With its mix of fantasy, action, sports-style competition, comradery and rivalry, role-playing games are a natural subject for shonen manga. Just look at how series like Hikaru no Go and Yu-Gi-Oh generate action-packed stories set in the worlds of board games and trading cards.
Now Jason Thompson, former Shonen Jump manga editor, author of Manga: The Complete Guide and long-time role playing game (RPG) aficionado has teamed up with artist Victor Hao to create King of RPGs, a mashup of shonen manga-style mayhem and Dungeons and Dragons-style RPGs.
King of RPGs mostly focuses on two very different, but very obsessive gamers. Shesh MacCabee is a gamer whose addiction to the online game World of Warfare lead to months of therapy and court-ordered restrictions on his Internet access. Upon entering college, Shesh meets Theodore Dudek, a tabletop RPG fanatic who takes his Dungeon Master duties to outrageous extremes.
Theo introduces Shesh to tabletop RPG gaming, and pretty soon all heck breaks loose -- to the point where the pair catch the eye of a Gavin, a ruthless rival gamer, and Rona, a campus policewoman who is determined to keep the peace by squashing Shesh and Theo's over-the-top gaming sessions.
The first volume of King of RPGs was published by Del Rey Manga in January 2010, and both Hao and Thompson are hard at work on Volume 2. I caught up with them online while Jason was in Seattle and Victor was in San Francisco, and we had a lively chat about manga, gaming and what the pair have up their sleeves for the next volume of King of RPGs.
"IT'S LIKE HOLDING YOUR DREAM IN YOUR HANDS"
Q: Congrats to both of you! It must be awesome to finally see the first volume of King of RPGs printed and on sale! How did it feel to finally get your copy of the printed book for the first time?
Victor Hao: It was amazing!!!! It's like holding your dream in your hands!!
Jason Thompson: It felt awesome! It's shinier than I imagined! (laughs)
Q: It must be nice to see some of the reviews of King of RPGs rolling in already.
Jason Thompson: Thanks, I'm glad it's getting some good reviews!
Victor Hao: I was really nervous about the reviews!
Q: Oh? Were you worried that you'd not get a good reception for the book?
Jason Thompson: Well, I'm confident that the book is awesome, but you never know... (laughs)
Victor Hao: I was scared it wouldn't get a good review. I keep looking over the actual book now and I see some improvements that could be made…
Jason Thompson: Once it comes out and people start writing Amazon reviews, that's when things will get really interesting...
Q: Have any of the comments you've received so far surprised you?
Jason Thompson: I was disappointed at the number of "Well, I just don't like RPGs enough" reviews, since I tried to write a story which touched on various levels of otaku-dom.
A ROLL OF THE DICE: WHEN JASON MET VICTOR...
Q: Jason, how did you come up with the idea of creating a comic combining your love/knowledge of shonen manga with RPG games?
Jason Thompson: King of RPGs started out as a submission to Tokyopop's Rising Stars of Manga contest in 2004. I thought it would be funny to do a comic that was like Hikaru no Go but for tabletop role-playing games. It was also inspired by the great Dungeons and Dragons comic Knights of the Dinner Table.
It didn't get accepted by TokyoPop, but I liked the idea, so I re-pitched it to TokyoPop as a full series later. Around that time I met Victor.
Q: I know you draw your own comics -- so why did you decide to collaborate with another artist rather than draw it yourself?
Jason Thompson: TokyoPop and later, Del Rey Manga wanted me to find another artist who had a stronger grasp on manga artwork. My style is closer to indie comics.
Q: Did you look at other artists' work, or did you immediately decide to work with Victor?
Jason Thompson: Actually, Victor was the first person I talked to. His work was just really good.
Victor Hao: Whoa, I was the first!? Thank you, Jason!!
Q: When did you two first start this project?
Victor Hao: (asks Jason) Was it 2005? I think that's when we started talking about this project…
Jason Thompson: I contacted Victor sometime in 2006 after I met him through Elena Diaz (cartoonist and sister of Pancha Diaz, a VIZ Media editor and comics creator). I was looking for a good manga-influenced artist.
Victor Hao: …and I was goofing around in my figure drawing class doodling anime on the side pages and Elena saw my drawings.
Q: You were still in college at the time, yes?
Victor Hao: Yes, I was attending Academy of Art (in San Francisco).
Q: What were you studying there? Illustration? Animation?
Victor Hao: My focus is on 3D Character Animation.
Q: So Jason, what impressed you most about Victor's artwork? That is to say, what made you think, 'Dude, this is the guy I want to work with?'
Jason Thompson: Victor demonstrated that he had a good grasp on both characters and backgrounds. His work reminded me a little of Naruto and a little of Capcom in the Udon Entertainment style. I knew he'd be good to do an action comic.
Q: That makes sense -- there's a lot of action in King of RPGs!
Victor Hao: I love drawing action scenes! After reading so many in Dragon Ball I was just dying to draw some too! I loved drawing every scene where there's action!
Jason Thompson: There's even more in Volume 2! (smiles) Of course, on one level of existence, the characters are usually just sitting around the table... but there is a fair amount of "real world" action as well.
Q: That's true. A story about a bunch of guys playing a tabletop role-playing game would easily be pretty easy to draw (and it'd be kinda boring) if it were just scene after scene of a bunch of guys sitting around a table.
Jason Thompson: Knights of the Dinner Table and Order of the Stick, two of the most popular (and best) D&D/RPG comics, have really simple art. Knights of the Dinner Table really is just some guys sitting around a table, and it's great. But I wanted something more exciting and dramatic and, well, manga-like.