It’s hard to fully and properly describe Digital Lizards of Doom. For one thing, it spans various mediums, existing as both an ongoing graphic novel series, a YouTube series/channel, and an actual live band and stage show. It’s also inspired by and references everything from tabletop games to Saturday morning cartoons and video games. And as for a plot? Does the story of a “young warrior” with a “shattered belief system” embarking on a “quest for justice” when an “evil robot and an ancient witch attack his kingdom” properly melt the ol’ brain pan? ‘Cause it should/
But at the end of the day, as complicated as DLOD can feel from a structural and logistics standpoint, it’s mostly an unabashed love letter to pop culture penned in neon marker. It’s also going to be available shortly as a physical graphic novel. (The Indiegogo campaign, which winds down near the month’s end, has amassed more than $27,000 of its $10,000 goal as of press time.) Which just goes to show, epic space battles and anthropomorphized frogs transcend just about everything else.
We recently spoke with DLOD‘s creative mastermind, Gabe Valentin, who let us in on the the franchise’s larger universe, how the story skirts traditional narrative structures, his main influences and inspirations, and the goals and themes of this unique project, among other topics.
If you’d like to, you can donate to the book’s Indiegogo campaign here.
AIPT: How do you describe the DLOD world/franchise to some poor uninitiated soul? Why should someone read the DLOD story?
Gabe Valentin: LOL — I just assume everyone is an uninitiated soul. There hasn’t been an emotional connection made yet with these characters. So what I hope for is something special, a person to come along and take a chance on a story that at the very least will show them something they have never seen before and yet at the same feel at home. This is my dream goal at least. The world of Digital Lizards Of Doom came from my friends and I talking for years about why no-one has made an adventure story that took all of our favorite things and wrapped it up in a big ‘ol sandwich of awesome! Simply put it is a massive love letter to the books, movies, games and TV shows and has defined the pop-culture fandom.
AIPT: DLOD has been so many things in addition to a graphic novel (a YouTube series, a live show/band, an album, etc.) How does this multifaceted existence influence things when you’re getting down to the nitty gritty of reading a graphic novel?
GV: I think my favorite part of the “expanded universe” if you will, is a constant reminder to not just me as a creator but a reminder to the fandom as well, that DLOD is for everyone and it always will be. As silly and comedic as it is, I take responsibility for the world that is being built. For example, if I am going to make this love letter to pop-culture, there is a whole realm outside of comics that deserves to be explored and celebrated. I hope people who aren’t into comics or space fantasy adventures enjoy the music on it’s own and vice versa. “Nerd culture” shoots off into so many directions and I want to hit them all!
AIPT: The graphic novel reads unlike any other comic book offering. What’s the aim of presenting the story in such a new and deliberate way (full-page art and then dialogue).
GV: Thank you for bringing that up, because that is a huge part of the book itself and without any spoilers, there are some vital reasons why the story needs to be told this way. It will allow the reader to experience a whole level of fourth wall breaking, unlike anything else we have seen in comics before. The original idea came from years of trying to get my friends into a story that I knew they would love, but yet they had no interest reading a story in a “comic book” or “manga” format. Even if the story was incredible, they would tell me that “They didn’t know where to read and how to follow and had no desire to learn.” I was always a little bummed because I thought they were missing out on a wonderful adventure. I started thinking about how we communicate in today’s world. Then I thought “text messages!” from children to elders, anyone with a phone, absorbs and accepts this format of communication. I was shocked when I learned that no-one had really done an entire illustrated book this way before.
AIPT: Connecting to the last question, reading the DLOD book can be jarring at first. Do you think it helps to make people question storytelling or to come at this from a new angle?
GV: I personally think it is always fun to get out of a comfort zone and explore something new, but you can’t expect everyone to share that opinion. As exciting as it was to create this new style it was also incredibly daunting. Because you don’t want to alienate an entire fan base of traditional comic book readers. This was a huge reason why I hired Chance Boren, who helped me produce this book. Chance’s guidance was key for nailing this new concept. Chance has worked in the comic book industry for years, with franchises such as Transformers, 30 Days of Night, and Metal Gear Solid. I was constantly running things by him going, “Am I getting this right? Is this coming across the right way?” Our focus was always “fun.” Make this story fun and exciting and hopefully people can feel that from this adventure.
AIPT: There’s a tornado of nostalgia moving through all things DLOD. Are you afraid this is more retro fun for the sake of it or is there some larger lesson in properly exploring some of these references and connections to beloved pop culture?
GV: Such a good question! So yes!! That was a huge concern of mine heading into this. I knew I couldn’t rely on cheap re-hashing of classic stories. DLOD needed to stand on it’s own as well. I wrote the series (which is at eight books right now), very much with that in mind. This above all things is a celebration of art and culture. So Ernie Najera and Margo Prodan, who provide the beautiful illustrations just absolutely, killed it! I heard a long time ago that the best anime could be paused at any moment and that frame could be printed out and made into a poster. I gave Ernie and Margo a similar direction, with “I want every page of this book to be an awesome poster someone would want to hang up on their wall.” At the very least, I hope people appreciate the talent of these amazing artists. I may have written it, but it is their art that brings these characters and world to life.
AIPT: What’s the specific formula of TV shows, films, video games, books/comics, etc. that define the make-up of DLOD?
GV: Ah… everything! From cliffhanger episodes, binging, watching an epic film or finishing up the craziest video game and then discussing it with your friends in a Denny’s parking lot at 3:00 in the morning. These are the emotions and memories I feel like so many of us can forget as we get older and lose sight of what made us who we are! Specifically, games like Legend of Zelda, where you have to think so far out of the box to solve some crazy puzzle, or in Metal Gear Solid, where you have to remove your controller from slot one and put it into slot two to stop a villain from reading your mind. These are the types of emotions I wanted to try and activate.
AIPT: Why just put out a standard graphic novel given how wonderfully weird and amorphous DLOD is? Does that format strip away some of its power at all?
GV: Again, just the accessibility of a text message layout that anyone could instantly recognize and absorb was enough to get me excited. Beyond that, I think the idea of having this adventure takes place in a virtual video game simulation world, would have worked just fine. We could have easily done it like that, but with this new concept, we get to push the boundaries of what a physical book can do.
AIPT: Is there some larger message to DLOD, or is this about just some (much-needed) surface-level fun in a totally bonkers world?
GV: There is a story that the reader will follow that has it’s own message and narrative, that isn’t connected to all the flashy stuff. It’s a story about challenging your own fears. It asks questions about friendship and family. It also opens up the discussion on what it means to be alive and what that purpose in life could be. It is another reason why I think the silliness of the graphic novel is such a great compliment to the story. I don’t want to bash people over the head with a bunch of philosophy. If you want to find the symbolism in the story, it is right there waiting for you, but if you don’t and you just want a fun space adventure, you are still in the right place!
AIPT: Because of how the story’s formatted, a lot of the narrative hinges on the interactions of various characters. Why are conversations so important or interesting over more “traditional” storytelling approaches?
GV: We have so many plans for the format and the ideas are very exciting. Not only are there so many cool fourth wall breaking moments where the reader is more than just an observer, but now a participant. For example, there is a scenario in book two (level 2, Commander E.K.O) where a character drops their phone and there will be a crack on the next few pages until that character gets their phone fixed. There is just so much more freedom, and we intend to explore it all!
AIPT: Why pineapples?
GV: Why not pineapple?! So the main “villain” is an ancient pineapple demon from the planet of Pineopolis. Yes you heard that right. He has trapped all of these characters into a video game simulation and uses his influence of owning the universe’s largest economic resource with Pineapple Pete’s products as a way to fund his evil plans. Dizzy Doom who is the lead protagonist, loves pineapples and they give him strength and he also uses them as a comfort food from time to time. It just seemed fun to give the main hero an unaware connection to the “villain” and set it up for the rest of the story that we have planned.