What happens when the party no longer embarks on quests? Whether they are retired or exiled, there has to be something for mages, fighters, nobility, rogues, and barbarians who are no longer engaged in an epic adventure. In Vault’s Quests Aside, writer Brian Schirmer and artist Elena Gogou explore that very concept. 

The new adventure comedy is set to debut on May 4, 2022, with colorist Rebecca Nalty and letterer AndWorld Design rounding out the creative team (Gogou and Michael Dialynas are on covers). 

Schirmer and Gogou chatted with The Beat about the book with the tagline: “It’s always sunny in the realms!”

Deanna Destito: What inspired you to write the tale of adventurers who are no longer adventuring but working and hanging out in a tavern?

Brian Schirmer: The initial spark came from a panel at Emerald City Comic Con a few years back. Fairlady was about to come out, and I was on there with a handful of friends, all of whom had also written fantasy comics at one time or another. At one point, we just started riffing on the concept of Cheers in a high fantasy world. What if the story was set in the tavern, with adventurers coming and going from various journeys? The epic tales might be going on all around them, but our characters were just busy making sure everyone had enough to drink. That sort of thing.

Every once in a while, an idea comes along that just won’t let me go. I know I’m not alone in this. I started to tinker with it, interrogate it, over time, figuring out who would work there, and why, and what sort of conflict they might be up against. It sure wouldn’t be anything like “The Great Darkness is Rising!” Pretty soon I figured out it would be “The King Wants to Shut Us Down!” I worked backwards from that, and ultimately met Barrow, Quests Aside’s owner, and realized he had accomplished the impossible –- he had completed an increasingly difficult number of adventures… and was actually able to retire. The character who goes after one last score — whether a crime story, a Western, you name it — has always interested me, and it’s rare to see what their life is like after the fact, if they even survive at all. I’d never seen a character like that in a high fantasy tale. Thus, Barrow became the proprietor and protagonist.

Destito: Even though it’s a comedy, there is a mix of genres. Clearly there is more going on and the quiet life at the tavern will be disrupted, which adds a little drama to the story. How do you approach weaving all those elements together to keep the story moving? 

Schirmer: Lots and lots of notecards. Let’s just say that I chuckled uncomfortably and for too long a time in answering that. Seriously though, I did fill up a notebook where I not only tracked what was happening issue by issue, but also the roles of each character, and the fact that some issues required characters to dance back and forth between being humorous and being… I was about to say “being deadly serious”, but that’s not quite right. I strive to have each character be true to their emotional core. If they can stick to that, then they can pivot between being serious, being flippant, or being insecure.

And yeah, notecards. Every single issue was built on the backs of notecards being shuffled around. We have our five main characters with their persistent wants and needs, but then throw in an issue’s “guest stars,” returning support characters, antagonists of varying effectiveness, and it’s a good amount of narrative strands to weave.

Destito: Who is your favorite character to create/write/draw?

Schirmer: Wow. That’s tough. On the “create” side of things, I think Ray is my favorite. From deciding that the chef would be a reanimated skeleton, to giving him a romantic relationship with a human woman, to having him be pissed off at everyone and everything 24/7, his creation was that rarity of a character who kept asking for more layers.

My favorite character to “write” would actually be Vail, Quests Aside’s resident bartender-with-a-mysterious-past. She has both a chip on her shoulder and a dry wit, which makes putting words in her mouth a ton of fun. My wife and I mainlined Brooklyn Nine-Nine last August, and there’s a healthy amount of Rosa Diaz in Vail. Should this book ever make its way to the big or small screen, I’ll be the one desperately waving the flag for Stephanie Beatriz to be cast in the role.

Elena Gogou: Vail wins in everything. I love what Brian is doing with her character and she was my favorite to design. She’s mysterious and aloof so I wanted her to have a goth-y  sophisticated look, with a sprinkle of Greek traditional attire with her jacket and coin jewelry.  And now that I know Brian has Rosa Diaz in mind when writing her, I love her even more. It’s funny because I had no idea, and the designs were left up to me for the most part, and yet she turned out looking a lot like Rosa if Rosa was your D&D character. That’s co-creator telepathy at work. Vail being played by Stephanie Beatriz would be a dream.

When it comes to drawing them on the page to page basis, I love all our cast members. They all have very unique personalities and finding ways to interpret that on the page is where all the fun is at. I try to give each of them different quirks and mannerisms that match their character and set them apart. Ray for example is a real challenge because he’s a very angry skeleton and you have to bend the rules a little to make his face more expressive. But the best part of drawing a comedy book is that there are no limits, you can go really over the top with the body language and the facial expressions to spice things up on one page and tone things down during a more serious moment on another.

Destito: How was it working as a team?

Schirmer: Speaking for myself, it’s a delight. I always enjoy tweaking character dialogue and behavior once the art starts coming in, and that was certainly the case with what Elena was serving up. To come back to Ray again, it wasn’t until I saw Elena’s initial design that I really felt him come to life. And, yes, I recognize the irony in that phrase. I’m standing by it.

Elena proved a godsend for this book. So much of the emotional core comes via the facial expressions, the body language, the body types. I always try to put some suggestions into the scripts I write, but Elena just takes it to a whole other level. I really cannot wait for readers to soak up the artwork on display here.

Gogou: It’s been wonderful. I think Brian and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to the things we like in this genre and it makes our collaboration go very smoothly. Every time I’m excited to get my hands on the next script and see what Brian will throw at me in this issue. I love this story and I like coming up with new fun ways to bring it to life, with unusual layouts, funny background details and characters and all that. But however much I enjoy expanding on Brian’s ideas, it’s very important to me to hear his feedback and make sure our visions align. I’d say we’re a pretty good team and I hope it shows on the book.

Destito: If you were to play out this fantasy in a roleplaying game, who would you want to play and why?

Schirmer: I really want to say “Ray!” An undead chef, whose bargain basement reanimation has left him perpetually snarky and a bit paranoid just sounds like a whole lot of fun. However… I think I’d go for Vail. She has a big secret. She’s ice cold, but with a little warmth way underneath. She’s a badass with… well, pretty much every weapon you can imagine, as you’ll see later in the series.

Gogou: I’m playing D&D for the first time right now so I’m very ready for this question. I feel like I have to say Vail because the character I’m playing is also tall, mysterious, and kind of mean, but with a soft side. But I will not. We clearly love one of our children more than the others in this tavern and we can’t have that. Instead I’m going to say Jodan, our anxious mage’s apprentice. He’s almost a mage and he has some stuff of his own going on that would make an interesting campaign. Plus it would be pretty easy to play him because I’m also very anxious and prone to causing explosions.

Check out a few preview pages ahead of the May release of Quests Aside below!