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Webcomic / Dork Tower

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Your dorks, clockwise from the redhead: 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.
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  • 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,
  • 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.
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  • 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 moved to London to attend graduate school, but later returned.
  • 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.
  • Sujata is Kayleigh's roommate. After dating Ken, she got into gaming — to his dismay, as she tends to be better at it than he is...

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 resumed 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 various Dork Tower comics contain examples of:

  • All Anime Is Naughty Tentacles: At least the kind Igor and Carson watch.
  • Angrish: Demonstrated by Matt here.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: Igor's gift of Muskrat Pie to Carson is understandably not well-received.
  • Anxiety Dreams
  • Bait-and-Switch: When Gilly returns, she suddenly announces she's marrying someone in three days. The next few strips involve wedding preparations, in which she laments that the groom isn't getting more involved without actually saying who he is. Even in the strip where we get the words "Do you take this man to be your husband?" we see her holding someone's hand, but he's off panel. In the next strip, The Reveal is she's the one saying it; when she said she was marrying someone, she meant officiating at her brother's wedding to Phineas.
  • Beyond the Impossible:
  • Big "NO!": Audible five miles away.
  • 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...
  • Black and Nerdy: Ken.
  • Black Sheep: Parodied; Walden's parents are fine that he's gay, but are distressed by his LARP gaming hobby.
  • Bland-Name Product: Countless examples abound, almost always as references to Real Life games and gadgets.
  • 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.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall
  • Calvinball: Igor's "house rules" for baseball, Candyland, license plate bingo...
    "Okay, now the lollipops represent anti-personnel mines..."
  • Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: Igor has reached a point where his memory can no longer distinguish between events that happened in real life and those that happened in games.
  • Car Ride Games: Igor's House Rules for 'Licence Plate Bingo' are so complex that by the time he has finished explaining the, the road trip (across multiple states) is over.
  • Catchphrase:
  • Celeb Crush: Several over the years, most notably Matt with Sarah Michelle Geller and Carson with Megan Morrone.
  • Celebrity Lie: Inverted in this comic strip with Stan Lee.
  • 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?"
  • Crossover: 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."
      Igor: "Oh. Yeah. Right. Of course."
    • Another strip at a con had Matt running a game for the Knights of the Dinner Table.
  • Cut-and-Paste Comic: Done occasionally, almost always with a self-deprecating joke about how Kovalic is being lazy.
  • Cut Apart/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.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: In one strip describing comic book convention tips, an artist has just drawn a sketch for a fan, who remarks "Wow, if you die on the way home, this'll be worth LOTS!" — With a mention that it's an actual convention quote.
  • Deep-Immersion Gaming
  • Discriminate and Switch: Happens to Gilly when she visits London, here.
  • Don't You Like It?: To show how much he likes her, Ken gives Sujata a 1,000-point Korn Demon of Kaos High Priest of Pain Blood Champion miniature figure. Needless to say, she didn't take it well.
    "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.
    "Turbonium dragon? More like Turbonium BEE-YACH!"
  • Encouraged Regifting: In one Christmas strip, Igor tells Matt that he "gives the gift of gaming". While he starts off making the valid point that there are games for everyone to enjoy, from small children to non-geeky adults, he eventually admits that the best part is if they don't want the games, which is why he's giving elderly relatives violent RPGs.
  • Even Nerds Have Standards: After complaining to a girl that gamers are perceived as weirdos, Matt backs away in disgust when she admits she's a furry.
    • 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 flock (artificial grass) for pot and smoking it.
  • Fanservice: Not in the strip itself (thank goodness!), but a regular subject of Take Thats.
    Matt: "We've forgotten what made gaming GREAT in the old days!"
    Carson: "Incredibly badly-drawn women in gratuitous cheesecake chainmail bikini shots?"
    • Well, there was the Dork Tower Swimsuit Special, with a Gilly pinup by Phil Foglio...
  • Fearless Fool: With motivational poster!
  • Friends Are Chosen, Family Aren't: Estella has fallen out with her family, who can't handle the fact that she's gay, but is pleasantly surprised when Gilly takes the fact in her stride. (She presumably doesn't know that Gilly's own brother is gay.) This leads to Gilly taking her home as a guest and adopted family member for Christmas — and her conclusion that "This is a time to be with with family! ... As long as we get to choose our family!"
  • Funny Animal: Carson.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Played with when Igor starts Gamers For Personal Hygiene — acronym explained here.
  • Goth: Gilly's brother Walden.
  • Headdesk: This is a recurring gag, where a sufficiently annoying situation will prompt any of the main characters to headdesk against the nearest table, wall, or fire hydrant. Demonstrated here.
  • Home Sweet Home: Invoked by the corrupting influence of Sims.
  • Human Sacrifice: Shown here with the "Love Is..." couple, of all things.
  • 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 Carson on a cell phone about how he fooled everyone... while being pursued by a very angry Ken.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Occurs fairly often, either as a Take That! against the characters' behaviors, or when they are Leaning on the Fourth Wall about Kovalic's writing or art.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: This strip has a news report that’s literally “Hate violence anger hate anger violence violence violence…”
  • I Have No Son!: Invoked here, word-for-word.
  • 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.
    "Good idea, three meads for me too".
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Ken...didn't take the warped retelling of Gifts of the Magi at all well.
    "If anyone needs me, I'll be seeking the Spirit of Christmas Spirits. 98 proof."
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Just look at Ken's expression.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Stel was heartbroken when Gilly joked about being gay then said she wasn't, long before she knew Stel was. It later turns out that Stell is Gilly's Closet Key, but she thinks Stel's found someone else, so hasn't told her.
  • Intoxication Ensues: Happens to Ken after he tries one of Igor's sugar-overloaded "Igor bars". He passes out four seconds later...
  • Ironic Echo Cut: Used far, far too often to list here.
  • I Take Offence to That Last One: See Slap-Slap-Kiss below.
  • I've Got an X, and I'm Not Afraid to Use It!: Ken has a bar of soap and he's not afraid to use it! (At a con! The fiend!)
  • I Want My Jet Pack: Referenced in this strip.
  • I Was Beaten by a Girl: Ken's girlfriend Sujata regularly trounces him in whatever games they play.
    Sujata: "Hey, dog-chow! It's Halo time, and I believe your butt is MINE! Woof! Woof!"
  • Lame Pun Reaction: A furry girl tries to convince Matt to be more tolerant of furries. She seems to be succeeding, but then...
    Furry: Accept the cartoon fox fan! Include the cute cat girl! Embrace the strange sheep boy!
    Furry: All we are saying is, give fleece a chance!
    Matt: TAXI!
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Igor, showcased best here.
    Matt: Igor, do you remember Sir Billingsley? (Yes) You sealed his fate when he attacked an Orc garrison single-handedly, in his underwear!
    Igor: There wasn't time to put any armor on.
  • 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.
  • Local Hangout: Pegasarus Games, the local Tabletop Games store.
  • The Loonie: Igor, hands down.
  • Lovable Nerd: Matt.
  • Love at First Sight: Ken and Sujata.
  • Lovecraft Lite: Used occasionally for gags, such as pop-culture mashups "Spongebob Thulhupants", "Pokéthulhu", and "Horton Hears Cthulhu". One slightly NSFW strip spoofing Evony even had Happy Thulhu saying "I threw up on your sanity a little."
    Igor: "Told ya! Everything is better with Cthulhu!"
  • Love Triangle: Matt, Gilly, and Kayleigh.
  • Manchild: Arguably, all of the main characters could be counted as such.
  • The Masochism Tango: Matt and Kayleigh, very much.
  • Mirror Universe: A story arc once sent Carson into a mirror universe in which roleplaying games had never been invented and George Lucas had gone into porn rather than directing Star Wars. In that alternate reality, Matt was a pretentious male model, Igor a sports celebrity and Ken a gangsta rapper.
  • Mistaken for Terrorist: Occurs in one strip with a "radical" "extremist" "black panther" named Huey. He's a white guy wearing a black panther furry costume.
  • Mondegreen Gag: Carson thinks the lyrics of his favourite U2 song are "I still haven't found Walter's cookie jar".
  • The New Rock & Roll: Many early strips involved one group or another protesting the games the main characters played. In one notable strip, when a group comes in to protest the (then) new Pokémon TCG, Bill reveals his store has gotten so many protests that he's had to start scheduling them, and that he can't fit in the new protest for about four months.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Carson the muskrat.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: The author even screen-capped a news article about the Iraq War... that was running ads for travel to the war-torn country.
  • Nutritional Nightmare: Igor Bars, which have been known to put those who consume them into sugar comas. There is an actual recipe for the bars, and it lists insulin as an optional ingredient (see here).