DnDoggos Creator Scout Underhill Is Ready To Get The Party Started With New Graphic Novel

DNDoggos Scout Underhill interview

Way back in the olden times of 2017, creator Scout Underhill claims they discovered their four dogs — Zoey, Tonka, Magnus, and Pickles — playing Dungeons & Dragons. While that story may or may not be true, what is true is that the resulting webcomic, DnDoggos, has been a hit for years. And now it’ll come to a new audience thanks to the original graphic novel DnDoggos: Get The Party Started, which hits stores from Macmillan this week.

The biggest change from the webcomic? Real estate. Underhill took the story from one page strips to a 200+ page graphic novel, something that inherently changed how they approached the material.

“I had a blast playing with the new format!” Underhill told Comic Book Club over email. “I felt like I had so much freedom to play. I love the webcomic, but I definitely got sucked into a formula. When I was posting weekly, it didn’t feel right to have just one large, epic image for the week. But in the graphic novel I can play with pacing and page turns to do a big, cool reveal!”

For much more on the book, including whether dogs are better at poker or D&D, and a little bit about the sequel novel, read on.

Comic Book Club: You’ve been doing DnDoggos for a while now… What were the challenges involved in crafting it into a graphic novel accessible to new readers?

Scout Underhill: I have always wanted DnDoggos to be accessible to a lot of people, whether they like dogs, role-playing games, or both! It can be difficult to decide which rules I want to use without it feeling overwhelming for new folks, so I tend to think “What’s the least you need to know to play this game?” The biggest thing, of course, is the d20 rolls, so we see the doggos do that but I avoid getting too detailed about the variety of other dice available. 

In the intervening time, tabletop role-playing games — and comics about them — have exploded. Why do you think the genre has gotten so big?

TTRPGs are a fantastic way to find community and build friendships. The entire genre is about collaborative storytelling, just with some math and rules involved, and it opens the door for trying new things. You can play an out-going and charismatic Bard, even if you’re a bit shy when not at the table. Or a hulking Barbarian, even if you’re just a lil guy. (I wouldn’t know anything about that, personally.) And comics? Oh heck. Comics are the epitome of storytelling, in my opinion. There’s just so much the format can do, and the barrier to entry is lower for folks who may struggle with reading prose novels.

Role-playing games, by their very nature, are (no pun intended) pretty shaggy. So how do you go about crafting a campaign into a narrative?

To me, it feels like the opposite way. I’m crafting a narrative into a campaign. Storytelling with novels and tabletop games is so similar, so I take my story and shake it up with a little chaos using dice! I think about where Magnus would have his friends roll some dice, and what number they would have to beat to overcome the challenges he sets. To keep it more chaotic, I had some ideas of how situations in the book would go, but then I rolled a d20 for it, and sometimes it took the doggos in an unexpected direction!

One thing I really enjoyed is in the middle of all the cuteness, you’ve got some pretty epic monsters… Can you talk about the designs of some of these? And is it tricky artistically to switch modes from cute dogs at a table to huge monster battles?

Well, first off, I told myself “Keep it simple! You’ll be drawing this on dozens of panels over several pages.” And then I went and made a complicated wolf monster made out of sticks. I wanted to create something that was not really alive, but enchanted to be a threat that the DnDoggos would face. And in the pretty spooky, super dangerous, probably cursed Tanglewood Forest, what better than The Tanglewolf?

As for switching modes, honestly, when I began making DnDoggos as a webcomic, drawing the cute dogs at the table was more of a struggle for me. It’s really difficult to break down a character (or in this case, a real dog),  into the core elements that make them unique. I love switching between the table and in-game. It really gives the DnDoggos time to shine as their characters, and it’s fun to decide which panels make sense for which style.

This is also a lot more real estate in a 200+ page book for the characters than your usual one-page strip – how did the extra running time, so to speak, change the rhythm of the story for you? Or did it not?

Oh gosh, it really did. I had a blast playing with the new format! I felt like I had so much freedom to play. I love the webcomic, but I definitely got sucked into a formula. When I was posting weekly, it didn’t feel right to have just one large, epic image for the week. But in the graphic novel I can play with pacing and page turns to do a big, cool reveal! 

You take the controversial stance in this book that ketchup is okay on hot dogs. Care to explain yourself? 

I take no responsibility for Zoey’s personal preference of hot dog condiments.

DNDoggos: Get The Party Started cover

One of the goofier running bits (complimentary) in the book is a puppet who I’d probably call Generic Blue Monster Who Likes Cookies. What led to this idea? And how far can you take it without, you know… Legal issues? 

Tonka is such a goofy character to write, and his antics tend to evolve on their own. When I sent the doggos to Beans ‘N’ Blades, it was an obvious choice that Pickles would go for dangerous weapons and Tonka would pick something silly. The idea of a hand puppet when I draw their paws without digits was just really funny to me and easily became such an important element of the story. As for legal, I think there’s a space where things can exist as a nod to something without going so far that it’s a copy, and I believe Muncho lives in that space.

You have a nice explainer at the end of the book about how to start playing, but any advice for middle graders (or dogs) interested in trying out role-playing games?

Just give it a shot! There’s no right or wrong way to play role-playing games. There’s not even a win or lose, really. Heck, even if your heroes don’t defeat the villains that doesn’t mean you failed, it’s just another hurdle for them to tackle next time! I personally believe that as long as you’re with your friends and you’re having a good time, then you’re doing tabletop role-playing games correctly. 

Are dogs better at playing poker, or D&D?

Oh, D&D for sure. Despite the name, Poker doesn’t involve any kind of poking. In fact, there’s no weapons at all! Pickles has been banned from a few tables for that honest misunderstanding. But in D&D she can have her sword, and the constant role-playing and monster fights keeps her engaged.

I believe you already have a second book in the works – what can you tease about DnDoggos 2: 2 Dogs 2 Fur-ious, or whatever it ends up being called?

Yes! I’m in the depths of edits on Book 2, the title of which is still in the brainstorming phase. Your suggestion is pretty good, though! You’ll have to read Get The Party Started to find out the big stuff, but one thing I’m really excited about in the sequel is a guest player that I’m introducing … and he is the purrfect fit for the DnDoggos!

DnDoggos: Get The Party Started is in stores tomorrow, February 27, 2024, from Macmillan.

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