Your dorks, clockwise from the beehive hairdo: Kayleigh, Ken, Matt, Gilly, Igor, and Carson.
"Hey, Marcia! Come and see the satanist!"
—Bookstore clerk, after Matt asks if they have RPG books
Dork Tower is the name of a comic series by famed game creator, illustrator, and writer John Kovalic. Set in the fictional town of Mud Bay, Wisconsin, it focuses on the gaming adventures and personal lives of the four main characters, a group of geeks whose hobbies and interests include tabletop roleplaying games, video games, miniature games, collectible card games, science fiction and fantasy, comic books, computers, anime and manga — in short, anything and everything dorks (and Geeks, and Nerds, and Otaku) would enjoy.The four main characters are:
Matt McLimore, the group's gamemaster. His RPG campaigns are frequently derailed by the players, but he persists in trying to deliver a rich and rewarding experience every time they play. He works as a graphic designer, but also draws his own comic book, "That Grrl," in his spare time.
Ken Mills, a miniatures collector, historical wargamer, and medieval recreationist. He is a stickler for accuracy to the point of obsession. He works as a programmer at a technology company, Mon-E-Pit.com
Igor Olman, an extremely enthusiastic fan of everything gaming-related, who obsessively commits himself to all of his hobbies and interests. The most rash and impulsive member of the group, by far.
Carson the muskrat. He is arguably the most "normal" character of the group, though he does act impulsively when gaming. He supports himself through various demeaning service-sector jobs.
Supporting characters who frequently appear in Dork Tower include:
Bill Blyden, the owner and manager of Pegasaurus Games, the gang's regular game store. He struggles daily with both the efforts to keep the store running and the numerous annoyances of ungrateful customers. He is married to his wife Stacy, and his sole employee is Leslie.
Gilly Woods, a perpetually perky goth girl. Confounding goth stereotypes, she likes cute and cheerful things, to the disgust of her brother Walden. Matt has a deep crush on her, but she has been hesitant to reciprocate due to his relationship with Kayleigh. She recently moved to London to attend graduate school.
Walden Woods is Gilly's older brother and the leader of the Mud Bay goth gamers. He runs their recurring LARP sessions, and suffers the indignity of getting kicked out of everywhere they want to play.
Kayleigh Hardcastle is Matt's on-again, off-again girlfriend. They went steady in college, but broke up due to clashes in personalities and interests. Kayleigh is a journalist for a local newspaper.
Dork Tower began as a four-panel comic in print format, published in various gaming-oriented periodicals such as Dragon Magazine and Pyramid. In 2000, it became a four-panel webcomic published approximately three times a week. Later, a monthly comic book was published by Dork Storm Press, and featured a mix of single-page strips, multi-page stories, and ongoing character development story arcs. The comic book had been on hiatus as of issue #36 due to personal affairs, but will resume publication in 2011 in annual mini-series releases. A series of TPB collections reprint the web and print strips. The strip has won several Origin Awards, and the comic has sold over 500,000 copies worldwide.The official site is here.
The various Dork Tower comics contain examples of:
Biting-the-Hand Humor: Done occasionally with lighthearted fun, such as the strip for the 40th Anniversary issue of Dragon magazine depicting its rise from humble beginnings into a world-crushing megacorp...
Boy Meets Girl: Subverted by Matt and Gilly. They're achingly perfect for each other — both gamers, both comic book fans, both cosplayers, both from the same town in Wisconsin. Too bad Matt keeps salvaging his relationship with his gamer-hating girlfriend and Gilly doesn't know he exists.
Character Overlap: Carson the Muskrat originally appeared in Wild Life, a Funny Animal college newspaper comic drawn by Kovalic. Some characters from Wild Life occasionally make cameos in Dork Tower.
Bill Blyden and Pegasaurus Games also count, as Kovalic also briefly drew "Shop Keep", a parallel/spinoff strip focused on Bill.
Clingy Jealous Girl: Kayleigh, to the point where she becomes enraged simply by thinking that Matt might prefer Gilly over her.
Compassionate Critic: Kayleigh is often this to Matt; she harshly insults his hobbies and interests (except for Buffy) out of an ongoing effort to "improve" him.
Kayleigh: "Why can't he just be more like other guys?"
Sujata: "Sitting at a bar with a six-pack of Bud waiting for 'America's Wackiest High-Speed Chases' to come on?"
Cross Over: One story arc featured a crossover with PvP, where the two casts attended a convention and entered a gaming competition. Matt ran a game with the PvP players, while Cole ran a game with the Dork Tower group. The winning team was an all-girl squad with Gilly, Jade, and Marcy.
Subverted with Dork Tower vs. Lethargic Lad:
Igor: "You know, it's funny, but for all the years we've lived in Mud Bay, we've never met up with LETHARGIC LAD."
Matt: "That's because he's a comic book character, you blithering idiot."
"Perhaps she didn't realize you painted the brains, skulls and mutilated victim details yourself...?"
Then there was the time Igor gave Carson a muskrat pie for Christmas...
Dungeonmaster's Girlfriend: Subverted with Kayleigh, who joined a session run by Igor to try to understand Matt's hobby. After some initial confusion, she became a rule-mastering power gamer, stomped all over the game's enemies, and reduced Igor to curling in wimpered submission.
Matt was beaten up by the Geeks in high school because he didn't know anything about video games past Frogger.
Explaining the Soap: Played with when Carson asks Igor about Babylon 5 and gets an eight-panel wall of text about the conspiracies, universal issues, and civil wars and ancient chessmasters. When Carson comments that it's a lot for a single season, Igor corrects him — it all happened in the previous episode.
The Faceless: Bill's employee, Leslie, is always shown with her face half-hidden behind the store counter.
Fake High: Matt's stoner brother thinks he is high after mistaking Matt's basing floc for pot and smoking it.
Hustling The Mark: After hearing that Igor has never played poker, Ken eagerly invites him to join his poker game. At first, Igor frustrates the other players with his naive questions and obvious tells, but by the end of the evening he makes off with all of the winnings. The final strip shows Igor talking to someone on a cell phone about how he fooled everyone... while being pursued by a very angry Ken.
I Just Want to Be Loved: Despite Keyleigh's often abusive behavior, this is the main reason why Matt continues to date her.
I'll Take Two Beers Too: Happens several times, usually after Matt has suffered yet another indignity with his gaming group or his personal life. One trip to a Ren Fair had him depressing a nearby bard into the same funk.
Lethal Chef: One story featured an "Iron Chef Ramen Noodle" cook-off between Igor and Carson. Igor carefully crafts a concoction with tom-yum paste, rice wine, and fish sauce, while Carson's entry consisted of generic turkey dogs. Igor's dish is unbelievably aromatic, while Carson's prompted the question "This used to be organic?" from the judges. Carson wins anyway, despite Igor's entry being "like tasting clouds", because his entry reminds the judges of college dorm food — "The best years of our lives!"
Igor also counts for his "Igor bars" (see Intoxication Ensues), as shown here, though that was probably on purpose.
Off the Rails: Happens far too many times to count, usually due to the gang's overzealous gaming strategies.
They once had a game based on The Lord of the Rings. The campaign opened with Merry killing and gutting Gandalf, Pippin beating Frodo to death... they were planning to institute a military draft in the Shire when Matt went catatonic.
Another session ended with the players having taken over the kingdom, forged an empire, and conquered all of the known lands... when their goal was to just rescue the princess.
One strip had Matt crying to a friend about how his characters had not only derailed his adventure by killing everyone, they had also summoned Elder Gods to destroy the game universe. They had been playing Bunnies & Burrows — a game where all the characters are normal, mundane rabbits. Here.
Parody: The comic regularly features covers (and sometimes entire issues) that parody some aspect of geek or pop culture, often with some relationship to the story inside. Subjects have included Understanding Comics, Rice Krispies cereal, A Brief History of Time, Harvey Comics, Pink Floyd...
Kayleigh: "It's better than being a looser dweeb with no initiative, no fashion sense, no job, no prospects and a 'Buffy'-hater to boot!"
Matt: "THAT was a LOW blow! ... I love 'Buffy'."
Small Name, Big Ego: Igor, whenever he boasts of using his gaming skills to overcome a problem or obstacle.
Social Semi-Circle: Sometimes occurs, typically with games involving miniatures. Intentionally invoked in issue #17 of the comic as a parody/Shout-Out to Knights of the Dinner Table; the odd arrangement is justified because the table on the reader's side is unpleasantly sticky from a spilled soda.
George Lucas: "Well, pardon the FREAK out of me for providing you with so many years of GREAT MEMORIES and ENTERTAINMENT!" *Bam!*Crash*Pow!* "I mean, of course that's all RUINED for you now because GREEDO freaking shoots first!" *Biff*Paf*Oof!*
Trick Dialogue: A frequent source of comedy. One story begins with Gilly and Matt preparing for a blind date. We then see them at a table talking, and seeing how they share lots of common interests and hobbies. The final panel shows that they are actually sitting at two different tables, each talking to someone else who think their hobbies are weird.
Inverted in another story, where Matt starts off talking to Ken about how Gilly is his ideal girl, while Walden is talking to a stranger about finding a Nice Guy for Gilly. After a page and a half, it's revealed that Matt and Walden ended up talking to each other, not realizing that they're both referring to the same Perky Goth... or how Matt would be perfect for her.
Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Kayleigh occasionally angsts about being overshadowed by her siblings and their numerous accomplishments, while she's reduced to being a journalist for a local newspaper.
Wrong Genre Savvy: After playing a Call of Cthulhu campaign, Matt's players were unable to adjust to the setting of Pendragon and their characters kept behaving as though they were about to face Lovecraftian horrors.