Friday, August 26, 2016

Dragonring Issue #1 Comicbook by Guang Yap From Aircel Comics As D&D Campaign Fodder

Its been a long time since I've dug out my copies of  The Dragon Ring from my long boxes in a very long time. In my last blog post I tripped down memory lane with Carl my boss from my old underground mail order Eighties comic book & rpg hobby shop operation who was busted for drugs. Now let's get into Aircel comics and Nineteen Eighty Six.

Eighty six was a hard year in many ways. It was the middle of the black and white comics boom & it was a solid year for B movies. Aliens was redefining science fiction films & there were a ton of B films like the Wraith, Big Trouble In Little China, The Golden Child, Poltergeist II The Other Side, Flight of the Navigator, Little Shop of Horrors, Blue Velvet, Star Trek The Voyage Home, etc. But let's grab Big Trouble In Little China & The Golden Child for a moment. Dragonring draws deeply from Hong Kong action cinema against a  background of Oriental mysticism and modern sensibilities. You could always tell an Aircel book because of the black background & weird action covers. Big Trouble In Little China is a comedic  homage to Hong Kong action flicks, the martial arts craze of the Eighties, a Chinese cinematic mysticism, & audiences at the time didn't get it. So is Aircel Comics's the Dragonring which is a homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Buckaroo Bonzai, Thirties & Forties musicals, Chinese cinematic mysticism, and adventure series of the past along with a huge dose of pulp magazines especially HP Lovecraft.

The Golden Child a film with similar Chinese mysticism themes (Chinese American actors Victor Wong, James Hong, and Peter Kwong appear in both films) and pulled from the same well as Aircel's The Dragonring. The plot is an interesting little b/w effort that I loved as a kid.

Kohl Drake is an adventurer living on a leaking tub of a ship along with his buddy Captain Miles Corkin ( ship captain straight out of the pulps whose seen 'things man wasn't meant to') & plucky adopted side kick son Yue. He's hired by Raymond Wharfin (Buckroo Banzai name drop) to take him to an island that he's inherited from his distant uncle. Of course all of his other relatives have been killed & he's completely unaware of it. Our heroes are attacked by Ju Ju zombies with Oriental style daggers and Kohl dispatches them with a set of nunchakus. Upon the island we're greeted by a Carstairs the lawyer for the estate & a tribe of Amazon warrior women who look like the line up for a D&D party of hirelings. They come with the island estate and much more as we soon learn.

Kohl that night goes walking out on the island unable to sleep & meets an older alternative version of himself who gives him the dragonring ( a D&D style relic of mysterious powers). The old man has been shot full of arrows passes away. Seems as though the island was originally the head quarters for a Lovecraftian cult & the head priest and some of the remains are still in the dungeons of the island. The island is rife with Lovecraftian hordling demons as Yue and his buddy Alex discover when they head down to the local swimming hole with the local kids. Kohl later on kills the tentacled horror that almost drowns both boys but it takes out a local kid with easy. Kohl follows the beast to its lair and comes across the old black cleric whose been summoning the beasts. He kills him just as the priest can recognize the dragon ring as he falls to his death. Carstairs the lawyer has been corrupted by the cult the whole time and holding the Amazon warriors at gun point but flees the island once Kohl kills off the evil priest. There's also a subplot about the Amazon leader Kohl & his girlfriend back home none of which comes into play until three or four issues later.
So what does this have to do with D&D? Well besides the monsters & pulpy elements? Essentially the Dragonring is a Hong Kong cinematic hex crawl. Other issues had the party coming across lost tribes, lich kings, and other pulpy elements. But I've got to address the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room when its comes to Aircel Comics. 
"Barry Blair (1954 – January 3, 2010)[1] was a Canadian comics publisher, artist and writer, known for launching Aircel Comics (publisher of titles such as Samurai, Elflord, Dragonforce, and Men in Black) in the 1980s. From early on, Blair's art style was influenced by the comics he had seen living in East Asia, at a time when manga and other Asian comics were largely unknown in North America. His art was typically characterized by childlike figures, and included nudity and partial nudity. This continued into the erotica which became his main focus later in his career, and these attributes were a common criticism of his work"
Yeah rereading The Dragonring today, I can see why this criticism was leveled but I was into the comics for the pulp elements. I borrowed from the series to create an island hoping campaign with the Isle of Dread at its center. Everything lined up perfectly with the Isle including the Lovecraftian style Hong Kong cinematic monsters. Peter, Steve, & even Peter's wife Eve would later love this mini campaign

The Dragonring series was a book of its time and a part of the B/W period of comics in the Eighties which was one of the most innovative and creative times in comic books since the Thirties & Forties. We're not likely to ever see this type of explosion in creativity in comics again but the Dragonring is a product of its time and while good remains an interesting series to revisit from time to time. It also makes great fodder for a pulpy D&D style campaign.

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