Erfworld is a work of titanic proportions.
Varying parts fictional narrative, wry parody, earnest homage, and philosophical treatise, Robert T. Balder’s twee-seeming graphic novel—previously featuring the artwork of Jamie Noguchi, presently that of Xin Ye—simultaneously celebrates and skewers the mytho-medieval trappings of high fantasy, the familiar tropes of pop-culture, the intricate systems of strategy/role-playing games, and the brow-furrowing quandaries of ethics and existentialism. Its leading characters wield oversized children’s toys (a squeaky hammer) and mundane appliances (a set of pliers, a satellite dish) known as the “Arkentools”, powerful relics forged by the gods and imbued with divine power. They ride plush-looking “dwagons” and Marshmallow Peep-like “gwiffons”, command and combat legions of “gobwins” and “twolls”, and cast slogan-riddled, pop-song-referencing spells in rhyming couplets. Their lords and locales take their punning names from music genres, consumer goods, critical jargon, catchphrases, vintage TV shows, fictional characters, celebrities and the like. Their cities and soldiers “level up” with experience, and their armies “take turns” in battle.
It’s pretty dang adorable, really.
Yet beneath this thick coat of intricately rationalized absurdity and cutesy shtick, the world of Erf is that of a turn-based strategy game brought to life, its denizens strictly arranged, socially stratified, and completely oblivious to the hilarious profusion of titular puns and visual parodies that surround them. It is only with the unexpected arrival of Parson Gotti, a real-world schlub turned “ultimate warlord” magically summoned to Erf, that things take a turn for the weird—and then only in the sense of an inherently strange world being forced to confront and explain its heretofore unquestioned (and remarkably specific) oddness.
In light of Parson’s glib irreverence, unprecedented successes, and unexpected popular influence, the warriors and mages of Erf find themselves questioning their rulers and their roles, debating the intricacies and advantages of their respective classes and disciplines, assaying the weight of Divine Right and nature of Free Will, considering the necessary conditions and acceptable costs of victory, and worrying at the tattered edges of Fate itself. Quite a bit more self-aware existential dithering than one would normally expect from persons named Wanda Firebaugh, Prince Ansom (son of King Slately of Jetstone), and Jillian Zamussels, but that’s hardly a complaint.
Fan Art: Newly emboldened by a resounding victory at the Battle of Gobwin Knob, a vast army of “decrypted” forces under the command of resident croakamancer Wanda Firebaugh (recently attuned to the divine Arkenpliers) were dispatched to take the fight to their erstwhile aggressors—and to swell Gobwin Knob’s ranks with the reanimated bodies of their foes. Unfortunately, the campaign to conquer the capital city of Spacerock has proved far more perilous and unpredictable than even the great Parson Gotti could have imagined, thanks in no small part to Wanda’s reckless tempting of Fate.
Borrowing and adapting elements from a variety of Eastern and Western styles and sources, the creature, character, and costume designs of Robert T. Balder—as refined and realized by artists Jamie Noguchi and Xin Ye—manage to be both contextually appropriate and instantly recognizable. To wit: the Rocky Horror Picture Show motif in Wanda’s present (and battle-distressed, in keeping with current events) raiment, which apparently grants a damage bonus for choreographed dance-fighting. Yeah, that’s right. Dance-fighting.