TSR simultaneously released as adventures (1984-1986) and novels (1984-1985).

TSR opted to use Dragonlance to break into comics as well, not with original works (which would wait another few years), but instead with adaptations of the three Dragonlance Chronicles novels.

The Dragonlance Saga: Book One (1987), an 80-page graphic novel that adapted the first half of Dragons of Autumn Twilight (1984) was scripted by Roy Thomas, former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics and also a comic writer. He was at the time best-known for his long-run on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian (1970) and his golden-age super-hero comics such as the All-Star Squadron (1981).

This Dragonlance comic was well-reviewed, and could have-been a classic if given the right support. Unfortunately, TSR mainly distributed it using their existing connections, which put it primarily into game and book stores. Some combination of TSR’s lack of reputation in the comic industry and their production of the entire series as graphic novels–which were relatively rare at the time–kept it from achieving larger success in the comic book field.

Thus, while TSR did publish four more Dragonlance graphic novels (1988-1991), advancing the storyline into Dragons of Spring Dawning (1985), they never finished the storyline, and the books are almost unknown today. The fifth and final volume is one of the rarer TSR collectibles, regularly earning prices over $200 online.

Of course by the time that TSR published The Dragonlance Saga: Book Five (1991) they were already onto a new comic venture–one that is hinted at by the last two Dragonlance comic volumes. Where previous volumes had said “A TSR Graphic Novel”, volumes four and five instead stated they were “A DC/TSR Graphical Novel”.

And there was a good reason for that …

The DC Explosion: 1988-1991

Just as TSR was getting started with their Dragonlance graphic novels, they were also negotiating a deal with one of the top two US comic companies–DC. No doubt, the Dragonlance graphic novels had helped generate interest with the comic company, despite their traditional distribution. TSR was also increasingly crossing over with the comic field thanks to their Marvel Super Heroes (1984) RPG. Somewhere amidst all of that, DC and TSR came to a deal, and the result would be 126 different comics published in four years, spread across five major series and a few specials. They would include (for the first time ever) totally original comics based on the Dungeons & Dragons game and its major settings

The D&D comics line kicked off with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1988-1991), written by Michael Fleisher–a long-time comics industry writer, best known for writing “The Wrath of … the Spectre” (1974) and Jonah Hex (1974). It portrayed a fairly typically D&D adventuring party and was most notable for its location in Waterdeep, making it the first comic book depiction of the Forgotten Realms.

All of the DC D&D comics were carefully divided into arcs, often four books in length. After Fleisher wrote the first arc, Dan Mishkin took over for four more issues. He was another comic industry writer, the creator of Amethyst (1983) and Blue Devil (1984), and the writer of lots more. That brings us to issues #9-12 of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which were written by none other than Jeff Grubb.

I always say that Ed is the architect of the Realms, I’m just the engineer. The Realms are first and foremost his creation, and predate D&D itself. My role was to translate his work into a usable and playable setting for games and books. He’s the superhero, I’m the sidekick.

Jeff Grubb, Interview, (September, 2009)

Jeff Grubb calls himself the “engineer” of the Forgotten Realms, as he was the one that took all of Ed Greenwood’s “architectural” notes (complete with penciled-in “t”s) and refined them into the crunch and fluff actually needed for an RPG release. Grubb was also no stranger to fiction, having co-authored Azure Bonds (1988)–one of the first Realms novels–with his wife, Kate Novak. He was able to carry all of that experience over to his four-issue run on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which was thus considered a success. Though Mishkin would step back in to write the rest of Advanced Dungeons & Dragon‘s 36-issue run, Grubb wasn’t ignored. DC, apparently, was pretty happy having a TSR employee write what they figured would be “pre-approved” scripts. The result was a second comic, Forgotten Realms, which ran 25 issues itself (1989-1991).

Together the two series formed the spine of DC’s extensive D&D comics production. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was notable for its willingness to focus on individual members of the adventuring party, telling personal stories in a way unusual for the medium at the time. Forgotten Realms, meanwhile, was absolutely saturated in the settings of the Realms thanks to Grubb’s waist-deep immersion in it. The two comics also crossed over with the Avatar media event that TSR was running in 1989–which additionally included adventures and novels and was doubtless built upon knowledge won from the Dragonlance project in the years before.

Two other D&D comic series ran at DC during the same time period: Dragonlance (1988-1991), a 34-issue comic primarily by Dan Mishkin that played interesting games with chronology; and Spelljammer (1990-1991), a short 15-issue series created by Barbara Kesel that marked the first appearance of the Spelljammer universe in comic books.

DC also produced a definitively non-D&D comic book that they’d licensed from TSR: Gammarauders (1989), by Peter B. Gillis, which was based on TSR’s cybernetic critter combat game (1987, 1989). It ran for ten issues.

The various DC comics series were supplemented by a couple of annuals and a three-book mini-series, War of the Gods: Avatar (1991), where Barbara Kesel adapted the three-book Avatar trilogy (1989) sometime after the fact. The comics apparently did well and there were plans for more. James Lowder was tapped to write a Ravenloft comic, while Advanced Dungeons & Dragons #36 (December, 1991) promised an issue #37 the next month.

But, they were not to be.

The reasons for this abrupt ending are already described in the Brief History of TSR. The company started stepping on their own licensee’s toes–not for the first time. Other examples of the practice can be found across the company’s lifespan. The Brief History of Judges Guild (pages 65-70) describes how TSR got into the supplement business despite (perhaps) contracts to the contrary. TSR similarly got into the action-figure business after licensing out the rights; to avoid violating their contract, they put out action figures with zero points of articulation.

In the case of comics, the problems originated in TSR West, who had begun testing the waters the same year that the DC series began with Agent 13: The Midnight Avenger (1988), a graphic novel that adapted two print novels by Flint Dille and David Marconi. It was part of a general expansion of Dille’s Agent 13 setting, which was simultaneously made into the pulp-era background for Top Secret/SI–as described in TSAC2: Agent 13 Sourcebook (1988). Apparently, it did well enough for a follow-up, Acolytes of Darkness (1990), which adapted the third and final Agent 13 novel for the comics media.

By 1990, TSR West had become comfortable enough with the graphic media that they decided to publish comic books too. Or, rather, they began publishing “comic modules”, called such because they included four pages of gaming material to differentiate them from the comics rights that TSR had exclusively licensed to DC. Ironically, the DC comics often had game stats for the characters and monsters met within the pages as well, so there wasn’t a lot of difference.

There were five TSR West Comics in all: 13: Assassin (which updated the Agent 13 campaign setting to the 1990s), Buck Rogers: XXVcIntruderR.I.P., and Warhawks Most of them focused on brand-new IP, and none of them conflicted directly with the DC D&D comics. However, DC hadn’t just licensed D&D rights, as shown by their Gammarauders comic.

The new line of TSR West comics caused friction between DC and TSR. It’s been cited as a reason for DC’s reluctance to renew the D&D license after 1991. AT TSR, it also created a new impression of DC as a potential competitor–which led to Jeff Grubb being forbidden from writing further Forgotten Realms comics. (The vice-president who had originally OKed the work arranged it so that Grubb could finish out his run.)

As a result of this new friction, DC’s line of TSR comics came to a very sudden end.

For almost two decades afterward, those four years of D&D comics from DC would be the high point of D&D’s penetration into the comic medium–both by quantity and (in this writer’s opinion) creatively.

After the DC/TSR deal ended, the shadow of those comics was still felt in D&D supplements over the next several years, as various designers worked to bring characters from the Forgotten Realms and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons comics into gaming material canon.

“I began gaming in Jeff’s AD&D campaign in 1976 and was greatly entertained by his gift for storytelling. When the Forgotten Realms was published, I was enthralled once more.”

Kate Novak, “Crew of the Realms Master“, Dragon #247

Thus the Selune’s Smile tavern and its owner, Kyriani, from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons appeared in City of Splendors (1994), while several of the comic’s other major characters got statted in Lands of Intrigue (1997), which even detailed what they’d been doing since the comic ended. They all then reappeared in Dragon Magazine #246 (April, 1998), while Kyriani also made cameos in Powers & Pantheons (1997) and For Duty & Deity (1998). Dale Donovan and Steven Schend were the main culprits behind these many AD&D appearances. Not to be left out, the crew of the Realms Master from Forgotten Realms was detailed in Dragon Magazine #247 (May, 1998) by Kate Novak.

So, the characters from some of DC’s D&D comics were very busy in the mid-to-late 1990s. However, the comics themselves … had vanished.

The Lean Years: 1992-2000

During TSR’s final years, in the ’90s, comic production was very limited. Comics were also treated differently. Instead of offering big licenses to comic publishers, TSR primarily used the medium as a new way of marketing their games—calling back to those very first D&D comic strips. As a result, just six more comics were published before TSR expired.

Dragon Strike #1 (1994) was the first of these. It was a comic produced by Marvel that tied in to TSR’s own Dragon Strike (1993), a board game intended as an entry point for new D&D players—an idea that TSR kept rehashing in its last years. The comic was written by Jeff Grubb, who was quickly becoming TSR’s goto comic-book guy.

A few years later TSR produced a set of four “limited edition” comics that were distributed as promotional products via various means. They were: Forgotten Realms: The Grand Tour (1996), Dragonlance: Fifth Age (1996), Labyrinth of Madness (1996), and Birthright: The Serpent’s Eye (1996). A fifth comic, Planescape: The Unity of Rings (2003), was produced at the time, but not released until Wizards of the Coast put it on the web seven years later.

Like the Dragon Strike comic, all of these limited-edition comics were intended to market current TSR products, most obviously: Labyrinth of Madness (1995), a 20th anniversary adventure by Monte Cook; and Dragonlance: Fifth Age (1996), the SAGA-based reboot of the Dragonlance setting. Jeff Grubb again got into the act, writing both the Forgotten Realms and Planescape comics. Ed Stark, one of TSR’s Birthright authors similarly wrote the Birthright comic, while the others were written by authors from the comics field: Mike Baron and Tom and Mary Bierbaum.

Forgotten Realms: The Grand Tour also featured an easter egg of note. The kids from the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon of the ’80s appeared, pushing one of their number, Presto, forward to talk with Elminster–who then gives the young wizard the nominal Grand Tour. Other than some foreign adaptations of the cartoons, this marked the first and last appearance of the cartoon kids in the comic-book medium. It also subsumed The Realm of the D&D cartoon into the Forgotten Realms—just as other settings were pulled into the Realms when they first appeared. Sadly, it also suggests that those poor kids never got home.

After Wizards took over TSR in 1997, they were pretty busy for a few years getting things back in order. Thus it’s not a big surprise that they didn’t do much with comic licensing. Interplay issued a Baldur’s Gate comic (1998) to introduce characters in the video game, then in 2000 21st Century Comics, an Italian company, offered up the only original creative content of the period.

Forgotten Realms: The Forbidden Sands of Anauroch (2000) was meant to be a series of six handsome 48-page hardcover graphic novels, released in the European style. It died after just two issues, however. The two extant volumes received poor reviews due to bad English and a shaky understanding of the Realms; the publisher, 21st Century, ended up canceling the series.

That, however, would be the end of a decade worth of irregular comics production.

Kenzer & Comics: 2001-2004

It wasn’t until the ’00s that D&D made its return to the world of comics. Two major companies would license the brand during that decade.

The first of these comics publishers was Kenzer & Company, who received several Dungeons & Dragons licenses after the release of 3E—as is described in their own Brief History (pages 309-313). They used this license to publish four comic series over a four-year span: the 8-issue In the Shadow of Dragons (2001-2002); the 4-issue Tempest’s Gate (2001-2002); the 6-issue Black & White (2002-2003), indeed published in black and white; and the 5-issue Where Shadows Fall (2003-2004).

All four comics were set in Greyhawk, the first time the setting had appeared in comic form. This was doubtless due to the setting’s new importance as the “default” D&D world for 3E. The two Shadow series and the Black & White series were published consecutively and had writers new to the comic medium working on each of them: Jay Donovan for the Shadow books and Jeff Limke for Black & White.

“‘Black & White’ is not that cut and dried. Kenzer wanted to do a story that wasn’t quite the classic romance adventure story, published in black and white and where the hero is a little less archetypal, a little less easy to cheer for … you know, something that is a little less black and white.”
–Jeff Limke, Interview, (April, 2002)

Tempest’s Gate, on the other hand, came in from experienced comic-industry professionals. Author Sean Smith and artist Mike Lilly met at a comic book signing in New York. Smith saw a drawing of a dragon in Lilly’s portfolio and suggested they write up a fantasy pitch. They did and the result was Kenzer & Company’s second D&D mini-series, which ran simultaneously with In the Shadow of Dragons.

None of Kenzer’s comics were ever collected. Today, they’re largely forgotten.

The Devil Has Its Due: 2004-2008

Enter Dabel Brothers Productions, a comic studio founded by four brothers Dabel as an imprint of Image Comics. At first they tried to publish original books of their own, but following those books’ popular failure, the Brothers instead turned to licensed fantasy comics.

To kick this off this new endeavor, the Dabels approached George R.R. Martin about A Song of Ice & Fire. Martin suggested they instead begin with “The Hedge Knight”, a related short story from the Legends (1998) anthology . A 6-issue series (2003-2004) resulted, the first three issues of which were published by Image.

Now enter Devil’s Due Publishing, a comic studio that was formed in 1999, also as an imprint of Image Comics. Toward the end of 2003, Devil’s Due decided to break away from Image to form their own publishing company … and they asked some of the other Image Comics studios to come with them, including Dabel Brothers Productions. At the time, Devil’s Due was best known for publishing original comics based on licenses, such as G.I. Joe and Micronauts. Licensed adaptations thus fit well into their overall model. The Brothers agreed and the brand-new Devil’s Due Production ended up publishing the last three issues of The Hedge Knight.

Meanwhile, the Dabel Brothers had been hunting for other stories to adapt. They licensed some additional stories from Legends, such as Raymond E. Feist’s “The Wood Boy” and Tad Williams’ “The Burning Man”. They also began looking through New York Times Bestsellers lists to find longer pieces to adapt. And that finally brings us to The Legend of Huma, a historic Dragonlance novel (1988) originally written by Richard A. Knaak, now licensed by the Dabels. In the early months of 2004, Devil’s Due published five out of the six issues intended to form the first arc in the story of Huma. The comics all featured the Dragonlance logo—though not the Dungeons & Dragons trademark.

(In fact, Devil’s Due did not use the Dungeons & Dragons mark until 2007, which may be related to the fact that Kenzer’s D&D licenses ended that year.)

Before the sixth issue of The Legend of Huma went to press … the Dabel Brothers again decided that they were unhappy with their publisher. The result was an embarrassingly public spectacle. According to Devil’s Due, it began when the Dabel Brothers tried to renegotiate their contract with Devil’s Due. Devil’s Due refused to make changes and the Dabel Brothers announced that they were terminating the contract. Devil’s Due countered, saying that Dabel Brothers didn’t have the right to unilaterally end the contract, that Devil’s Due had advanced monies to the Dabels, and that they had rights to the existing books for years.

As the fight dragged on, all of the Dabel Brothers books ended up on hold.

The Dabel Brothers did end up going their own way. They’ve since worked with Alias Enterprises, Marvel Comics, and Dynamite Entertainment—moving on from each publisher after just a couple of years. However, when they left Devil’s Due, the Dabels were forced to leave The Legend of Huma behind. Devil’s Due, meanwhile, had been happy with the comic’s reception, so on March 30, 2005 they announced a new license from Hasbro to Devil’s Due, covering the entire D&D library.

Devil’s Due finished The Legend of Huma in a rather unusual way. They put together the long-awaited sixth issue which completed the original arc (if not the full story, nor the adaptation of the novel). However, at first they only offered it as part of a graphic novel collecting all six issue (June, 2005). This led to considerable discontent among their readers, who didn’t like the idea of having to buy the collection just to get the sixth issue. Devil’s Due relented and published the sixth issue standalone a few months later—well over a year after it was first solicited. This reversed publication order for a graphic novel and one of its issues may be a first in the industry.

Though that initial arc was completed, Devil’s Due never finished the adaptation of The Legend of Huma. However, they did use their new fangled D&d license to publish lots of additional D&D material.

The rest of the story of Devil’s Due’s publication of D&D comics is both more notable and less exciting. For the most part, they adopted two series: The Legend of Dritzzt and the Dragonlance Chronicles For Drizzt, they fully adapted seven books—Homeland (2005), Exile (2005), Sojourn (2006), The Crystal Shard (2006), Streams of Silver (2007), The Halfling’s Gem (2007), and The Legacy (2008)—each as a three-book series. They also completely adapted the Dragonlance Chronicles, with 8 issues of Dragons of Autumn Twilight (2005-2006), four issues of Dragons of Winter Night (2007), and twelve issues of Dragon of Spring Dawning (2007-2008)—retreading books previously adapted by Roy Thomas, by now newly reimagined for a different generation.

Starting in 2006, Devil’s Due looked to expand its publications a bit. The first of their new books was Eberron: Eye of the Wolf (June, 2006), Devil’s Due’s only original D&D story and the first Eberron comic. It was written by Eberron creator Keith Baker, but ended up being a one-shot, as Wizards of the Coast wasn’t interested at the time in Devil’s Due producing more original content.

After licensing the Dungeons & Dragons trademark itself, Devil’s Due also began publishing The Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons (2007-2008), an anthology comic that adapted short stories taken from Dragon Magazine and various short-story collections, such as Realms of Valor (1993) and Tales of Ravenloft (1994). Numerous authors from TSR and Wizards got to try their hand at comics thanks to Worlds of D&D. For example, Jeff Grubb returned to the fold when he adapted “Elminster at the Magefair” for issues #3 and #4; while in “The Rigor of the Game”, also in issue #3, James Lowder finally got to write a Ravenloft comic (adapting his own short story).

Unfortunately, that brings us to 2008. At the time, Devil’s Due was continue with Worlds of D&D; they also began adapting the Dragonlance Legends series with Time of the Twins (2008) and started adapting the eighth Drizzt book, Starless Night (2008). Though Devil’s Due finished Time of the Twins, they never adapted the rest of the Dragonlance Legends series. Meanwhile, they only got a single issue into Starless Night (2008) and The Worlds of D&D ended with issue #7 (2008).

“We’re still dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars in book store returns that rocked us in late 2008 and into 2009, right in the middle of an already aggressive restructuring.”
-Josh Blaylock, Press,

The problem was generally the economic downturn of 2008, but more specifically the same problem that once almost brought down White Wolf and contributed to the death of TSR: book store returns. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in returns, beginning in 2008, killed Devil’s Due’s cash flow and ended their time as a Dungeons & Dragons licensee. They managed to publish some comics through 2010, and are still looking into digital releases, but their D&D books would never advance past those final issues in 2008.

Which almost brings us to the end of the story of D&D comics.

The Rest of the Story: 2002, 2004, 2010-Present

During the years that Kenzer & Company was publishing books under the Dungeons & Dragons trademark and that Devil’s Due was publishing adaptation of TSR and Wizards of the Coast novels, a couple of other D&D comic books appeared.

The first of these was Vecna: Hand of the Revenant Book One (2002), by Modi Thorsson, published by Iron Hammer Graphics. Like the comics then being published by Kenzer & Company, it was set in Greyhawk. In fact, it told the life story of one of Greyhawk’s most notorious villains: the archlich Vecna. Thorsson ended the story on a cliffhanger because he’d planned for more volumes, but that never came to be. Today, Vecna is another very hard to get rarity.

The second was Crisis in Raimiton (2004), an “Adventure Guide to D&D” that Wizards gave away on Free Comic Book Day ’04. It told the story of gamers playing D&D, and then the story of the characters they created. Wizard’s interest in the free giveaway foreshadowed the industry’s interest in a free giveaway day of their own: Free RPG Day.

More recently, IDW Publishing has picked up the D&D license. If Devil’s Due was the licensed comic publisher of the ’00s, then IDW fits that same niche in the ’10s. Their series include Doctor WhoG.I. JoeStar TrekTransformers and many other licensed properties (as well as some notable original books, like 30 Days of Night and Locke & Key).

IDW’s main D&D book is the Dungeons & Dragons (2010) ongoing comic, set in the Points of Light world. It’s the first ongoing D&D comic to be published since DC lost the license twenty years ago.

Dungeons & Dragons is written by John Rogers, the creator of Leverage (2008), best known in the comics world for his work on DC’s Blue Beetle (2006). To date, Rogers’ D&D series has received great reviews. That might be because his story offers an original take on D&D; it feels like the story of a snarky and fun D&D adventuring party, not some epic fantasy with the D&D brand slapped on it. The good reviews could also be because John Rogers, like Jeff Grubb, knows the game. He was one of the authors of 4e’s Manual of the Planes (2008), where he wrote about the Feywild.

To date, IDW has also published two five-issue miniseries. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Sun (2011) nicely lined up with Wizards’ marketing for their newest campaign world, released just a few months early. It was written by Alex Irvine, also the author of the D&D novel, The Seal of Karga Kul (2010). Dungeons & Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt: Neverwinter Tales (2011), meanwhile, is written directly by top Wizards author, R.A. Salvatore. A Dungeons & Dragons: Eberron mini-series is planned for 2012. The author Paul Crilley, again has pre-existing connections to the world of D&D, having written the Eberron novel, Taint of the Black Brigade (2010).

Much like those DC Comics books of old, IDW’s Dungeons & Dragons comic has also freely mixed in gaming material. IDW produced adventure writeups for the first two issues, written by none other than Bill Slavicsek and Chris Perkins of Wizards of the Coast. The Dark Sun comics similarly had adventure material produced by Chris Sims.

IDW has been doing one other thing of note: reprinting the best D&D comics from the past. To date, they have published two volumes each of DC’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Forgotten Realms comics, as well as a volume collecting Devil’s Due’s first three Legends of Drizzt stories.

IDW’s ability to reprint these old comics shows off both the advantages and problems of licensed comics. When a licensor has been intelligent, he receives the rights to licensed publications after the license is ended. Thus, TSR ended up with the rights to the DC comics after the DC deal ended.

“I want you to write to IDW (and Hasbro) and tell them how WONDERFUL the story and art is [for the reprinted DC comics]. And how they should (sparing no expense on their part) HIRE the talented team of Grubb and Morales, who obviously understand how the D&D universe works and are fine examples of writer and artist and a shining addition to ANY comic book line.”
-Jeff Grubb, “FR Comics (Part II)”,

However, you can also end up with complicated legal situations where no one ends up able to publish a comic or where creators find no one willing to pay out old royalties. Jeff Grubb has said this is the case with the old DC Comics, where he was due royalties when those rights were held by DC, but somewhere between them moving from DC to TSR to Wizards to IDW, publishers became confused as to what might be owed by whom. Grubb is still working on a resolution.

(By the by: Grubb doesn’t blame Wizards or IDW, the current right holders, but does note he’d love to write D&D comics again; this fan of Grubb’s old DC work would heartily endorse a chance to see the crew of the Realms Master fly once more.)

Legal SNAFUs or not, IDW’s publication of well-received new work and well-loved old work is making the ’10s the best time ever to be a fun of Dungeons & Dragons in comic book form.


D&D Comics

  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons #1-36, Annual #1, by Dan Mishkin, et. al., DC Comics, 1988-1991
    • Dungeons & Dragons Classics Vol. 1 TPB, issues #1-8, IDW, 2011
    • Dungeons & Dragons Classics Vol. 2 TPB, issues #9-18, IDW, 2011
    • Dungeons & Dragons Classics Vol. 3 TPB, issues #19-26, Annual #1, IDW, 2012
  • Baldur’s Gate, no author listed, Bioware, 1998
  • Birthright: The Serpent’s Eye, by Ed Stark, TSR, 1996
  • Dragon Strike #1, by Jeff Grubb, Marvel, 1984
  • Dragonlance #1-34, by Dan Mishkin, et. al., DC Comics, 1988-1991
  • Dragonlance Chronicles Comics:
    • Dragonlance Chronicles #1-8, by Andrew Dabb, DDP, 2005-2006
    • Dragonlance Chronicles: Dragons of Winter Night #1-4, by Andrew Dabb, DDP, 2006-2007
    • Dragonlance Chronicles: Dragons of Spring Dawning #1-12, by Andrew Dabb, DDP, 2007-2008
  • Dragonlance Chronicles Collections:
    • Dragonlance Chronicles: Dragons of Autumn Twilight HC & TPB, issues #1-8, DDP, 2006
    • Dragonlance Chronicles: Dragons of Winter Night HC & TPB, issues #1-4, DDP, 2007
    • Dragonlance Chronicles: Dragons of Spring Dawning Part 1 HC & TPB, issues #1-6, DDP, 2008
    • Dragonlance Chronicles: Dragons of Spring Dawning Part 2 HC & TPB, issues #7-12, DDP, 2008
  • Dragonlance Legends: Time of the Twins #1-3, by Andrew Dabb, DDP, 2008
    • Dragonlance Legends: Time of the Twins TPB, issues #1-3, DDP, 2008
  • Dragonlance Saga #1-5, by Roy Thomas, TSR, 1987-1991
  • Dragonlance: The Fifth Age, by Tom & Mary Bierbaum, TSR, 1996
  • Dragonlance: The Legend of Huma #1-6, by Sean J. Jordan & Trampas Whiteman, et. al., DDP, 2003, 2005
    • Dragonlance: The Legend of Huma HC & TPB, issues #1-6, 2005
  • Dungeons & Dragons #0-14+, by Jeff Rogers, IDW, 2010-2011+
    • Dungeons & Dragons Vol. 1: Shadowplague HC, issues #0-5, IDW, 2010
    • Dungeons & Dragons Vol. 2: First Encounters HC, issues #6-11, IDW, 2011
    • Dungeons & Dragons Vol. 3: Down HC, issues #12-?, IDW, forthcoming
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Black & White #1-6, by Jeff Limke, Kenzer & Co, 2002-2003
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Crisis in Raimiton, by Matt Clarke, Wizards of the Coast, 2004
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Sun #1-5, by Alex Irvine, 2011
    • Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Sun: Ianto’s Tomb HC, issues #1-5, IDW, 2011
  • Dungeons & Dragons: In the Shadow of Dragons #1-8, by Jay Donovan, Kenzer & Co, 2001-2002
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Tempest’s Gate #1-4, by Sean Smith, Kenzer & Co, 2001-2002
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter Tales: The Legend of Drizzt #1-5, by R.A. Salvatore, IDW, 2011-2012
    • Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter Tales: The Legend of Drizzt HC, issues #1-5, IDW, forthcoming
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Where Shadows Fall #1-5, by Jay Donovan, Kenzer & Co, 2003-2004
  • Eberron: Eye of the Wolf, by Keith Baker, DDP, 2006
    • Collected in The Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons Vol. 1 (see below)
  • Forgotten Realms #1-25, Annual #1, by Jeff Grubb, DC Comics, 1989-1991
    • Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms Classics Vol. 1 TPB, issues #1-8, IDW, 2011
    • Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms Classics Vol. 2 TPB, issues #9-14, TSR Worlds, IDW, 2011
    • Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms Classics Vol. 3 TPB, issues #15-18, Annual #1, IDW, 2012
  • Forgotten Realms: The Forbidden Sands of Anauroch #1-2, by Alessandro Zeminian & Andrea Verardi, 21st Century Comics, 2000
  • Forgotten Realms: The Grand Tour, by Jeff Grubb, TSR, 1996
  • Forgotten Realms: The Legend of Drizzt Comics:
    • Forgotten Realms: Homeland #1-3, by Andrew Dabb, DDP, 2005
    • Forgotten Realms: Exile #1-3, by Andrew Dabb, DDP, 2005-2006
    • Forgotten Realms: Sojourn #1-3, by Andrew Dabb, DDP, 2006
    • Forgotten Realms: The Crystal Shard #1-3, by Andrew Dabb, DDP, 2006
    • Forgotten Realms: Streams of Silver #1-3, by Andrew Dabb, DDP, 2007
    • Forgotten Realms: The Halfling’s Gem #1-3, by Andrew Dabb, DDP, 2007
    • Forgotten Realms: The Legacy #1-3, by Andrew Dabb, DDP, 2008
    • Forgotten Realms: Starless Night #1, by Andrew Dabb, DDP, 2008
  • Forgotten Realms: The Legend of Drizzt Collections:
    • The Legend of Drizzt Omnibus HC, DDP, 2007
    • Dungeons & Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt Omnibus Digest, IDW, 2011
      • The Legend of Drizzt Book I: Homeland HC & TPB, issues #1-3, DDP, 2005
      • The Legend of Drizzt Book II: Exile HC & TPB, issues #1-3, DDP, 2005-2006
      • The Legend of Drizzt Book III: Sojourn HC & TPB, issues #1-3, DDP, 2006-2007
    • The Legend of Drizzt Omnibus Volume 2 TPB, DDP, 2009
    • Dungeons & Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt Omnibus Volume 2 Digest, IDW, 2011
      • The Legend of Drizzt Book IV: The Crystal Shard HC & TPB, issues #1-3, DDP, 2007
      • The Legend of Drizzt Book V: Streams of Silver HC & TPB, issues #1-3, DDP, 2007
      • The Legend of Drizzt Book VI: The Halfling’s Gem HC & TPB, issues #1-3, DDP, 2008
    • The Legend of Drizzt Book VII: The Legacy TPB, issues #1-3, DDP, 2008
  • Labyrinth of Madness, by Mike Baron, TSR, 1996
  • Planescape: The Unity of Rings (online only), by Jeff Grubb, Wizards of the Coast, 2003
  • Spelljammer #1-15, by Barbara Kesel, et. al., DC Comics, 1990-1991
  • TSR Worlds Annual #1, by various, DC Comics, 1990
  • Vecna: Hand of the Revenant #1, by Modi Thorsson, Iron Hammer Graphics, 2002
  • War of the Gods: Avatar #1-3, by Barbara Kesel, 1991
  • The Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons #1-7, by Various, DDP, 2008
    • The Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons Vol. 1 TPB, issues #1-2 & “Eye of the Wolf”, DDP, 2008
    • The Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons Vol. 2 TPB, issues #3-5, DDP, 2008

Other TSR Comics

  • 13: Assassin #1-8, by Mike W. Barr, Roger Slifer, TSR, 1990-1991
  • Agent 13: The Midnight Avenger, by Flint Dille, David Marconi, TSR, 1988
  • Agent 13: Acolytes of Darkness, by Filnt Dille, David Marconi, TSR, 1990
  • Buck Rogers: XXVC #1-10, by Flint Dille, Buzz Dixon, et. al., TSR, 1990-1991
  • Gammarauders #1-10, by Peter Gillis, DC Comics, 1989
  • Intruder #1-9, by Steven Grant, TSR, 1990-1991
  • R.I.P. #1-8, Marv Wolfman, Buzz Dixon, Doug Moenech, TSR, 1990-1991
  • Warhawks #1-9(?), by Roy Thomas, TSR, 1990-1991

Links of Note

Special Thanks

Thanks to Matt Forbeck, Jeff Grubb, and Steven Schend for comments on this article.

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