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"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 re-creationist. 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 that 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.
- 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 web comic 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 - despite plans to resume publication in 2011 in annual mini-series releases, it remains solely a web comic as of April 2017. 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.
- Angrish: Demonstrated by Matt here.
- Anxiety Dreams: Usually Matt.
- 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.
- The gang's favorite wargames are "Warhamster" and "Warhamster 40K".
- For tabletop roleplaying, there's "Dungeons & Dragoons".
- Matt's first RPG was "Travailler".
- "Pegasaurus Games" is a spoof of the real-life Pegasus Games store.
- Walden's goths usually play "Vampire: The Groveling"
- Later supplanted by Vampire: The Sparkling"
- 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 seem interested in him.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall [context?]
- Calvin Ball: Igor's "house rules" for baseball, Candyland, license plate bingo...
"Okay, now the lollipops represent anti-personnel mines..."
Igor: "IT MUST BE MINE! HUZZAH!"
- Celeb Crush: Several over the years, most notably Matt with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Carson with Megan Morrone.
- Megan's response was that she's flattered by the crush, notes that she's already married, and refuses to comment whether the baby she's carrying is actually Carson's...
- 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?"
- 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."
- Cut and Paste Comic: Done occasionally, almost always with a self-deprecating joke about how Kovalic is being lazy.
- 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!"
- Deep-Immersion Gaming: The characters are often drawn as the characters that they're playing at the time.
- 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 whimpered submission.
"Turbonium dragon? More like Turbonium BEE-YACH!"
- Even Nerds Have Standards / Hypocritical Humor: After complaining to a girl that gamers are perceived as weirdos, Matt backs away in disgust when she admits she's a furry.
- 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.
- Fan Service: 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!"
- Well, there was the Dork Tower Swimsuit Special, with a Gilly pinup by Phil Foglio...
- Fearless Fool: With motivational poster!
- Five-Token Band: An in-universe example, where Matt paints a miniatures set of "a dwarven cleric; a human bard; a half-orc barbarian; a gnome ranger; a half-elf wizard; and an elven monk!" He's happy about his art representing "the diversity and beauty of life" ... until Igor points out that they're all white males.
- Funny Animal: Carson.
- Fun with Acronyms: Played with when Igor starts Gamers For Personal Hygiene -- acronym explained here.
- Goth: Gilly's brother Walden.
- Head Desk: This is a recurring gag, where a sufficiently annoying situation will prompt any of the main characters to Head Desk 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 someone 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.
- I Have No Son: Invoked here, word-for-word.
- I Just Want to Be Loved: Despite Kayleigh'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."
- 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 Jetpack: 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!"
- Leeroy Jenkins: Igor.
- 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."
- Love Triangle: Matt, Gilly, and Kayleigh.
- Man Child: Arguably, all of the main characters could be counted as such.
- 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: Carson thinks the lyrics of his favourite U2 song are "I still haven't found Walter's cookie jar".
- Munchkin: Igor, and how! He power-games Candyland.
- Non-Human Sidekick: Carson the muskrat.
- Not This One, That One: Seen here.
- "Not Wearing Pants" Dream: Occurs in this strip.
- Odd-Shaped Panel: Examples here and here.
- 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.
Igor: "I kill Gandalf."
- 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 and Burrows -- a game where all the characters are normal, mundane rabbits. Here.
- One of Us: A series of strips (starting here) reveals Wil Wheaton, Robin Williams, Curt Schilling, and Vin Diesel as The League of Extraordinary GentleGamers.
- Otaku: Ken is a cosplay otaku at Renaissance Faires, while Matt, Igor and Bill have shown military otaku tendencies with medieval weapons.
- Pantsless Males, Fully-Dressed Females: Invoked in this comic.
- Parody: The print comic regularly featured 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...
- Perky Goth: Gilly the Perky Goth is the Trope Namer.
- Perpetual Poverty: Matt and his friends are always short on funds for their hobbies and toys (not to mention the rent), yet they somehow manage to stay in the same apartment and drive a car for years.
- Persona Non Grata: Happens too often for Walden and his LARP goths; something inevitably gets them banned from their latest gathering spot.
Walden: "Great Clans of Mud Bay, I have called this gathering in the Poochy's Last Stand pet cemetery for one reason!"
- Perverse Sexual Lust: Igor's in love with three women -- Apollo Smile, Lara Croft, and Daphne from Scooby Doo.
- Print Long Runners: First appeared in January 1997, and still going.
- Self-Deprecation: Kovalic sometimes couples this with Breaking the Fourth Wall to poke fun at himself.
Ken: "Let's admit it, Kovalic's about as organized as a wet mound of marmots."
- Serious Business: Going to a movie with Bill and Ken can be very difficult, as they take historical accuracy very seriously.
"Oh gawd! They just called the glaive-guisarme a bill-guisarme! I'm writing to Roger Ebert!"
- One strip had Ken freaking out whenever his character acquired or lost any gear, as he insisted on having his miniatures figure match it exactly.
Matt: "...and so that rarest of artifacts, 'Bigby's Grasping Rodent of Eternal Wealth' is yours..."
- Slap Slap Kiss: Happens periodically between Matt and Kayleigh.
Matt: "You think my friends are annoying!"
- 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.
- Spot of Tea /Stiff Upper Lip: Lampshaded in this comic.
- Stop Being Stereotypical: Several strips call on gamers to improve their public behavior, especially regarding personal hygiene.
Ken: "I've got a bar of SOAP here, and I'm not afraid to USE IT!"
- Invisible to Gaydar: Walden.
- Strawman Political: Occasionally used as a Take That against self-proclaimed Moral Guardians and other bureaucrats, as demonstrated here.
- A related gag is for Bill to deal with clueless Moral Guardians protesting role-playing games... while Matt's mad because they're protesting Pokemon, not RPGs.
"We're still relevant, dammit!"
- Suck Out the Poison: Nobody volunteers to do this for Igor.
- Super Stoic Shopkeeper: Bill tries to be like this, with varying degrees of success.
- Take That, Critics!: Invoked for a gag when George Lucas pummels Ken for criticizing the changes to the original Star Wars trilogy.
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!*
- Ted Baxter: Igor, whenever he boasts of using his gaming skills to overcome a problem or obstacle.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Igor's in-game solution to every problem.
- Things Man Was Not Meant to Know [context?]
- Token Non-Human: Carson the muskrat, naturally.
- Tomb of Horrors: One strip concerns an offscreen run through this "classic" at Pegasaurus Games.
DM: Joe, you're dead. Bill, you're dead, and so's your dog. Ok, everyone rolled up a new character? Ok, they're all dead.
- Tome of Eldritch Lore [context?]
- Too Dumb to Live: Many of Matt's gaming sessions end with all the (game) characters dying due to this trope.
- One adventure ended with their characters chasing a Demon Lord to Hell and getting instantly destroyed... which they insisted must be an illusion.
- Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth / Your Brain Won't Be Much of a Meal: In this strip, Igor engages a mind flayer with purple nurples and "the dreaded doom wedgie". Since this effectively proved his character didn't have a brain to flay, he actually won.
- 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.
- Tsundere: Kayleigh, much to Matt's dismay.
- Tropes Will Ruin Your Life: Demonstrated here.
- Unicorn: One appears in this comic teamed up with a penumbral hulk, a kobold, a paladin, and a kuo-toa...
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: No-one seems in the least bothered that Carson is an intelligent bipedal muskrat. This was played with in a strip (later adapted as an animated short)-
Narrator: "And now...the secret origins of Carson the Muskrat!"
- Up to Eleven: Just about anything Igor does will eventually invoke this.
- Useless Spleen: "Has anyone seen my spleen?" is a common phrase in the aftermath of combat.
- Video Game Perversity Potential: Demonstrated here.
- Wall of Blather [context?]
- What the Hell, Hero?: Invoked in epic fashion by Igor against New Line Cinema here.
- When the Planets Align [context?]
- 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.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Gilly the Perky Goth.
- Will They or Won't They?: Matt and Gilly.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: After playing a Call of Cthulhu (tabletop game) 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.
- Your Costume Needs Work: Carson gets this from a bunch of costumed furries at a convention.
"Worst muskrat costume EVER!"