Monday, August 4, 2008


First impressions, ever dangerous, are even more unreliable in the case of Dinosaur Comics, mostly for reasons I'll discuss in a minute. But it is especially so because the most unique thing about this webcomic, at least superficially, is one you don't discover until you've read at least two strips. Maybe three, so you're sure it's not a coincidence or an error.


That's right - the six panels you see when you read your first DC are the same ones you'll see when you read the other umpteen-billion strips, at least in terms of illustration. There's the occasional, and I do mean infrequent, exception, such as when the strip features guest artists, who certainly have a different style but mostly embellish the regular look, or when the comic gets even more self-referential or bizarre than usual (I had some great examples, but can't find them). But any dedicated reader is going to be staring quite a lot at T-Rex stomping on that log cabin.

Now, given that comics are composed of two parts, and one of them is the artwork, you would expect that any strip offering NO visual variation would be static and quickly become tedious, if not outright dull. And, technically, Dinosaur Comics is static. Insofar as there is no literal movement, it is a static strip. Its tedium any reader will, of course, have to judge for himself, but I think it's safe to assert that any element of the boring in the comic has nothing to do with any visual flaw.

Of course there are other comics, both web and the on-paper variety, that get away with substandard illustration thanks to the wit of the writing (fill in your strip of choice). But Dinosaur Comics takes it a step further, divorcing the visual from the writing almost entirely. It's as if ... as if the pictures are just there as a way to trick us into reading a bit of comic writing that we wouldn't touch if it were just a block of text. And yet, there is a connection between the drawings and the speech, and I don't refer merely to the self-references, of which there are many. In a way the writing does so much that the role of the artwork vanishes into the void, then comes back from the other side, giving the speech a life that it wouldn't have otherwise, yet avoiding tiredness thanks to the strength that the writing offers. It's hard to explain. I trust anyone who spends much time reading the comic will get it, eventually.

And a time investment is required. This strip often feels like the comic version of a blog - the writing that I've just spent so many lines vaunting has no regular theme (except, presumably, what the author currently finds interesting), and consequently it touches on everything. There's social commentary, philosophy, medical discussions, linguistics, personal relations, and so much more, and that's just the intelligent stuff. There are puns galore, and yes, the occasional sillier or cruder comic as well. Click for a good sampling.

It's always well-written and almost always funny and often insightful. Not to mention edifying. But because the nature can vary so widely, it's necessary to read several before you start getting a feel for the overall style and whether you like the strip. I didn't know how to react at first, but now it's one of my favorite comics. The archive is well worth reading in its entirety, but it's also very long. Fortunately there is a handy-dandy randomized link right at the top underneath the Dinosaur Comics logo, so it's easy to flip through a bunch from all over the calendar. There is the occasional light story arc, and a few characters that require some back-story explanation to be fully understood, but it's not a story-driven (or even particularly character-driven) strip, and overall this is a very approachable webcomic, whenever and wherever you start reading. God and, more rarely, the Devil, make occasional appearances, at least in comments from off-panel. This strip has it all!

The cherry on top of this yummy iced-cream is the pop-up comment available on each and every comic - just move the mouse over and leave it for a moment to see the closing note. [As a technical aside, I discovered the hard way that Firefox 2 (and probably 1) cuts off the pop-up's content after a set-amount of text. For a while I just assumed that the pop-ups were all intended to end in ellipsis. Fortunately Firefox 3 fixes the issue. Now back to our regularly scheduled discourse.]

The comic's not for everyone, at least on a regular basis. It's certainly not for the kiddies, although for once that's more because they wouldn't find it accessible than it is on account of the occasional vulgarities or discussion of "adult" topics. But the topical spectrum the comic addresses is so broad that I doubt there's a single adult who couldn't find at least one strip to her taste.

If there were ever a webcomic for the young intelligentsia, this would be it, at least until such a time as I should find a better example. I doubt I will.

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