Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Turtles, Meet Dinosaurs; or, The Most Accurate Paleoart in 2014 Comics

As LITC's senior comics correspondent, it pains me to say that 2014 has been a fairly forgettable year for dinosaurs in comics. Devil Dinosaur continues to be inexplicably denied an ongoing series. DC's The War That Time Forgot never quite took off, and Brett Booth is busy drawing cluttered superhero costumes instead of elaborate archosaurs. Even Dynamite's relaunch of Turok, a title that should be a showcase for prehistoric mayhem, is saddled with an artist uninterested in creating animals that are accurate, interesting, or well characterized. (It should be impossible to make anachronistic Crusaders riding raptors boring, but apparently miracles happen. Deadly dull miracles.)


Disgraceful. In general, it was starting to look as if we were going to have to wait for the inevitable tie-in to Jurassic World to get our fix. 

And then this happened. 


That's right. The most accurate and energetic dinosaurs of 2014 are appearing in, of all places, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic. 


For anybody who's been living under a rock since the 90's, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are exactly what they sound like; a quartet of mutated, ninjitsu practicing reptiles. They got their start in underground comics as a straight-faced satire of Frank Miller's Daredevil and Claremont's X-Men, and through a mixture of novelty and savvy marketing ended up becoming the biggest thing in the 90's. They haven't gone away since. In fact, the franchise is still going strong, with a solid animated show on Nickelodeon, an upcoming (and worrying looking) reboot produced by Micheal Bay, and a set of ongoing titles from IDW comics. 

Here's what you need to know. The leader, Leonardo, has a blue mask. Donatello, in purple, is the team's tech guy. Michelangelo, orange, is the jokey little brother. The red mask is Raphael, who's very angry, all the time. (He's the one punching the Velociraptor in the face.) The plot here is simple; an incompetent time traveler has accidentally sent the Turtles back in time, where they discover aliens riding dinosaurs.


It's comics, Jack.

Anyway, lets take a closer look. The art in TMNT: Turtles in Time #1 was done by Ross Campbell, (Glory, Wet Moon, and Water Baby) and while his work has always been exaggerated, here it has the bright, cartoonish look that ties nicely in with the aesthetics of the Nickelodeon show. That extends to the dinosaurs, who are presented here with explosive energy and smooth, animated lines. The cell shaded coloring can't match the kind of intricate patterns used by someone like Julius Csotonyi, so it doesn't really try; the background dinosaurs rely on linework to standout, and the colors are restrained to let the main characters--the turtles--pop.

But what's really impressive here are the designs. Let's take a moment to appreciate that Campbell puts feathers or feather-like barbs on all of his dinosaurs as a matter of course, a choice that makes the paltry quills that (occasionally) show up in other comics look down right lazy by comparison. Even the tiny ceratopsians get little burst of quills on their little tails. The T.rex is burly, with an exaggerated beard of plumes and tiny clusters of barbs. The velociraptors are given expressive manes of feathers. The result feels imaginative and fun, even if it may not be strictly accurate. 



There's also a pretty incredible amount of dinosaurs on display in the big stampede, suggesting that Campbell may have wanted to stretch his paleoart muscles a bit. I'm especially impressed that he manages to work a therezinosaur into the comic (given that the last time we saw one it didn't actually show up beyond the cover.) 



There's also an Azdarchid, and a pretty nifty one, too. It has a quadrupedal posture and feels appropriately proportioned, more or less, and that instantly makes it the most life-like pterosaur to show up in mainstream comics this year.


All told, it's pretty good stuff. Ross Campbell just threw down the gauntlet for the rest of corporate comics, and honestly, he makes it look easy. The result is a cool, clean-looking, and imaginative feeling rendition of prehistory. It's a comic that you can hand to a kid who likes dinosaurs without worrying about exposing them to naked reptilian flesh. Basically, it's pretty great. Head on down to your local comic shop and pick up a copy, if you like. I don't think you'll regret it. 

19 comments:

  1. Ross Campbell confirmed that the story is set in Mongolia during Late Cretaceous!

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    1. Really? Awesome. I'm going to drop him a line and see if he'd answer a few questions for us.

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    2. So that would make it a Tarbosaurus and not a Tyrannosaurus, possibly Therizinosaurus, possible Saurolophus, can't pin on the Ceratopsian though or the Ankylosaur

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    3. The ankylosaur could be Saichania. The Triceratops...shouldn't be there, but considering what else this gets right I'm willing to wave it.

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    4. Well, there is a centrosaurine known from China (Sinoceratops), so I don't think it's at all implausible that there were chasmosaurines in Asia as well.

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  2. This is what he answered to me:
    "Turtles in Time takes place in Mongolia, not North America! the tyrannosaurid was a tarbosaurus, and i'm pretty sure there was overlap of protoceratops and tyrannosaurus around the Maastrichtian era of the Late Cretaceous (i'm no expert so i might be wrong though). the only dinosaur in the comic that most likely doesn't fit is the quetzalcoatlus, which lived around the same time but probably not in Mongolia (although nobody can prove they didn't, so...), but we said the hell with it. :XD:"

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    1. Protoceratops is santonian and campanian in age. T. bataar is maastrichtian.

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    2. Maybe Zhuchengtyrannus then...

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  3. You can read our discussion here: http://mooncalfe.deviantart.com/art/family-463198770
    [I am Raptor86]

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  4. Psst-- Frank Miller (Millar is Mark) and Claremont, not Clairemont.

    Excellent review otherwise, this sounds like a must-buy for me.

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    1. Oof. I always get those two mixed up. I'll fix it.

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  5. Is there anywhere we can read this comic online? I live in Norway and I was a huge fan of both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and dinosaurs as a kid and my inner 9 year old would love to read this!

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    1. Comixology probably has a downloadable copy.

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    2. Looked at Comixology's website and found it there, thanks! Downloaded it on my computer, iPhone and iPad now :)

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  6. Wow, I agree. The dinosaur designs are beautiful, a few inaccuracies aside. There is something endearing about those pudgy hadrosaurs.

    And the turtles themselves also look appealing here, which is saying a good deal (for me as a non-fan of the franchise).

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  7. I was really pleasantly surprised by the issue. Yeah, Triceratops shouldn't be there, but they provide a nice tie-in to a scene earlier in the monthly series where the Utroms are taking blood samples from Triceratops for use as a mutant warrior caste in the future (Triceratons).

    Love that adzharchid, too. Pepperoni reminded me of Bix from Dinotopia.

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    1. Ahhh... so THAT'S why the Triceratons are so Triceratopsy. Now it all makes sense.

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  9. For shame Dynamite, nice one Mr. Campbell

    I seem to remember one of the latest visits to 'Flesh', in 2000AD, had some pretty up-to-date dinosaurs too.

    http://forums.penny-arcade.com/discussion/comment/22941601/#Comment_22941601

    'Course, in this one, rather than triceratops in Mongolia we've got giant oviraptorsaurs in America. But they do look purty.

    http://2000ad.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/review-2000ad-1857/
    http://multiversitycomics.com/columns/multiver-city-one-prog-1856/

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