Pipeline: Dissecting "Age of Reptiles"

Tue, April 12th, 2011 at 1:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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THE MOST OVERLOOKED BOOK OF THE LAST TWO DECADES?

It's a bold claim, I know, but Ricardo Delgado's "Age of Reptiles" is an amazing artistic accomplishment that I doubt very many people have ever seen a page of. Dark Horse recently published an Omnibus edition that, I believe, collects all of the work from the series. It is an impressive accomplishment, and a joy to read through.

The book is composed of three mini-series, basically, telling stories of when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and ate each other. All the stories are silent, giving you a final Omnibus of 350+ pages of silent storytelling, which has to be some kind of record for a comic book. Delgado, an animator by trade who's worked at Disney/PIXAR amongst other places (he worked on Disney's "Dinosaur," naturally), uses a very cinematic style of storytelling, with lots of wide angle shots, large images, and fast-paced sequences. But it's a style that evolves over the course of the book.

In the first story, "Tribal Warfare," a T. Rex battles a family of smaller/faster dinosaurs. It's classic Hatfield and McCoys, with a circle of death and violence that escalates over the course of the 110 pages it runs. He kills one of theirs, they kill one of his. He goes after the children, they go after his eggs. Back and forth. By the end of the story, you almost feel badly for these animals, but have to realize that it's the dog-eat-dog life they lived. Survival counts for everything, and a meal is a meal. Delgado's dinosaurs just take it more personally.

Still, it's an emotional journey that's also thrilling. There are moments in this story that stop you cold, memorable images of killer creatures staring each other down, or running from a kill most brutal. Delgado can stage a scene and a specific moment to hit hardest at the reader.

The art and story goes back to the early 90s, and some of the coloring seems crudely Photoshopped (or at least color separated), but the bold colors help you track the dinosaurs around. Delgado's art is wide open, often relying more on the storytelling than the sheer line work to catch your breath. These are dinosaurs that leap, bounce, lumber, fight, and claw their way through the landscape. But they do so in spectacularly untamed nature, filled with distant waterfalls, lush and dense greenery, and wide open skies.

The second story, "The Hunt," is an almost Disney-esque tale. When a dinosaur's mother is killed, her child comes back to avenge her death, hunting her killers for the next 130 pages. It's not exactly "Bambi," but it has all the elements of dead parents, ultimate revenge on the murderers and an adventure romp. The story opens up a lot on this tale. Whereas the first one stayed focused on just the dinosaurs involved in an epic struggle, this one takes its time to mosey around a bit and introduce lots of other colorful creatures and their impacts on each other.

The art also tightens up a bit, and I could swear I see Moebius influences in parts of the landscape. The computer coloring looks a hundred times better, too. James Sinclair is credited on colors for the first two stories, but it's clear that his style evolved with the technical elements between the first and second pieces of work. It's much more slick, and the subtle shadow work that replaces the more garish gradients from the first story really help sell the piece. It's smoother and more natural.

Delgado has some awe-inspiring pages and double-page splashes in this story, often of such simple things as dinosaurs flying over the clouds and coming into conflict. The negative space he uses is breathtaking. You can follow the story and get a better sense of scale and perspective from the angles he chooses.

The third story, recently completed, is another dramatic leap forward in Delgado's art style. Picture Geoff Darrow or Scott Kolins drawing a dinosaur book. Imagine WETA Digital animating crowd scenes of dinosaurs. Picture Mike Mignola's inset panels and storytelling choices, with Dave Stewart's coloring style. (The colorist did change for this volume, but it's Jim Campbell here, not Stewart.) Combine them all up, color it beautifully, and you have the last 100 jaw dropping pages of the book.

"The Journey" tells the story of multiple herds of dinosaurs on a journey together, presumably heading south for the winter or something. Imagine ten different types of dinosaurs sleeping amongst their own at night, just yards away from each other, before waking up at dawn and getting to their feet to travel some more. Then imagine the feeding opportunity this presents to smaller, faster dinosaurs. It can be brutal.

The art constricts a lot in this part of the book. Delgado uses a tighter grid of panels, with lots of smaller panels filled with dozens of dinosaurs. No texture is left un-inked. He does open it up at times, and those full page splashes are filled, again, with dozens of dinosaurs roaming in packs. It's a ridiculously wonderful thing to stare at. But, for the most part, there are a lot more panels here to capture the creatures' reactions, to cover the stories of untimely demises, and to give the reader a sense of chaos and action. Delgado even goes so far as to do margin art, as if he was trying to compete with Sergio Aragones by unleashing a tidal wave of dinosaurs on the page.

This is a book that isn't always easy to read. There's a lot of bloodshed in it and dinosaurs taking each other down and feasting on their flesh. If you want cute dinosaurs doing fun things in a highly-detailed environment, I'd point you to "Gon," instead.

Just because the pages aren't filled with word balloons, that doesn't mean it's a breeze to read through. Sure, you could, but silent storytelling demands more of your attention to follow the story. The art carries it all, so you need to pay attention to that. There will also be times when Delgado's art stops you dead in your tracks. You'll want to let your eyes wander over the art spreads in the book, to take in the composure (trees doubling as framing elements), the quiet power (of birds in flight soaring over the clouds), or the sheer density of what's one the page (like every panel of every page of "The Journey.")

The Omnibus edition of the book contains all the forwards ever written for the series and its collections, including a new one from Genndy Tartakovzky. The other impressive names introducing these tales include Ray Harryhausen, Burne Hogarth (Delgado was a student), John Landis, and Thomas Schumacher (V.P. of Walt Disney Feature Animation.)

There's also 15 pages of sketchbook material in the back and essays Delgado wrote to accompany "The Journey."

Normally, I'd avoid smaller reprints like this one. The page size is smaller than standard comic size, and art as detailed as Delgado's gets over the course of this book could really use the breathing room that an "Absolute"-type presentation could offer. Yet I'm OK with this Omnibus. I think shrinking the art down does tighten it up a bit, particularly in the earlier stages of the book. That could only serve to help. The book never suffers from sitting in my hand so easily, and the colors are presented very well here. There are some darker pages in the last third that start to approach muddy, but so long as you read the book in a brightly lit room, you won't have any problems with it. The glossy pages do their thing well.

Perhaps overly optimistically, the Omnibus has a giant "1" on its spine. I hope it doesn't take another two decades for a second book to show up in the series. This stuff is too good, particularly at the $24.99 price point.

Delgado, by the way, won an Eisner in 1997 for "Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition," and did another mini-series through Dark Horse, "Hieroglyph," which has never been collected.

NOT QUITE ONE-LINERS

  • Mark Millar and Frank Quitely are doing a 12 part series through Image to debut in 2012. I'm guessing issue #12 will hit comic shop shelves three years later, just after the movie is released.

    Why Image? I'm guessing Quitely still wants to be a DC guy. Image is a safer haven for creator-owned stuff for him.

  • Did DC forget to trademark "Flashpoint?" Is that why Marvel is naming their Venom comic book that?

  • This week's "Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris" cover by Art Adams features a character who surgically implants two watermelons on each side of her chest. It looks painful. She must be walking with a permanently arched back just to hold them up.

  • I think it's time for an Eisner Award for Best Podcast. Or maybe a podcast should be nominated in the Best Journalism category? There are a couple of interview-type podcasts that are just as revealing and informative as any comics magazine I've read in the last decade. As a bonus, podcasts are much more timely.

  • The Eisner Awards gave two nominations to stories in Image's "Fractured Fables" for best short story. The volume, as a whole, failed to get a "Best Anthology" nomination. Those other creators must be feeling guilty now for dragging the whole thing down, eh?

  • Seriously, though, the Eisners cover an industry much too large and diversified to ever be able to pin down a true "best" or "most" of anything. The character of the judges each year determines the tone of the awards. This year's group went in a very specific direction to maximize new talent and creator-owned comics. With a limited number of slots, there's only so much they can do, and every award has to be set up as its own kingdom. Applying mathematical logic (as with the previous bullet point) is not the right thing to go. These things are much looser than that, and congratulations to all the nominees.

  • That said, the lack of a nomination for "Blacksad" is criminal.

  • I hope someone translates Lewis Trondheim's L'Association tell-all comic for the American market. It might need prodigious footnotes, but there are six of us who'd buy that in a heartbeat in this country. Isn't that enough?

  • Image's "Nonplayer" is "Flight" for a new generation. It's a video game industry creator doing a very pretty book with no story that's serialized with a long gap between volumes. OK, so "no story" might be a bit harsh. I'm sure it's there, but I don't get it yet. Something about "theming" or "skinning" reality and a virtual world and a video game environment and is it "Tron" or "VR.5" or what? I don't know. I'm not sure I'm supposed to know just yet. I look forward to reading the second issue to see if it sheds any light on matters.

  • Speaking of "no story," when's the last time you saw "Bambi?" That movie has zero plot, but Disney's done just fine with it.
BI-MONTHLY COMICS, ONE YEAR LATER

Time to look back on a bet I made nearly a year ago, in Pipeline on April 20th, 2010:

"With their C2E2 announcements, Marvel now has five different projects scheduled for bi-monthly publication this year: "S.H.I.E.L.D.," "Avengers: Prime," "Ultimate X," "Avengers: The Children's Crusade" and "Scarlet."

"[. . .] I'll bet you right now that half of those titles will be shipping late by their sixth issues. ("Avengers: Prime" is only scheduled for five issues, and it's Alan Davis drawing it. We can trust in him, can't we?) Usually, bi-monthly is code for "artist can't draw this every month, so we're buying him time." Those are the perfectionists most likely to use up all of that time and then some. We've seen it far too often in the past.

"Look at the "Children's Crusade" mini-series and ask yourself: What's the last monthly book Jimmy Cheung did? Heck, what's the last book he did two issues in a row of in the span of two months? [. . .]

"At this point, though, I think bi-monthly publication is a hedge against artist lateness. Let's come back to this in a year and see what's up. I've already set the appointment on my calendar."

Sure enough, that alarm went off this weekend. Perhaps I'm still a week early, but the results are fairly conclusive already.

First and foremost, I was right in trusting in Alan Davis. The hardcover collection of "Avengers: Prime" is already on store shelves.

"S.H.I.E.L.D. Infinity" is due out this week, according to Marvel.com. This follows up six issues of the S.H.I.E.L.D. series starting April 7, 2010 concluding February 16, 2011. That would make it right on time, two for two.

"Ultimate X," on the other hand, premiered on February 3, 2010. The fourth issue just shipped April 4th, 2011.

"Avengers: The Children's Crusade" started in July of 2010, and its fifth issue just came out last week. You can see Greg McElhatton's review of it here on CBR. That's close enough to on schedule for me. Maybe a week or two slipped over the course of the last 9 months, but that's fine. Heck, Heinberg even wrote a one-off called "Avengers: The Children's Crusade - Young Avengers" published last month.

"Scarlet" #5 hit stands on the first week of this month. The Bendis/Maleev series debuted mid-July 2010. It's as far off schedule as the "Avengers" title, which is to say not much at all.

Are there any bi-monthly series I'm missing? Looks like Marvel proved me wrong, with four of the five bi-monthly series shipping on time. Thought my "bet" said the series would be late by their sixth issues -- and only one has made it that far -- I'm willing to concede the point.

I'm happy to be in error here, and ready to start ordering hardcover collections!

COMICS ELSEWHERE

There's a big intersection between my two hobbies of comic books and photography. It's only natural, given their visual natures. Lots of comic book fans are photographers, and lots of photographers are comic book fans. Still, it always brings a smile to my face to see an instance of those two crossing over. Three stories in the past week drew the two worlds closer together, to varying degrees:

Pentax has a new point and shoot camera that features customizable faceplates. Now, for $200, you can get a pack of seven DC faceplates that comes with an SD card and a Green Lantern carry case. They're going for a retro look with these, judging by the older art on the plates.

Here's a video of a photographer who, as a personal project, made an image of a model dressed up as Supergirl fighting off a bad biker dude with a gun. The model had a Supergirl costume laying about, so they decided to use it. Please note that the costume is half made of Superman Underoos. The end effect looks like a Greg Horn digital painting.

One last link and the comics connection is kind of a stretch, but it's too cool not to share. Phillip Bloom is a photographer well known for his time lapses. Recently, he published one done in Seattle, using multiple cameras simultaneously. The center point of the time lapse is the Space Needle which, he notes, is trademarked and so the video can't be used commercially without explicit approval from the trademark holders.

The comics connection? I first learned about that fact from a Jim Demonakos interview on Webcomics Weekly, when he mentioned running into that problem while promoting the Emerald City Comic-Con. It was either in episode 52 or episode 76. I can't remember which. While you're at it, though, listen to Dave Kellett's intervention with Scott Kurtz in the most recent episode. Fascinating podcasting there.

Where else I hang out: AugieShoots.com || VariousandSundry.com

How to get in touch: Twitter @augiedb || E-mail || Pipeline Message Board

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