Webcomic Weview – Dinosaur Comics

So, due to the massive groundswell of support for this new series, I am happy to present, in lieu of a birthday gift to Mike Lynch, a review of Dinosaur Comics! Apologies for the terrible embedding, but you can click on an image to see the full size.

Title: Dinosaur Comics

Author: Ryan North

URL: http://www.qwantz.com/index

Updates: Weekdays

Started: 2003

“Dinosaur Comics” is a good comic to start with for a series like this because it’s a comic that could never appear in a newspaper It likely would have ended up as nothing more than a sketch on a kid’s science notebook in 11th grade if we were living in 1985. Without the internet, this comic could never exist. The art is, um, unique? Every strip actually has the exact same drawings for every panel. Viz:

Every single comic has the same MS-Paint dinosaurs in the same MS-Paint world. T-Rex is always the main character. He always introduces the action and almost always has the punchline. Usually, the setup is given by Utahraptor, the orange guy in the 4th and 5th panels. Dromiceiomimus is the friendly girl dinosaur in panel three. She doesn’t always get lines. Occasionally, when the strip needs an early setup or foil for T-Rex, God (a bit of dialogue coming from the top of the panel) or the devil (a bit of dialogue coming from the bottom of the panel) will make an appearance. I only seriously started reading DC about a year and a half ago. I had discovered it well before then, but didn’t bother to bookmark it because I thought it looked stupid. “A comic with one drawing? Pish posh!” What a fool I was in my youth.

You really can’t let the art get in the way of your enjoyment of the comic. Even if you’re skeptical of the style, the writing will draw you in. Eventually, the art gets sort of expressive, in a weird way. North has set up a very difficult situation for himself here. Every single comic he writes has to conform to the exact same structure. There can be no visual jokes to spice up the strip. This is the comic strip at its barest. It’s actually interesting to note that when you think about it, most comic strips do the same thing. Does it really matter is Garfield is being lazy in the living room or the bedroom? Eating lasagna on the kitchen table or in the dining room? Maybe in 1991, but not any more. DC carries this attitude to its logical conclusion.

So, without the trappings of art and visual humor to fall back on, DC has to rely exclusively on its writing. Since it’s entering its 7th year in existence, you’d be safe to assume the writing is pretty darn good. And I’d be inclined to agree with you.

The general form of the joke is pretty standard, but interesting nonetheless. T-Rex will pose a statement or philosophical conundrum, which is explored for three panels. He is challenged by Utahraptor in a humorous exchange of viewpoints, then a punchline is delivered in the final panel. Often, as is the case with most good comics, there is a reaction to the punchline which is also funny. The major reason I like DC is the combination of intelligent, witty banter and goofy, often surreal outcomes. It’s a comic for smart people, but it’s not pretentious. The characters delve into some serious matters (like the pursuit of knowledge above), but do so in a wonderfully absurd way. There are occasional themes, but they tend to be one silly comic after another rather than a serial. It’s engaging but accessible. There’s a lot to swallow in each one. And after awhile, you begin to appreciate the way the jokes always fit the art.

If you notice, the three comics I’ve posted are obviously similar, but there are very subtle and effective differences between them, which keeps the comic fresh. I find it quite amazing the way the dialogue between T-Rex and Utahraptor can be so different from comic to comic without either ever saying anything out of character. I do have one minor quibble. Unlike xkcd, the mouseover text is really not very important to the enjoyment of the strip. A lot of times, I don’t even remember to read it. When I do, I don’t generally find it that funny (although the Teri Hatcher one above is pretty good). Part of this is because the strip is already very word-heavy and loaded with layers of meaning. Adding a 4th wall break to comment on the strip is almost never worth it for me. Your mileage may vary.

I’d say the best way to read the strip is to just dive in. Start at today and go backwards. Read some random ones (and you can click on the quote above every comic to go to a random one. I am not ashamed to say it took me months to figure that out). The early strips are, in my opinion, not as good. There’s too much continuity, it can be a little dramatic. For my money, Dinosaur Comics is at its best when it’s taking on big ideas in a goofy way. Relationships between the characters are not fertile ground here, and you won’t see many strips like that after 2004. For the best, I think.

Dinosaur Comics is not my favorite webcomic. For a long time, though, it was the comic I read first every day. It’s not always laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s always a fun read. There’s not really anything like it out there. While there are a million video game strips and a million stick figure strips and a million pseudo-dramatic hipster art/namedropping strips out there, there really is only one Dinosaur Comics. Give it a chance. I’ll bet you’ll like it.

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One Response to “Webcomic Weview – Dinosaur Comics”

  1. An interesting and well thought-out review! I never realized there was mouseover text at all. And I hadn’t realized that the off-panel voices were god and the devil. It definitely *is* a bit pretentious sometimes, though. You’re right, no other comic like it.

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