Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Reader's Diary #1410 - Ryan North: The Best of Dinosaur Comics 2003 - 2005

It's very fitting that one of the strips in Ryan North's The Best of Dinosaur Comics 2003 - 2005 refers to Scott McCloud's definition of comics: "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer." 

I've never been 100% comfortable with this definition, though I'm a huge fan of McCloud's 1993 masterpiece Understanding Comics, from where it originally came. First off, I'm not entirely sure about  the omission of hand-crafted art. This definition would suggest that a family photo album is a comic while a single panel Far Side cartoon is not. Secondly, I'm not entirely comfortable with the omission of words. Sure I can think of brilliant wordless comics (Shaun Tan's The Arrival), but the best comics are the ones where well-chosen words and pictures work together. 

So, despite North's claims that he created the web-comic series Dinosaur Comics with the simplest of intentions and methodologies (he wanted to meet girls who were into comics but he couldn't draw, so he found a handful of dinosaur cliparts, stuck them in a particular order, and repeated these images and sequences day after day, only altering the words), he nonetheless understood that there was something deliciously subversive about the whole thing. Here, words ARE the most vital part of the comic. You can only barely suggest that the pictures are in a deliberate sequence, and secondly, as the words sometimes don't even reference the images at all, the only thing that keeps it interesting at all are the words. It is, of course, fascinating that this works at all, not feeling monotonous at all and one almost forgets that it's the same set of images day in and day out. Whereas McCloud puts all the emphasis on images, North provides an example where the images hardly seem important at all.

Humour-wise, Dinosaur Comics reminds me a lot of Kate Beaton's comics, both take on a variety of subjects (comics, science, philosophy, and so on) with a hint of academia, but ample doses of friendly sarcasm (snark, but dialed down). It's like a first year university student trying undergraduate degree what to pursue. Again like Beaton, North avoids pretension in a project such as this all thanks to an infectious personality (though North projects his personality onto a T-Rex), one that is self-deprecating, cordial, and full of curiousity.

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