Sick of Zelda games? So’s this graphic novel

The Legend of Zelda—with dozens of entries, many with the same characters, key events, and goals—has hit a wall. We accomplish three sub-tasks; we collect 5-12 assorted other macguffins; we hit Ganon’s weak point three times, find the final Triforce piece, save Zelda; we rinse and repeat. Critic Tevis Thompson, fed up with the nonstop sameness, penned the impassioned essay “Saving Zelda” in 2012 following the launch of the then-current entry, Skyward Sword. In it, he lambasted the series that had initially “captured his imagination in 1987 and hasn’t quite let go,” but had, in recent years, grown stale.

In his opinion, a series that began with such brutal difficulty and near-absent directions had, over time, turned into a Disneyland ride of guided paths, rote plot points, and dialogue box after dialogue box. But it wasn’t beyond saving.

Illustrator David Hellman, of the canonical side-scroller Braid, caught wind of “Saving Zelda” and tweeted a Zelda-inspired landscape as a response to Thompson’s article. The two quickly struck up the idea of a collaboration after realizing they had similar opinions on the path of the beloved franchise.

“One part I’d cut from that essay dealt with problems in Skyward Sword‘s story—particularly its handling of Zelda,” said Thompson. “He shared those concerns, and we just kinda naturally started talking about doing a small project together focused on that. It was really short at first, just a kind of illustrated prose poem, but the idea kept expanding throughout the spring and summer.” It was that love of the imagination-spurring mythology that lead them to Kickstart Second Quest in the fall of 2012.

The graphic novella uses the Zelda series’ direction as a springboard into an original story, full of that childlike awe for adventure that the Zelda series had lost. According to Thompson, “our challenge was to give life to those frustrations in a linear narrative, to create a fictional world out of videogame logic.”

“Gaming’s problems are not at all isolated from similar problems in the non-gaming world.”

Through the comic, Thompson and Hellman want to use their tale to address some of their frustrations around the repetition of tired gaming tropes, as well as the insular and exclusive nature of gaming culture at large.

“Even though things like Gamergate erupted last year, those issues have been around a long time,” said Thompson. “So though we developed the story in 2012 and 2013, Second Quest really resonates with those more public issues now. It’s not only about gaming culture, and we worked hard so that it would still resonate with people who don’t know gaming. Gaming’s problems are not at all isolated from similar problems in the non-gaming world, or even broader issues of insularity, misogyny, and fear of difference.”

The initial 20-page sample available drops readers in on Azalea, a girl who lives on a floating city, coercing her friend Cale into exploring an ancient, forbidden cave. Ancient artifacts, visions of alternate universes, and threats of awakening an ancient evil quickly follow. Despite Azalea’s eerily Link-like appearance, by the end of those initial 20 pages, all thought of Triforces and Eponas and hookshots melts away, replaced with a curiosity of just what that ancient evil means to Azalea and Cale’s home.

Hellman’s painterly artwork brings a lush, fanciful leaning to the book that matches Thompson’s playful dialogue and mysterious storyline. A map poster of Azalea and Cale’s city invites the same level of scrutiny as those first glimpses of Hyrule in the NES instruction book.

Second Quest is available to purchase this week via Fangamer as both a full-color, 102-page hardback and an eBook version, with a wider release hopefully in the works down the line. Hellman and Thompson are hosting a launch party this Saturday in San Francisco at Mission: Comics and Art, or you can catch them at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival on May 9-10.