The Sword of Alabron
Medium: comic
Year: 1983
Published: Imagine magazine #1-16, with an uncompleted sequel in #29-30
Writer/artist: Ian Williamson
Keywords: fantasy, favourite
Country: UK
Format: 51 pages
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 12 March 2021
It's one of my all-time favourite comics, but it wasn't even published in a comics magazine.
All the 1980s RPG magazines I know had a few comic strip pages per issue. Dragon had lots and lots over the years: Nodwick, Dork Tower, Zogonia, The Order of the Stick, Knights of the Dinner Table, Finieous Fingers, What's New with Phil & Dixie, Wormy, Yamara and SnarfQuest. White Dwarf in the old days before becoming a miniatures magazine had Thrud the Barbarian, Gobbledigook, Travellers and (briefly) Derek the Troll. (Their artists included Carl Critchlow and Mark Harrison, both of whom later worked on 2000 AD.)
Then, there's the relatively short-lived Imagine. It was run by TSR UK and was pretty good, although Gary Gygax later claimed that it usually made a loss and was mostly kept alive for marketing purposes. They could never compete with White Dwarf. Nonetheless, Neil Gaiman was among their contributors, doing film reviews and short stories. Plenty of this magazine's articles returned in the 1985 Unearthed Arcana AD&D book. (For what it's worth, my favourite Imagine scenarios are "Round the Bend" in issue #15 and "Do Not Ask For Whom The Bell Jingles" in issue #21.)
Plus, of course, they had a sprinkling of comics. I don't have strong feelings about R. Grenville Evans's admittedly well-drawn Phalanx or the surreal Rubic of Moggedon, but I'd buy a collected book of The Sword of Alabron if one became available. The art's amateurish. The lettering's worse (although I appreciate what it does with different typefaces). The strip as a whole is hilarious.
Its, um, er, heroes are:
(a) a semi-lunatic Scottish dwarf called Auchter who loves fights and collecting things he's defeated. (These may or may not now be dead.) He'd be a terrifying person to have in your party, because he always chooses the dumbest route to more violence. No sense of self-preservation, or tact, or delicacy. Alignment: stupid.
(b) a paladin called Reg. Yeah, a paladin. If you've ever played AD&D, you'll know what that means. Self-righteous, pompous, uninterested in material wealth and would follow his noble principles off a cliff. Or, in other words, a complete idiot. He's very funny and seemingly unaware that everything he says and thinks is at odds with the rest of his scumbag party. Alignment: Ultra-Lawful Good.
(c) Nightswift the wizard and (d) Dexys the thief, who are basically a cut-and-paste of each other. (They even have basically the same name. Dexys feels like a reference to the UK pop group Dexys Midnight Runners, so we're comparing "Midnight Runners" and "Night Swift".) The only difference is that their character classes inspire different game-related AD&D jokes. They're both slightly evil cowards, guaranteed to run, hide and/or push someone else into any situation that looks even remotely dangerous. If a fight starts...
"It's okay, there's nothing following back here."
"Back where?!"
"About 400 yards down this tunnel, Nightswift."
The first few episodes are rubbish, because the danger levels aren't high enough. Meeting a few goblins doesn't count. The jokes don't land when the situation isn't strong enough to support them. Gradually, though, the one-liners get funnier. Everyone's rude to each other, but the insults are accurate. Then, after a while, you realise that the dungeon has got seriously dangerous and everyone's anti-heroic behaviour becomes killingly funny. Also, Nightswift is a bastard in ep.15.
We also have game-specific gags. You've got to know AD&D to get these. (Yes, I said AD&D. Dungeons & Dragons dropped "Advanced" from its name two decades ago, but we've travelled back here to prehistory.) Personally, I found all these references funny. They're not like ordinary in-jokes or fourth wall breaking, but instead more like someone knowing your private language. RPG session conversations are a mish-mash anyway, with everyone constantly switching between game mechanics and in-fiction interactive storytelling. The dialogue and gags in this comic strip are truthful. This is what it's like, both in general RPG terms and in specific AD&D ones. You'll recognise, for instance, asking the paladin to, ahem, "guard the door" while everyone else goes on a treasure-looting frenzy.
Modern anime is full of fantasy settings presented like a computer game. This is essentially the same, but from forty years ago and funnier.
"The Sword of Alabron" had 16 episodes, usually three pages long. Issues #29-30 then began a sadly unfinished sequel, "Auchter's Axe". Its first episode is almost all set-up and has learned the lesson of The Sword of Alabron's bad start. A steaming bog called Little Dollop becomes home to something that wipes out entire parties, even ones with 15th level paladins. Not many jokes yet, but the danger level's already through the roof. The second episode then introduces Auchter to an elf called White Flight the Gay Blade ("All elves a' sissies!" "But I know something you do not!" "WOT?!" "Tact!") and Icky Snailjuice the 1st level thief who's made the probably suicidal mistake of claiming to be 15th level. It's fairly childish, but it makes me laugh a lot in just two pages.
I'm not aware of any other comics work by Ian Williamson. He's clearly not a professional artist. This, though, was brilliant.