Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, May 14, 2009
      ( 5/14/2009 12:31:00 PM ) Bill S.  

THE GHOST OF A HEADLESS T-REX: Back in my pre-tweens, I went through a phase of writing and drawing my own comic books. This was in the pre-print shop days, long before the advent of Internet publishing, so the only outlet for a cash-strapped kid at the time was to tear the inner paper flaps out of hardbound books (I cringe to think of how many book bindings I ruined), fold 'em in half and draw what would later be called mini-comics with a pencil and a ballpoint pen. My drawing skills were limited at best. Unable to get even a cartoonish grasp of human anatomy, I populated my mini-comics with talking dinosaurs instead. I've long lost these early creative endeavors, though I have a vague memory of one of the stories being about my two main characters, a T. Rex and his friend, going fishing in a rowboat. Wacky hi-jinx ensued.

Wouldn't be surprised to learn that Hitoshi Shioya, creator of the All-Ages manga series Dinosaur Hour (VizKids), had some similar childhood works stuffed in a drawer somewhere. A collection of dinosaur comics, rendered in a clean and simple cartoon style, it's the kind of funnybook you can imagine seizing the imagination of a paleontology-minded kid, the kind of reader who's not the least bit intimidated by multi-syllabic dinosaur names. I know this young dino-happy boy would have loved it.

The first volume contains 23 "Bones," eight-page comics set throughout the dinosaur days. Shioya opens each story by declaring in which period the story is set (Jurassic, Cretaceous, Permian), then introducing each dinosaur character with a text box describing their average size and delineating whether they were herbivorous or carnivorous). This last fact is of particular importance since many of Shioya's stories revolve around jokes of the big-fish-eat-littler-fish school. In one comic, for instance, a group of Gasparinisaura, wishing to be protected from a "dreaded Gigantosaurus," enlists the aid of an even larger predator who, of course, winds up eating the herbivores himself. ("Aww, mannn. . ." we see a group of angel Gasparinisaura moaning as they flee the scene.) With life being so comically cheap, there aren't any recurring characters in this volume, which may limit its life as a long-running series. There are only so many times you can "And so they were eaten" as a punchline, after all.

Still there are plenty of decent comic moments in this little manga. In one of the better entries, two Proceratops re-tell the story of a headless Tyrannosaurus that is reportedly rampaging through the "haunted forest." They meet up with a Troodon, who Shioya explains is "believed to be one of the most intelligent dinosaurs." The Troodon scoffs at the two herbivores' campfire ghost tale: "Current theories," he states, "posit that the phosphorous released by decomposing corpses looks like departed souls to the naked eye." Our learned dino turns out to be wrong, of course, but not before he also spends some time debunking the UFO myth.

The cartoonist also devotes a couple of stories to wittily dissecting the way images of specific dinosaurs have changed since he was a boy. In one "Bone," for instance, he humorously re-imagines Velociraptors with feathers, drawing them as giant chicks with menacing bird claws. In another, he forces a Tyrannosaurus to walk the way that current paleontologists propose he moved around -- less upright, with his tail elevated -- over the long-standing image of the creature most of us carry from stop-motion monster movies. Perfect fodder for young dino geeks, even if it does make my lost-in-time mini-comics decidedly out of date.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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