not all exits are made equal

I can’t promise this will be graceful. It will likely be rambly and sappy, and it will likely be things I’ve said hundreds of times over. But here we are, you know. You come to me for the rambly, emotional blog posts about media that has affected me. Y’all know the drill.

The Adventure Zone has done so much for me in the last year and a half that it’s genuinely hard to fathom. I found it through some online friends and started listening to it on a lark. It got me through painfully routine and crushing days at a crummy temp job. I listened to it while working on comics in my basement, processing my burnout through art. It was an escape and a comfort when I needed it most, when I didn’t even really know I needed it: I felt mired in indecision; I felt like a failure, but I could listen to these three brothers and their dad play Dungeons and Dragons and make silly jokes and roleplay beautiful moments that made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe, that stopped my dead in my tracks, that made me cry, that struck me right through the heart. I can’t list them all, can’t even begin to try.

(The first one that got me was Sloane and Hurley. I had to put down my brush pen and ended up sobbing so hard that I was supporting myself with my drafting table. The second one was Lucas’ biting “I’m not sorry” as he justified his actions in his attempts to save his mom, for reasons that hit a lot closer to home.

There have been many, many others since then.)

I found this podcast at a time where I was very disillusioned with why I wanted to be an artist. I wasn’t in the industry, wasn’t good enough, and so I felt like I had failed. Despite logic, there was something inside me that said I had been kidding myself with wanting to pursue my passion to make comics and art and tell stories because I hadn’t hit some arbitrary “accomplishment mark” yet. I felt like I had wasted four years of my life at college–heck, not to mention my entire life up until that point–chasing an impossible dream. Everything I made felt trite and cheap, and I was running into brick wall after brick wall. Why did I think I could be an artist? Why did I even want to be one to begin with?

I want to make sure that the gravity of that statement comes across. Art, in all forms, is a part of me as much as breathing. If I sit back and think about what I might do in my life if it didn’t involve art and storytelling, I genuinely can’t answer that. It’s cliche to say I was the kid that always had a sketchbook, that was always drawing but…I was. And I had lost that joy, somehow. I was lost in a fog: this part of me that I felt sure in for so long–one of the only things I felt sure in–was almost completely detached from me after college from burn out, from feeling like I was spinning my wheels trying and failing to find a job that I could fit in and grow into. It was a weight that I woke up with, that I carried around with me every single day, and I didn’t know how to even start shaking it off.

But listening to The Adventure Zone, listening to the McElroys joke and laugh together, listening to Griffin build his world and story that was so nuanced and captivating…it reminded me. Of why I wanted to go to school for art. Why I wanted to write stories and draw pictures since I could hold a pencil.

Because I want to do all of these things with the people I love.

The passion that Griffin has for this story and world has been and will continue to be a core inspiration for me. In a time where I was so close to throwing my dreams away, his work became a beacon that has become essential for me. TAZ, to me, says it’s ok to make that self-indulgent comic, that goofy illustration. It says to cherish the moments you get when you can sit around a table with people you love, dearly and truly, and play a silly game of pretend for a few hours, and make meaning out of that. It says to love, without shame, wholeheartedly.

Art–I believe–is a living thing. It cannot grow in a vacuum. Art isolated is stagnant, unchanging. And that’s not bad by any means, but god, how much greater stories are when you tell them with other people. The moments that catch my breath in The Adventure Zone are a group effort. They’re Griffin setting the stage, Travis, Justin and Clint building off of that in wonderful, unimaginable, unplannable ways, Griffin reacting, repeat until you’ve got sixty-nine (nice) episodes of a story that started as a goof-filled romp and ends as an incredible epic.

I finished that comic about my burnout, Hometown Ghosts, last May while listening to the Crystal Kingdom chapter. It was the first fully realized story that I printed and could hold in my hands. I dusted off my books for the first time in four years and learned how to be a dungeon master so I could play D&D with my friends because of this podcast. When they started listening to The Adventure Zone too, that was another thing we could share while the stressors of the world hefted themselves onto our shoulders.

Like, seriously: my Dungeons & Dragons group, one of the lights of my life would not exist if not for The Adventure Zone. I would not get to build an incredible and fun story with three of my best friends if not for this podcast.

These characters, too, taught me so much. Taako gave me confidence in being myself and being unashamed of that. Magnus showed me love, protection, and true strength: asking for help, becoming more powerful together than apart. Merle reminded me that family is what you make of it, and sometimes, you just have to dance. I related deeply to Lucretia’s selflessness, found power in Lup, so on and so on for practically every character in this world.

As cheesy as it sounds, one thing struck me over and over again during this podcast: love. Characters who love each other, who protect each other, who fight for each other and the family that they’ve made. When everything around feels bleak and hopeless, this podcast is a stubborn reminder that the bonds we make with others are the strongest force in the world. The Starblaster is powered by love, but so is the entire world, and I don’t mean just Feyrun: the love that the McElroys have for each other, and this story, and this community. I’ve met so many dear friends because of The Adventure Zone. There’s nothing that can quite describe the moment I had last year at MaxFunCon East, where I walked into a room full of strangers, completely alone, and walked out of it making lifelong friends because this podcast had brought us all together.

In the world we live in now, we need these points of light. We need to keep creating, to keep encouraging and rallying around things like The Adventure Zone. Sometimes they’re all we have to fight off the darkness.

Because here’s the thing that I feel like The Adventure Zone drives home: it’s so easy to not care. It’s so easy to look at someone else’s life, to look at the world, say “this doesn’t affect me” and move on. And sure, that’s a way to live, and I’m sure to some extent someone could be fulfilled by that. And sure, the road that’s paved with empathy is also, at times, extremely and painfully difficult.

But I’ll choose that road every single time. Because life is so much richer, so much fuller, so much more beautiful when you focus on the role you play in other’s narratives. And it’s so much more fun together.

So thank you: Griffin, for this incredible world and story full of love and hope; Justin, Travis, and Clint for these characters that have brought so much to my life; all of you, for the loving community that this story has fostered.

It feels so weird, to have this story that’s played such a pivotal role in my life for the last year and a half be over, but it’s also joyous and celebratory. It’s that strange giddiness that you only feel at New Year’s Eve: the closing of one part of a story, but the beginning of a new one. I feel like I need champagne or something right now, just to punctuate it.

This may be the end of this story, of Taako and Merle and Magnus’ journey, but it’s not the end of the adventure, and while I’ll miss this world and these characters dearly, I’m excited to see what’s in store for the future.

I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.