Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Review - The SnarfQuest Graphic Novel by Larry Elmore
Short review: Snarf sets out to try to gain riches and fame. He has a collection of adventures and finds both.
The zeetvah king dies
Snarf heads for gold and glory
Befriends a robot
Full review: From 1983 to 1989, Larry Elmore wrote a comic strip of Dragon magazine called SnarfQuest, the tale of Snarf, a hapless zeetvah who sets out to finds riches and glory in the name of laziness. Eventually, the demands of producing a completed strip every month, when coupled with his other professional obligations to paint book covers and other artwork, became too much for Elmore to keep up with, and so he stopped drawing and writing the strip in the middle of an ongoing story line. In 2002, Elmore compiled all the existing strips together, and produced The SnarfQuest Graphic Novel, giving fans of the original comic strip the opportunity to read all of Snarf's adventures yet again.
Aside from a very brief one-page introduction by Elmore giving a little bit of background about the original run of the strip, the contents of the book more or less just reprint the original strips, complete with teaser boxes at the end of each "issue". The strips are presented in the same black and white format as they were in the original run, and contain no new panels or other content. If you have a sufficiently large pile of old Dragon magazines that you have the original print run of the strip and you are happy reading them in that format, then this volume is probably not for you. If, on the other hand, you missed an issue or two, or you never read the original run, or you just like having all of your SnarfQuest in one handy book, then this is a great compilation to have on your bookshelf.
The story itself is just as funny as ever. Snarf is a zeetvah, a snout-nosed creature with huge bat wing-like ears. At the opening of the book, Snarf's tribe's leader has died, and per their traditions, the zeetvahs will select as their new leader the zeetvah who manages to collect the most treasure and performs the most heroic deeds in the following year. Snarf reasons that if he just works hard for one year and becomes king he will be able to kick back and cruise for the rest of his life. With this in mind, our hero sets out to make himself a fortune in the outside world, resulting in a collection of absurd but always hilarious adventures as the fundamentally inept, cowardly, and somewhat dim-witted Snarf heads straight for any situation that promises riches and easily or safely obtained glory, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.
Though his efforts begin with an inauspicious start - Snarf steals a gemstone from a seemingly friendly passer by by convincing him that Snarf is a crazed killer - he quickly gets into more trouble than he bargained for when he attempts to infiltrate the evil wizard Suthaze's tower. Snarf seems to routinely bite off more than he can chew as his greed and tendency to exaggerate his own prowess lead him to get in over his head, at which point Snarf usually tries to run, fast-talk himself out of the situation, or, if worst comes to worst, actually act heroic. His adventures lead him to tangle not only with Suthaze, but also a dragon that thinks he's a duck (and later doesn't think he's a duck), a giant, and another evil wizard named Gathgor. Along the way Snarf also has to deal with a journey to the perpetual pit, a smitten princess and her prejudiced father, and a condition that makes him believe he is a bee.
As fun as the conflicts are, what makes the story interesting is the bizarre cast of characters that Snarf befriends in his journey, from a human prince transformed into a rat, to a beautiful woodland sorceress, to a dopey mercenary named Dorf, to the displaced robot that Snarf thinks is a weird wizardly knight with odd rituals and who he calls Aveeare because he can't pronounce the robot's real name VR-X9 4 M2 Galactic Probe Government Issue Robot. And there is also the insanely dangerous beast of burden that Snarf purchases named the gagglezoomer and its accompanying control mechanism that turns out to be a death leech. And finally, the beautiful and startlingly immodest Teleri, who Snarf falls in love with (which isn't much of a surprise, as Snarf falls for any pretty girl that he happens across), but who also seems to eventually fall for Snarf. All of these companions are allies after a fashion, and provide Snarf with help in his quest, but more importantly they also provide the story with a lot of humorous misadventures and misunderstandings.
A little more than halfway through the book the original story ends, which probably would have been a good place to end the strip. However, it was wildly popular among readers of Dragon magazine, and Elmore decided to continue Snarf's adventures. First Elmore wrote a short ten page interlude that featured Snarf and Teleri seeking adventure five years after the events of the first part of the book and getting sucked in to the travails of a small village that is plagued by a werewolf. A plan involving forming a rock band goes awry, and a follow-up plan involving making silver bullets for Snarf's pistol also fails, and in the end Teleri saves the day, as usual. The story is funny and silly, which is exactly what one expects from a Snarf story.
After this short side story, Elmore settles in for another long epic, as the pressures of being king get to Snarf and he decides to pass the reins of leadership on to another and join his friends on an adventure to the stars in the rescue ship sent for Aveeare. This second extended adventure transforms the setting from a fairly standard (albeit somewhat zany) fantasy world to a fairly standard (albeit, yet again somewhat zany) science fiction world. Unfortunately, this story line is not nearly as interesting or enjoyable as the first, feeling like something that was simply tacked on out of a sense of obligation. There is some decent development with respect to the relationship between Snarf and Teleri, and there are plenty of silly hi jinks involving bar fights, a hunt for gold, some native creatures who want to eat Snarf's pickup truck, and a race that features the gagglezoomer.
By 1989, the pressure of producing a monthly strip had burned out Elmore, and he decided to cut the story short. As soon as the characters made their way back to Snarf's home village, he inserted himself into the comic and explained that he was cancelling the strip. And just that abruptly, the run of SnarfQuest in Dragon magazine came to an end, and so does this volume. Even though the heroes return to find that a revitalized Suthaze is threatening to conquer the world while assisted by the magically enhanced death leech, that plot is simply left unresolved, and Snarf's adventures were put on hold. Elmore later picked up the series and printed new installments first in Games Unplugged, and then on his own website, and then in Knights of the Dinner Table. But none of these continuation strips are contained in this book, and as a result, the reader is left hanging in the same way fans of the original strip were.
With the exception of the rather unsatisfying inconclusive conclusion, The SnarfQuest Graphic Novel is a fun compilation. There is, after all, a reason that it was one of the most popular regular features that appeared in Dragon during the magazine's heyday. Snarf is, for all his faults, a fundamentally likable character and he, along with his supporting cast of misfits, provide plenty of humorous and entertaining adventure from the story's opening pages right up to the abrupt end.
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