The tres horny boys are back and things are getting pink for our heroes.
In an exclusive first look, SYFY FANGRRLS is thrilled to unveil the fourth graphic novel of The Adventure Zone's Balance arc, The Adventure Zone: The Crystal Kingdom, set to be released July 13, 2021. This particular story was a game-changer for the podcast, the first time its endgame was explicitly hinted at (look, it makes sense if you've listened) and also ushered in Griffin McElroy's use of music as a storytelling device in the show.
The Crystal Kingdom follows our trio of heroes — Magnus, Merle, and Taako — as they attempt to save the world from being turned into pink tourmaline. SYFY FANGRRLS talked to Griffin, Travis, and Clint McElroy and co-adaptor/illustrator Carey Pietsch about the latest TAZ graphic novel and where we go from here.
But first, THAT COVER!
"There were two real challenges," Pietsch says. "One is how do you make crystal look like it's a rock candy that you want to eat a little bit? Because that's important to me. And then two, once you solve that, how do you balance not having it be so visually demanding that it takes over the rest of the page?"
Pietsch's tasty crystal aesthetic is present throughout the book, giving readers a brightly hued beauty of a setting that nods to the podcast's musical throughline.
"The music was there to sort of lend itself to this atmosphere of mystery. There is a pretty heavy mystery element in this art because some catastrophic, scientific accident has happened at this lab. And there's a lot of things that are unexplainable through the lens of magic and fantasy that the characters have sort of experienced the whole world through thus far," Griffin tells FANGRRLS, having taken inspiration from vocaloids like Hatsune Miku for the soundtrack that accompanied the original story arc. "I think that ominous sort of Nostromo, alien-like atmosphere, is just really, really well represented through the art. And so the spirit of what that music was trying to accomplish is very, very much alive in the book."
"I really wanted to try to come up with a couple of visual anchors that would serve to kind of create the sense of space," Pietsch explains. "Not the same way that the music did obviously, but create a little bit of the same flavor."
For fans, The Crystal Kingdom also introduces a crucial fan favorite — and half of what will eventually be the series' biggest ship (and I don't mean the Starblaster): the bounty hunter-slash-reaper Kravitz. To create a character so beloved could have been a daunting act, but luckily the podcast left a lot of room to play.
"I think they only decree about Kravitz visually from the podcast is that he's handsome," Griffin says. "It follows through. He's a handsome fella in this book."
"I think the Kravitz designs were especially fun to work on because we knew we wanted to kind of have his spookiness come out at different levels as his role with the main group sort of shifts over time," Pietsch explains. "So it was a really fun challenge to come up with something that would feel consistent and be able to act in a way that made him feel like Kravitz on the page, regardless of what form he's inhabiting at the time."
"We knew we wanted to kind of expand Kravitz's role and visibility in the story and seeing what Carey comes up with so brilliantly then kind of fed into that and kind of inspired us to increase that," Clint says.
Travis continues, "It's like casting actors where it's just like, 'Oh I can't wait to see how they deliver this line and do this scene' and especially, getting to see Kravitz and Taako interact is a joy."
"Oh, so good," Griffin adds. Taakitz fans, your ship is in good hands. (Unfortunately, Kravitz is not in our preview pages — guess we'll just have to pre-order).
But it's not just a matter of establishing characters who will matter to the story. It's the story itself.
"It's like entire story beats, which I actually think from this point forward, you're going to start seeing less of in the books because this is when we sort of figured out the plot," Griffin explains. "This is when I firmed up what the rest of the story was going to look like. Which the big challenge for this book is how expository it is, specifically during the extended sequence where we describe the cosmology of existence."
If "cosmology of existence" seems like a challenge to depict in art form, Pietsch would agree. "There's a panel where the description is 'the entire observable universe.'"
Griffin adds, "I left a comment on that Dropbox like, 'Good luck Carey! Good luck drawing the entire observable universe!'"
In the three previous books, the team has been able to cast importance on moments and visuals that may have been easy to miss upon first listen. But Crystal Kingdom has an added responsibility of representing when the endgame officially started to unfurl.
"This is the point in the podcast where we actually started to put those breadcrumbs down," Griffin explains. "So now we can sort of focus on the payoff of that, but there's also a lot of character work that we are able to flesh out. I can think of characters in every arc, moving forward, that we are going to be able to fill out."
The Adventure Zone: The Crystal Kingdom is available now for pre-order. Check out more of our exclusive preview below.