I am really pleased to welcome to FanLit today Black Library author extraordinaire Graham McNeill. I love his books — seriously! Hmm, maybe he should be my own subject for this here Why You Should Read… He brings us an interesting take on the Why You Should Read, dealing as it does with Rich Burlew, writer of the online webcomic The Order of the Stick.
You should be reading Rich Burlew for the same reason you need to watch Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire. Before you stop reading, bear with me. As a writer of fantasy fiction, I know how easy it is to write dialogue you think is rich with the necessary gravitas needed to populate your world, only to find that it’s the hammiest, most ridiculously over the top nonsense. Krod Mandoon didn’t have that filter. It was a sobering thought that, written down, some of its dialogue would have been right at home in any number of fantasy books I’ve read (and, unfortunately, written…). Krod Mandoon reminded me to be careful. And Rich Burlew’s online webcomic, The Order of the Stick reminds me not to take myself too seriously in the genre of fantasy.
Starting out as a comedic look at the absurdities of roleplaying and the folk who play it (myself included), The Order of the Stick has matured into something quite different, where its story is epic and sprawling, detailed and involving. The characters have matured to become fleshed out people I care for and want to read about. Not bad for a comic strip where every character is a stick figure. Oh, and let’s not forget, it can be pant-wettingly funny.
Story and character have taken over from the jokes about going up/down levels and dumb character classes, but it’s still a witty, well-observed and exciting story where every character’s voice is uniquely theirs. Belkar, the homicidal Halfling gets all the best deadpan lines, but Elan the dim, good-souled bard, brings the story its heart and gets some of the funniest moments of 4th Wall breakage. But the good guys don’t get it all their own way, Xykon the Liche is a creation of comic genius and utter malevolence, and Rich manages to combine to two without ever making him pantomime. And the Creature in the Darkness…? A terrifyingly powerful beast kept hidden under a Hello Kitty umbrella until just the right dramatic moment arrives to reveal him…? So good I bought the t-shirt. In fact, I’m wearing it right now.
The first tale took us on a classic dungeon bash to defeat an evil Liche, but by the time we moved on to the battle for Azure City – one of the most exciting and well thought out set-pieces I’ve seen in any comic – we’ve moved into the realm of an epic quest and a story that has heart, guts, laughs and real action that beats any other comic I’ve read in years.
So any time you start to take fantasy a little too seriously, head to The Order of the Stick page, start from strip #1 and get caught up. Or buy the five books of the collected strips. Trust me, you won’t regret it.