Column by Scott Thorne
Posted by Scott Thorne on May 1, 2023 @ 2:24 am CT
Although not receiving much attention outside of the Knights of the Dinner Table fan base, the comic recently surpassed Dave Sim’s 300-issue run on Cerebus as the longest comic series by a single creator. Jolly Blackburn, the writer and artist, was kind enough to answer some questions about his record-setting run on the series.
It started as a comic dealing primarily with a group of gamers sitting around a table playing RPGs. Over the years, it steadily expanded to include other games and then the lives of the characters away from the table as well. I guess you could say it’s a comic about games and the people who love them and play them.
When did you first realize, "Hey this is popular enough that I can make a living writing and drawing it?"
I’d been doing the strip for the back of a gaming magazine I was publishing (Shadis) for about six years. It had a loyal following and I noticed whenever someone picked up a new issue of the magazine they always flipped to the back page and read the comic first. When the strip later moved to Dragon Magazine in 1996, it suddenly had 10 times the exposure month-to-month. I think that’s when the light bulb went on over my head. I was shocked by the interest and the apparent appetite for more. Having sold Shadis, I was between companies at the time, and I thought perhaps the comic could generate enough revenue for me to live on for a year or so, until I landed a new project. I had no idea the comic would end up running for as long as it has.
Knights of the Dinner Table recently exceeded Dave Sim's run on Cerebus as the longest comic book series by a single creator. When did you realize you were closing in on 300 issues? Was that a goal or did it just creep up on you?
To be honest, I was unaware of the record until my readers started raising the subject in online forums and in letters to the editor. I think it was around issue #200, over a decade ago, that I started seeing comments along the lines of, "Hey, you might be able to break that record." It became a convenient chase-rabbit for me to pursue as goal, as I worked on the issues month to month. It was fun having the readership rooting for it to happen.
Which character(s) are the most fun to write?
It changes constantly, depending on the storyline and my mood. B.A. Felton, the GM, is probably the character I identify with the most. I find if I drop his image in a panel, his words of dialogue come easy. Crutch is also one of my favorites. He was never meant to be more than a one-off character, meant to deliver a punch line. But readers immediately took to him, so I kept bringing him back. His character arc has taken me to a lot of surprising places over the years. I find he’s a good character to tap when I’m suffering from writer’s block.
Over the years, what have been some of your favorite past gags, single stories and story arcs?
Bag Wars Saga has to be up there at the top. A case where a three or four-page strip with a punch line/gag just kept snowballing over many issues as the gag was revisited (the characters keeping their NPC hirelings in a bag of holding). This was something that was never really planned and sort of grew organically.
Right up there with it, I’d put Pwn Brian Express, a story arc that began as a player-vs-player spat at a table of five players. And eventually drew in dozens of characters from all over the Midwest (and then sparked and kicked off several new story arcs).
I also enjoy the arc where Sara took up the GM screen and ran a sci-fi/space adventure for the players. I think the arc ran for almost a year and unexpectedly began to dominate the comic book, to the point I had to have her pause the game (so I could return to some of the other on-going arcs). But I look forward to picking that one up again.
Recently, you announced KoDT would move to a bimonthly format. What are the reasons for that?
There are several reasons. Going bimonthly is something we’ve been mulling over for years in-house. But it seemed like a huge step to make, so we kept putting it off. Changes in the landscape since the pandemic finally convinced us do it.
The biggest benefit is it will save a lot of man-hours that are spent month-to-month doing things like processing subscriptions, managing the production, (including getting it on press and picking the issues up at the dock), etc. With my wife and I doing most of the work, probably a week out of every month is devoted to the non-creative stuff that goes into each issue. Cutting that time requirement in half has great appeal for both of us. Especially since my wife and I will have more of a break between issues, where we must turn around and start the process all over again. We haven’t taken a vacation longer than a four-day weekend in 30 years because of the short turnaround time. And that’s not a complaint, it’s just the nature of doing a periodical with a two-person crew.
Another reason is the fact that both printing costs and shipping costs continue to tick up at an alarming rate. Doubling the page count, as it turns out, brings down the cost on both if you’re comparing getting each page of content into a reader’s hands.
But the biggest reason is that it will give me more creative freedom. Writing strips each month to "fit" in the 28-30 pages allowed in comics is always a juggling act. I want to maintain pacing and tell a good story but I’m always aware of the fact that I only have X number of pages to work. For example, 'If I can’t make this strip fit in five pages, then I won’t have the pages I need to get this other strip in the same issue (which I feel is needed).'
It often results in a frustrating juggling act. Pulling material. Juggling ideas. Even dropping a font size on the dialogue to squeeze in those extra panels.
In contrast, when I’m working on a graphic novel with 100+ pages to work with, I find all that extra page real estate makes things much easier. It’s liberating. Room to explore that plot thread that was just suggested by a character’s comment. The luxury of letting to characters engage in that interesting conversation another panel or two. Not having that page constraint has a lot of appeal to me.
What are some upcoming story arcs or plotlines you plan to explore?
Without giving away too many spoilers, there is an upcoming arc centering around Bob and Sheila (two characters who have been dating for many years in the comic). I think it’s something readers have been anticipating and I’m excited how that one is unfolding (in my notes anyway).
There’s also an arc that will flesh out/explore the character of Dave a bit more. I think of all the characters, his life away from the table is the most mysterious.
Anything else you wish I had asked?
I’ll just add that although I’m sort of the 'face' for KoDT that interacts a lot with readers on social media, there is a small group of individuals who work in the shadows with me that make everything, I do possible. Doing a monthly periodical isn’t easy. David Kenzer has largely been responsible for keeping the engine on the tracks, navigating us past all those road hazards and pitfalls that so many publications fall prey to. Knowing he’s at the wheel and managing things has allowed me to focus on creating. I can’t emphasize enough how important that’s been. And then there’s my wife, Barb. She’s been on this journey with me as far as KoDT for 33 years. Helping with every issue, writing content, dealing with our freelancers and serving as a sounding board to bounce off strip ideas.
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The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
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