Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Webcomic Worth Wreading, Entry 28: Dinosaur Comics

Some people are easily excited. They approach life enthusiastically, greeting each day with joy for the new possibilities it brings. Even being around them can inspire a sense of enthusiasm and excitement in others. They make friends easily and have a variety of elucidating conversations with them, finding ways to make each day memorable where others struggle to avoid monotony.

Some people are a green T-Rex who likes to stomp on things in Dinosaur Comics.

The first thing anyone will notice about Dinosaur Comics is that the image is always the same, while the dialogue changes with each installment. I’m not going to talk much about this, the central conceit of Dinosaur Comics, because an awful lot has been said on the subject already, and there are other things that I personally would find more interesting to tell you about, and that I think are more likely to make someone actually want to read the comic. If you’re already familiar with Dinosaur Comics, then you already know what it’s like reading a comic where the pictures never change. If you’re not familiar with Dinosaur Comics, then my talking about the format and what it means and achieves artistically from a very erudite and analytical viewpoint is not going to make the comic sound fun to you.

And Dinosaur Comics is fun, you guys! It is. So. Much. Fun.

Note: Almost every installment of Dinosaur Comics works perfectly well as a standalone, so don’t worry about spoilers. There is continuity, though. If you choose to read it, your experience will be enhanced by reading it all from the beginning. It will take a while, but it will be worth it! The jokes grow in complexity, the character relationships became more natural and nuanced, and you as a reader get to understand them better and recognize certain trends and subtle callbacks when they occur. The comic will feel more natural after having seen its evolution as it progressed from its humble origins to its current megalomaniacal state.

Dinosaur Comics is about T-Rex and his friends Dromiceiomimus and Utahraptor talking about cool things like philosophy, filmic and literary techniques, or just their personal lives and plans for the future. Whatever the topic, T-Rex discusses it with flair and √©lan. He really enjoys discussing things with his friends! Oftentimes the discussions are hilarious takes on grave or serious topics, where the tone of the discussion remains lighthearted and upbeat because that’s just the way these characters interact with each other. Other times, though, the topic is not remotely serious. Sometimes the friends just sing together, or alternatively, just describe the message of particular songs.

The dialogue style is infectious. When I’ve been reading a lot of Dinosaur Comics, I tend to start imitating that style in my speech and writing. I also find myself thinking in terms of six-panel long explanation/arguments where I start an idea and then project objections to that idea, and responses to those objections. Dinosaur Comics changes the way I think.

In… in a good way? I hope?

It also teaches me all sorts of things. The first place I heard of the male gaze, the Cotard Delusion, and hapax legomenons is in Dinosaur Comics. The male gaze is something that happens in film when the camera focuses more on sexy parts of ladies than an impartial observer would. The Cotard Delusion is a mental disorder where a person thinks they’re dead. (It showed up in the TV show Hannibal and I was like “Hey I recognize that because I read about it on Dinosaur Comics!”) A hapax legomenon is a word that only appears once in a work or in a language. They gave me a word like that to spell when I was an audience participant in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It was pretty rad.

The author has a way of stringing words together that, even after I’ve been a regular reader for years, still catches me off-guard and sends me into fits of giggles. The frequency with which I burst out laughing while reading Dinosaur Comics is extremely high. Sometimes I laugh so hard that people who were in the next room hear me and come over to make sure nothing’s wrong.

T-Rex’s first line in this panel gets me every time.

I said I wasn’t going to talk too much about the format, but I do want to point out that the characters who are visible in the pictures are not the only characters in the comic. T-Rex has conversations with, for instance, God, the Devil, and a small bug who lives on his nose and is named Morris. William Shakespeare also has some lines, sometimes, though he’s pretty much always just out of frame in the last panel. (Edgar Allan Poe has some lines, too!) There’s an awful lot of variation in terms of the dialogue and character interactions. Despite the repeated images, reading Dinosaur Comics for an extended period of time really doesn’t feel at all repetitive.

And, rarely, there’s a visual change that shakes things up.

One significant factor of Dinosaur Comics is the BONUS TEXT. There’s mouseover text on all of the comics, and oftentimes that’s the funniest part of the comic, to me. (Like in this one!)

There’s also archive text, which I didn’t even know about when I first started reading the comic. I think I discovered it when I started using RSS, because in addition to being the text that you see on this page, it’s the text that identifies each Dinosaur Comics installment in an RSS feed. If you’re reading through the archive from the beginning, it’s kind of tricky to see the archive text. One way to see it is to go to each comic from the archive page, reading the text before clicking the link for the comic.

And there’s even more hidden text, that I didn’t know about until far more recently. (Several months ago, if memory serves!) This is the email text. If you click the “Contact” link above each comic, it opens an email to the author, with a subject line containing yet more jokes. I usually view that by holding my mouse over the contact link and reading the subject in the displayed URL. Sometimes the subject is too long to read that way, though!

In those cases, I view the source code. Because I am the kind of person who finds viewing source code more convenient than opening an email. Also, you can view the source code in order to read the archive text too, so it’s a kind of two-birds-with-one-stone deal.

Dinosaur Comics: lots of laughs, but sometimes you have to work for them! Don’t worry, though, most of the laughs come pretty easily.

I enjoy reading Dinosaur Comics because it makes me laugh, it teaches me things, and it reminds me that loving deep thought about serious issues is not mutually exclusive with being silly and carefree. The characters reflect an attitude that learning new things is exciting, that our world is a pretty cool place, but that we can still work on making it cooler, and that there are very few things that can’t be made fun and interesting with the right mindset.

There are over 2,500 comics in the Dinosaur Comics archive, and they are pretty much all memorable and distinct. Even if there were changes in the pictures, that would be a damn impressive feat. Dinosaur Comics, I salute you.

Dinosaur Comics is written by Ryan North and updates Mondays through Fridays, although sometimes there’s no Friday comic in a particular week. I recommend it for people who like being excited about things.

By the way I have been kind of doing a Ryan North impersonation throughout this whole post because I just wind up doing that when talking about Dinosaur Comics and I don’t really know how to turn it off. Hope you enjoyed it!

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