Summary: Le Donjon de Naheulbeuk is a humourous fictional adventure graphic novel that takes place in a medieval-fantasy world. Stereotypical role-playing game characters, hired by a mysterious wizard, enter the Dungeon of Naheulbeuk in order to retrieve the 12th statuette of Gladeulfeurha which will allow the completion of a mysterious prophecy.
Le Donjon de Naheulbeuk, vol. 1, by John Lang and Marion Poinsot 7.25
‘Le Donjon de Naheulbeuk’ is a satirical graphic novel inspired by Dungeons and Dragons-type fantasy role-playing games. Originally conceived as a series of downloadable audio episodes, it has taken on a life of its own, and it has now been animated, turned into a line of figurines, t-shirts and even board games.
I only discovered this series because one of my best friends lent me his brother’s first two volumes of the graphic novels. He wanted me to read it: his brother swears by it, claiming it one of his favourites (if not the favourite). Since he himself is a graphic novel writer and artist, I couldn’t help but be intrigued.
It took me months to get to it.
For starters, I’m no great fan of fantasy-adventure settings, and never much cared for Dungeon and Dragons even though I love role-playing games. Secondly, he lent it to me in this gatefold packaging in mint condition, and I was loathe to take it on public transit lest I damage them.
And even when I finally made some time for it at home, as I was puttering about during the holidays, I almost didn’t make it past the first few pages. You see, I wasn’t really getting it at first: the dialogues seemed mundane and little of the plot was contextualized. We were merely thrown in with characters on an adventure.
Then I came to realize that this was the whole point: Often, when people play role-playing games, they basically start an adventure abruptly with little preamble serving as prologue. And then they merely go through a series of challenges that are loosely strung together but that ultimately serve no real purpose.
In fact, there is very little plot to speak of: most of the book consists of nutty exchanges between the characters.
When I finally understood this, I started to enjoy the book. The characters spoke in a more modern tone befitting the players behind them, they argued over trivialities, and sometimes made really dumb decisions. And their gamemaster was as clueless as they were, serving up a relatively incoherent setting worthy of ridicule.
The problem is that the vacuousness doesn’t sustain a 45-page story (it’s the first volume of -thus far- fifteen. The audio series has over 40 chapters!). While it’s totally in keeping with the context and the humour is spot-on, there’s only so much of it one can read in one sitting. At least for the casual fan.
The artwork didn’t really help matters for me. Done in a goofy cartoon style (googly eyes and all), the art is only adequate, and is often quite repetitive – some panels are re-used in their entirety many times over. It’s unfortunate because a luscious treatment would have sustained my attention when the dialogues failed.
But I suspect that I’m not the intended target: French-reading fans of D&D (it has not yet been published in other languages) will no doubt devour this wholesale; they will get each of the references and certainly see themselves and their friends mirrored in the personalities of these hapless heroes and heroines.
No doubt they will have a blast reading ‘Le Donjon de Naheulbeuk’.