Gamebook store

Monday 8 February 2010

Graphic novel gamebooks

Now here's a genuine curiosity from the mid-80s. First a bit of history. The concept of solo gamebooks had been around since at least the 1970s, when Steve Jackson (the American one) published Death Test, an adventure set in a killer dungeon, but really came into its own with the Fighting Fantasy series. Those found a much bigger market than the hardcore gamers who might pick up something like Death Test because FF was (1) simple - you couldn't go back on your route, for example - and (2) sold in ordinary bookshops, not in hobby game stores.

Fighting Fantasy was such a huge and unexpected hit that UK publishers were soon falling over themselves to sign up gamebook series. Jamie and I and Mark Smith and Oliver Johnson had been role-playing together for years, lived within a few miles of each other in south-west London, and ended up writing, between us, about two-thirds of the UK gamebooks of the '80s and '90s.

An early series of mine and Oliver's was Golden Dragon. These were a massive success, soon translated into French, Danish, Japanese and half a dozen other languages. After six books I went to pitch a new direction, a series of connected adventures called Black Dragon, but there was a new editor who didn't care for fantasy adventure and would not be swayed by a little thing like 80,000 sales per title. So off Oliver and I went to write Dragon Warriors instead.

But we kept tinkering with the Black Dragon idea. The books would have been set in our role-playing campaign world of Medra, a slightly Indonesian/African culture with flintlock pistols and cold-blooded riding beasts that had to be warmed up before a battle. A big part of Medra was the exotic look and feel, so it made sense to find a visual way to portray it. Talking to Russ Nicholson, I came up with the notion of a gamecomic. We mocked up a few pages, of which this was the opening section (hence no choices), but soon found that the combination of fantasy adventure and comic books was anathema to the editors who ran British publishing in those days. Nowadays, of course, it's all run by the marketing people, with whom we might have had more success. Or not!

So Black Dragon got abandoned again, for good this time, and instead you got Virtual Reality, Fabled Lands and Oliver's Lightbringer fantasy trilogy. Fair exchange?


  1. Might it's time come again, Dave? I imagine the labour intensive production is a barrier? Does interactive media offer a new possibility?

    1. I started thinking of an app, Fraz, and then I thought in that case it might as well be an interactive motion comic rather than a static comic strip - but after all, that's a point-&-click adventure, isn't it? :-)