Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Romancing the Tyrant: A review of "My Girlfriend is a T-Rex" Volume 1

I'm happy to bring Tommy Leung aboard today for this guest post! They'll be reviewing the comic My Girlfriend is a T-Rex. A bit about today's guest contributor:

Tommy Leung is a parasitologist / zoologist who writes a blog called Parasite of the Day where they write about newly published research from the field of parasitology. They have also written about dinosaur parasites and parasites in the fossil record. Additionally they're an illustrator and you can see some of their work here. You can find them on Twitter @The_Episiarch.

Take it away, Tommy!

My Girlfriend is a T-Rex* is a comic / graphic novel series by artist Sanzo (さんぞう). It was originally published as an online webcomic under the title "T-REXな彼女 / T-Rex na Kanojo" and was later licensed for an English release by Seven Seas Entertainment. At its core, it is a tale of boy meets girl, but girl is a large carnivorous theropod dinosaur (sort of). While such a story would usually end rather quickly (and bloodily), in the case of My Girlfriend is a T-Rex, it turns into a tale of blossoming interspecific romance and funny dinosaurian hijinks.

The cover of Sanzo's "My Girlfriend is a T-rex."

In the world of My Girlfriend is a T-Rex, half-human-looking dinosaurs (imagine Centaurs or Mermaids, but with dinosaur bits in place of the horse or fish parts) live in our society, kind of like an urbanite monster girls / boys version of Dinotopia. The explanation for why the dinosaurs look the way that they do was that they had evolved to look more attractive to humans in order to survive in the modern world (a case of evolutionary mimicry?). It is an extremely silly premise, but this series makes no pretence at being anything more than a (largely) slapstick comedy featuring dinosaur monster girls / boys, and it often pokes fun at its own absurdity.

The two main characters of this series are (seemingly) ordinary college student Yuuma Asahikawa who, while taking out the trash late one night, encountered Churio, a female Tyrannosaurus rex who was riffling through the garbage. Despite the best effort of Churio to try and convince him that she is a big scary dinosaur, Yuuma looked past her sharp claws and scaly skin, and fell for her tyrannosaurian charm. Since this fateful encounter, Churio gradually made a switch from scavenging on the streets and sleeping in an abandoned factory, to becoming a somewhat more functional member of society.

The design of the dinosaurian characters in this series places it firmly within the “monster girl / people” subgenre along the likes of A Centaur’s Life, Merman in my Tub, and the very popular Everyday Life With Monster Girls / Monster Musume in featuring half-monster half-human characters in the main cast. Given My Girlfriend is a T-Rex seems like just another comic amidst many released in recent years that features the monster people gimmick, does it have what it takes to distinguish itself from the rest of the monster mash?

There are two main reasons that My Girlfriend is a T-Rex may appeal to a slightly different audience than the usual crowd who would be interested in such monster girl titles. First of all, whereas most other monster girl / people series have mainly featured mythological beings such as centaurs, merfolks, and lamia, My Girlfriend is a T-Rex is unique (as far as I am aware) in having dinosaur-based monster girls in such a slice-of-life setting (if you don’t count Bird Cafe! I guess…) - this alone may pique the interest of Palaeontology / Dinosaur Fans, which I’m guessing includes many readers of this blog. Secondly, it seems largely free of the kind of sexually suggestive (“ecchi”) content found throughout some monster girl titles such as Monster Musume, so My Girlfriend is a T-Rex may be more accessible to readers who find the more risqué aspects of Monster Musume to be off-putting.

Being the titular dinosaur of the series, most of the humour in this comic derives from Churio's antics as she attempts to adapt to modern society and all its trappings. A fair share of the jokes revolve around Churio not fully understanding her own strength as a tyrannosaur, or her instinctive responses to the situations that she finds herself in - which often comes across as being like a mix between a stray puppy and Godzilla. It is worth pointing out that unlike Churio, most of the other dinosaur / pterosaur characters in My Girlfriend is a T-Rex seem to have fully integrated with human society; they have jobs, pay bills, and live generally normal lives, and the human characters in this world seem to take that as a given. So Churio seems to be just a feral outlier.

Aside from Churio’s shenanigans, some of jokes in this series are references or parodies of dinosaurs (at least as they are perceived by the general public) and various dinosaur-based media. For example, those with a keen eye will spot a very obvious reference to Jurassic Park during a conversation between Churio and her friend, Torika, who is some sort of Velociraptor. Also the personalities of the dinosaur characters usually reflect the common popular perception of the dinosaur species that they are based upon. With that said, there are some moments where the character interactions move beyond “Archetype X based upon dinosaur species X” which give those characters a bit more depth.

While the main focus is on Churio and her interactions with Yuuma, there is also a cast of both human and dinosaur / pterosaur supporting characters who get their share of story. One noteworthy side character is Kram - a socially awkward ankylosaur who has difficulty communicating with people and conveying her emotions. Also, her best intentions are often thwarted by her own heavily armoured body. Kram’s more introverted and introspective personality acts a nice contrast to Churio’s blunt and impulsive temperament, and I hope we will see more of her in the next volume since she has appeared only in one chapter so far.

On a side note, the translation assumes that the reader has some familiarity with Japanese honorifics such as kōhai (underclassman / junior) and oniichan (“big / older brother”). While such words are familiar enough to regular manga readers or anime viewers, it might take a bit of getting used to for those who have not been exposed to such material. But, it should not be too difficult to work out what their English equivalents might be given their context.

My final verdict? My Girlfriend is a T-Rex might be one of the more accessible monster girl titles available as it avoids some of the tropes of that subgenre which people may find off-putting. While the humour in this series isn’t all that sophisticated, it works and I found it to be a really fun read. You should definitely check it out if you like the idea of a light-hearted, fish-out-of-water (or tyrannosaur out of Cretaceous?) slice-of-life comedy with a dinosaurian twist. Or if you are curious about the monster girl subgenre, but find Monster Musume too lewd or A Centaur’s Life a bit too weird, you might want to give this one a go instead, and spend an afternoon with some cute dinosaurian monster girls.

Overall score: 75/100

*Yes, I know the proper way to abbreviate Tyrannosaurus rex is T. rex - but that is the series’ official title.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs of the Southwest - Part 2

Following my previous post on the dinosaurs featured in the McLoughlin-illustrated 1970s quirk-fest Dinosaurs of the Southwest, I received, oh, at good handful of requests to follow up with a post on the book's otherprehistoricanimals. So here they are, starting with the only pterosaur that ever seems to matter, Pteranodon! But what's going on with that neck?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs of the Southwest

Among followers of the palaeo arts, John McLoughlin is probably best known for his astonishing 1979 opus, Archosauria: A New Look at the Old Dinosaur. Strikingly ahead of its time in some places and eyebrow-raisingly wacky in others, it showcased McLoughlin's unique, monochrome art style and forward-thinking approach to dinosaur science. However, Archosauria wasn't McLoughlin's first foray into palaeo-illustration - three years earlier, he helped bring to life Ronald Paul Ratkevich's Dinosaurs of the Southwest, a book all about the prehistoric denizens of the more south-westerly parts of the USA. It's a fascinating mishmash of the old, the (then) new, and the slightly eccentric.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Mesozoic Miscellany 89: Conference-palooza Edition

Autumn is a huge time in paleontology happenings and October 2016 was no exception, with the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting, TetZooCon, and the Dinosaur Society conference and Dinosaur Days festival all occurring within the month. So let's take a look at some of the news coverage and blogging that has resulted from this celestial alignment in the paleo-cosmos.

In the News

Tree-down? Ground-up? Michael Habib presented new research into this long-standing debate on how the first feathered dinosaurs took to the air, finding that as long as they weren't too heavy, early birds and bird-like critters could manage just fine with a leap from terra firma. Read more at ScienceNews.

Lee Hall of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History presented a poster at SVP about Dunkleosteus intra-specific combat. Read more at Earth Touch News.

One of the big splashes coming out of SVP over social media was a presentation on a new fossilized Iguanodon brain. Read more at Fernanda Castano's blog, from Michael Greshko at NatGeo, and from Sarah Kaplan for the Washington Post.

Tetrapodophis is back in the news. Last year, it was announced to the public as being a crucial early member of the snake family tree - a "snake with legs." New research, which analyzed the counterpart slab to the original fossil, has come to a different conclusion - it's a marine reptile, a dolichosaur. While such disagreements are hardly rare in paleontology, this controversy is complicated by the fact that the original Tetrapodophis fossil was merely on loan to Solnhofen's Bürgermeister-Müller Museum, and now is back in private hands and may not be accessible for further research - especially research that may knock it down a few pegs. Read more from Carolyn Gramling for Science and Michael Greshko for NatGeo.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

LITC's newest contributor, Victoria Arbour, has written an important post about the gender disparity of talks at the SVP meeting, and the reasons behind it. It's got a great comment thread going, as well!

At the SVP blog, Andy Farke provides reflects on this year's SVP meeting.

Luis Rey was nonplussed by Howgate's BANDit talk at Dinosaur Days, who used Rey's artwork in support of pseudoscience.

Mentioned last time around, but should be included in this roundup: Darren Naish provides a summary of the events at TetZooCon, including his own presentation, the wonderfully titled "Dinosaur Sex Wars."

The crew of A Dinosaur A Day shared the results of their readership survey, seeking to parse out the demographics of the paleo community on Tumblr. They presented it as a poster at SVP, too.

If you missed it, check out our own coverage of these events - Asher traveled to SVP and Marc headed to TetZooCon.

Albertonykus made his second trip to SVP this year, and has his own breakdown up at Raptormaniacs, including presenting his own poster. And he also made his way across the Atlantic to attend TetZooCon.

The PLOS online community voted on the top ten open access vertebrate fossil descriptions of 2016, which was announced at SVP. Read the full list at PLOS.

Tristan Stock wrote extensive notes on all of the SVP talks he was able to attend, and you can check them out at Notions of a Most Peculiar Dinosaur Nerd.

At SV-POW, Matt Wedel shared photos from his SVP book signing with legendary paleoartist Mark Hallett for their new book, The Sauropod Dinosaurs: Life in the Age of Giants.

Arguably, no paleoartist harnesses the power of the web better than Mark Witton, and in his latest post he's created a fascinating inner dialogue exploring the arguments for and against putting filamentous integument on sauropodomorphs. Also, a look at the terrific cover slide for his talk at Dinosaur Days!

Crowdfunding Pick

If you're looking for some nifty new prehistorically-themed attire, check out the Permia Kickstarter, which was launched in conjunction with SVP, where they had a booth in the exhibition hall. This new fashion and art brand has been working with graphic artist Diana Hlevnjak, who is working from skeletal diagrams by Scott Hartman. Perks include tees as well as art prints.

Paleoart Pick

Man of Principle Brian Engh could not pass up the chance to paint a prehistoric shark tearing into the carcass of a giant monster fish. So watch his process video, in which he takes us from beginning to end on his new Xiphactinus illustration, commissioned by Rebecca Hunt-Foster to accompany her new research on a specimen of the implacable ichthyodectid. She presented a poster on her research at SVP this year.

Brian Engh's "Resurrecting Xiphactinus" video, featured on his new Youtube page, Dinosaurs Reanimated.

Also of note, congrats to Danielle Dufault for her Lanzendorf Award in the scientific illustration category!

The other winners this year were Tim Quady of Blue Rhino Studio in the 3D category and Franco Tempesta for his Dakotaraptor vs. Tyrannosaurus in the 2D category. April Neander won the National Geographic Digital Modeling and Animation award. Congrats to all of the winners!

Friday, November 4, 2016

SVP 2016 report (with Bonus VDA from Bill Berry!)

Hello, folks! I'm coming to you at the tail end of an immensely busy and interesting month. In the past four weeks I've been in Montreal, Ottawa, New York and Washington, visiting a mix of family, friends, and professional contacts. I sold my first story to the Smithsonian, did a quick piece about possibly-carnivorous ankylosaurs for the Atlantic (co-starring LITC contributor Victoria Arbour) and have generally been running around like a small theropod with its head cut off. The culmination of the month was a visit to scenic Salt Lake City for the 2016 meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Mesozoic Miscellany 88

It's been a while! For various personal and professional reasons, the last few months have been a roller coaster. I've been working on this roundup for a while and decided it was time to put a bow on it. I hope to have another one put together soon to cover the blogging and news coming out of the recent SVP conference and the Dinosaur Society's Dinosaur Days. Let's get to it!

In the News

Sometimes, research is splashy enough on its own to attract mainstream coverage. "The Biggest Whatzit!" "The First Whatchamacallit!" Unfortunately, the majority of discoveries don't have an obvious hook - no matter how excited those of us who follow paleontology may be. Luckily, there's paleoart to save the day! Case in point: a stunning reconstruction of Psittacosaurus by Bob Nicholls, demonstrating the counter-shading apparent in a beautiful fossil specimen. Read more from Bristol University, Pop Sci, and Nat Geo.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

Alton Dooley shares his views on how to effectively work those popular "sandbox" approximations of dig sites into museum exhibits.

At Extinct Monsters, Ben wrote about the new natural history arm of the Google Cultural Learning Institute, providing helpful criticism for a project that doesn't hit a home run every time, but seems to be a good start in making important natural history collections and exhibits available online.

Lisa Buckley takes a deep dive into fossil collectiong laws in Alberta, in response to an article at the Inverse,Exploring Canada's Socialist Dinosaur Paradise.

Paleoaerie devoted a week to prehistoric sharks in August. Start here!.

The big Hell Creek hadrosaur in Saurian has stirred up some taxonomic controversy, and Matt Martyniuk is here to sort it out.

Mark Witton pays tribute to the wonderfully big-headed erythrosuchids.

Speaking of heads, Zach at Waxing Paleontological takes on the heads of titanosaurs.

Listen to Cara Santa Maria interview Mike Habib on the Talk Nerdy podcast!

TetZooCon 2016 has come and gone, and Darren has a write-up at the TetZoo blog, as does Albertonykus. Marc and Niroot attended, and I'm hoping that one day when I'm not bound by the school year, I'll be able to pop over the pond to attend. The event looks like so much fun.

Crowdfunding Pick

Over the years, paleontology enthusiasts have been hearing about an incredible discovery in Utah: a collection of well-preserved Utahraptor specimens that had been trapped in quicksand. Well, it's finally being prepped, but it's a huge job: the block of sandstone trapping the fossils weighs 9 tons, and there's an awful lot of work needed to free the dinosaurs within. That's where we come in. A funding campaign has been launched to help bring these charismatic raptors to light once more. Utah State Paleontologist Jim Kirkland has all the details.

Paleoart Pick

Francisco Riolobos Bianco AKA Franxurio has paid tribute to the dinosaurs of his homeland with a series of anachronistic scenes depicting various species of Mesozoic dinosaur in Seville. The series is called Paleopureza, and it is delightful.

'Familia de Protoceratops en el cruce de Marco Sancho con Santa Rufina' by Francisco Riolobos Bianco, used with the artist's permission.

It must be noted that Francisco is a champ at #DrawDinovember, twisting it to feature animals that aren't dinosaurs. Follow Franxurio at Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

The Little Corner of Weirdness

Tim "the Toolman" Taylor, fighting dinosaurs. It was a thing that happened.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: How to Draw Dinosaurs

How to Draw Dinosaurs (by John Raymond, who appears to have been both author and illustrator; first published in 1977 and my copy from 1985) is an intriguing book that I picked up at a thrift shop several years ago. Part of “The Working Artist Series”, it’s a fairly large-format learn-to-draw book with the typical step-by-step instructions for how to replicate the finished drawing, although the steps are at times somewhat inscrutable to my eye. A major bonus, though, is the inclusion several sheets of tracing paper bound in front of the ‘finished’ drawings. The first part of the book also includes about 30 pages of drawing instruction and tips, including notes about materials, shading, lines, perspective, and how to break down complex forms into simple shapes. It’s a great start and I had high hopes for what I’d find inside, especially given the attractive (if retro) Stegosaurus on the cover.