Remembering Wormy

By | Monday, January 09, 2012 1 comment
Back in the day, I played Dungeons & Dragons. I had a good pile of the books, and a stack of maybe 50-75 issues of Dragon magazine, the official mag for the game. I didn't have every consecutive issue, in part because distribution in my area was spotty and in part because, well, I didn't always find enough in every issue to warrant the cover price. In fact, with some of the issues I had, the only part I wanted to read was the comic section in the back, only a handful of pages in each issue. Early on especially, they consisted largely of spot gag cartoons with a sword-and-sorcery theme. But through a good chunk of the 1980s, they had three ongoing comics with regular characters and a consistent plot (sort of).

I probably enjoyed Phil Foglio's "What's New?" the most in part because there was very little in the way of continuity. So with my sporadic collection, I could pick up any random issue, read "What's New?" and be totally versed in what was going on. Not to mention that Foglio had an energetic drawing style and a clever, if occasionally juvenile, sense of humor. ("Next Month: Sex and D&D!") You may have seen Foglio's more recent work online. A comic called Girl Genius, which he works on with his wife Kaja. If you check out their online store, you can buy collected editions of "What's New?"

Larry Elmore's SnarfQuest was also a favorite. There was an overarching storyline, but it progressed pretty smoothly with a series of not-always-related mini-adventures. I think I also had the first couple of installments, so I understood the set-up from the start. But overall, it wasn't difficult to follow, even skipping the occasional chapter. I reviewed the collected edition here but I believe it's out of print.

Lastly was David A. Trampier's Wormy. It was a story about... I'm not sure exactly. Wormy was this dragon that lived by himself. He was pretty laid back and seemed to always be setting up some kind of huge role-playing game that he was maybe going to play against the dwarves. (I think?) His game "board" was so huge he had to hire out trolls to assemble all of it. The strip had a kind of meandering quality to it, with lots of tangents on side characters that at least didn't superficially seem to be related to the main plot. Here's a couple of sample pages...

It proved to be a rather difficult extended read, especially if you didn't get each and every issue. But the characters were so colorful and well-defined that even reading quick, unrelated snippets was deeply enjoyable. Imagine trying to read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy with every third or fourth chapter taken out. You could tell that what you were reading was wonderful, but you knew you were getting just how wonderful the complete version must be.

I stopped getting Dragon towards the end of high school, and apparently Trampier departed the strip quite suddenly and unexpectedly right around that same time. Wormy was left incomplete. No one seems to know his whereabouts. Dragon editor Kim Mohan said his checks came back uncashed. Trampier's brother-in-law said he thought he was in Illinois back in 2004, but he hadn't actually talked to him since 1982. I don't want to get into the mystery of what happened to him, but it's worth mentioning as why the story was never finished and why you're unlikely to ever see it in collected form.

Wormy was very much a character-driven comic. There weren't splashy layouts and the plot was, at best, obtuse because of the format. But the cartoons were very clean and stylish, the dialogue was usually exceptionally clever and the characters were ones that you could understand and appreciate. They were trolls and ogres and imps and demons and everything, but you could still recognize them as your friends, relatives, people down the street, etc. It really was a wonderfully engaging strip, even if you could never see the whole thing.

Several years ago, Haroog got copies of all the Dragon issues and posted scans of all the strips here. (It's where I got the above samples from.) The site doesn't seem to have been updated in a decade, and it looks like all the image links after the 1984 material are broken, but you can get a sense of the strip from pages prior to that.

In doing a little research for this post to get my facts straight, I came across plenty of stories of old gamers talking about Wormy and what may have happened to Trampier. While there's always questions surrounding his disappearance, everyone always talks about how they loved Wormy and were sad to see it go. Testament to the talent Trampier had, and the engagement readers felt with his characters.
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Matt K said...

Good choice of sample comic at any rate. Quite charming and amusing!