As you know, Bob, Duncan & Mallory is a collaborative comic created by Mel White and Robert Lynn Asprin. Set in a not-quite-Earth fantasy setting of ambiguous place and time, it concerns the adventures of one Duncan (disgraced human warrior) and J. P. Mallory (small silver dragon temporarily between jobs). Released in 1986 by Starblaze, it never achieved the notoriety widespread recognition it (IMHO) deserves.

What you may not know (comma Bob comma) is that it is now being re-released, on the web, a bit at a time, for free. More details after the jump.

Though (at the time of this writing) there are only a few pages available, it's an easy and risk-free way for new readers to get a taste of this classic and under-appreciated work.

While the art may sometimes lack polish, Duncan & Mallory is so relentlessly charming that it scarcely matters. Perhaps I'm viewing it through the lens of twenty-plus years of nostalgia, but with seemingly everyone in fantasy and comics trying to out-do one another at being dark and edgy, it's refreshing to see a story that never stoops to being cruel or vulgar.

Mallory, in particular, is an endangered species in modern fantasy: a genuinely likable character. He's a swindler and a cheat, but operates from a profoundly kind and moral core (and does so without ever becoming preachy -- you'd never see a Mallory in any of the products extruded by the Rat Company). Then again, maybe I'm biased when it comes to dragons. You know. Maybe.

While on the surface, the story and dialogue seem relatively simple, there's a lot of storytelling meat on these bones. Mallory is The Trickster (which appears to be a favorite theme of Ms. White -- see her current work Coyote for example). There's subtle, sophisticated verbal and visual play with the ambiguous and transgressive qualities of the archetype, even while the actual text remains at the level of slapstick. (In this, Duncan & Mallory is no different than many of the more traditional Trickster legends.)

The original printed-on-paper version was filled with wonderful little details and in-jokes that, sadly, don't really come through very well in the relatively low-res scans on the website. If it seems like the sort of thing that appeals to you at all, I'd strongly recommend buying the dead trees.

On the other hand, the web version does include some commentary from co-author Mel White (the anthropologist one, not James Melville White; you'll find the latter if you JFGI) that explains some of the process and the jokes. Pro tip: hover your pointer over the page image for xkcd-style mouseover text. It makes a great companion to the print version.

Three volumes have thus far appeared in print: Duncan & Mallory, Duncan & Mallory: The Bar None Ranch and Duncan & Mallory: The Raiders. Thus far? Yes. For in an SGS exclusive[1], I can now reveal that a fourth Duncan and Mallory story is in the works. This comes from no lesser authority than Ms. White herself, who was kind enough to talk about it for a few minutes at AggieCon 41. Apparently it was planned and outlined with Mr. Asprin, back in the day, and now awaits only Ms. White completing her thesis and having sufficient free time.

This probably represents the longest hiatus between released works in a series, ever, that does not in some way involve Valve Software.

Waiting, bated breath, etc.

[1]-- Totally not an SGS exclusive. Everybody but me has probably known this for years.

[Edited 2010-02-10 by dhenke to remove Amazon links. See explanatory post.]