September 30, 2011
A dispatch from Smithsonian.com’s associate web editor Brian Wolly:
Earlier this month, I took an extended vacation overseas ostensibly for a friend’s wedding but also to explore continental Europe. The wedding date conveniently allowed me to be in Munich for the start of Oktoberfest, an overwhelming experience in and of itself that’s better left for another Smithsonian blog. But when I read in my guidebook that Munich had a paleontology museum, and a free one at that, I couldn’t pass up the chance to contribute to Dinosaur Tracking. Since Bavaria’s very own Archaeopteryx was named 150 years ago today, on September 30, 1861, here’s my account of the small but charming Paläontologisches Museum München.
Located on the campus of Ludwig Maximillian University, the museum has a quaint, meditative quality that outstrips its otherwise aged appearance. When I visited, high school art students were sketching the fossils of their choosing; had they not been there, I’d have been mostly on my own. All the captions were in German, understandably, so I was left with just my imagination to decipher the stories behind these dinosaurs and other fossils. Considering that most of what I know about dinosaurs I learned from Brian, I had a great time comparing notes from three years of producing the blog to the objects in front me. For instance, on the second floor was the museum’s shrine to Archaeopteryx, including a couple of model reconstructions and the Munich specimen, a subject that we’ve covered heavily in this space. The 150-million-year-old Archaeopteryx historically has been considered the direct ancestor of birds, a designation that is recently under dispute.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, the museum was the perfect antidote for my Oktoberfest-addled brain. For more photos, check out the gallery and let us know in the comments what other great paleontology museums you’ve discovered on your vacations.
September 1, 2011
Three Words You Never Expected to See Together: “Dinosaur petting zoo.” Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs has the details.
Staged Fight: At Archosaur Musings, David Hone casts doubt on the likelihood of a Tyrannosaurs vs. Triceratops smackdown.
Thou Shalt Honor Anatomy: ArtEvolved delivers unto us the “Ten Commandments of Paleoart.”
The Paleo-States of America: Bob’s Dinosaur Blog provides a clickable map of the most notable dinosaurs and prehistoric animals that have been discovered in each of the fifty U.S. states.
Caveat Excavator: At Chinleana, Bill Parker learns that what happens at a field study doesn’t always stay at a field study.
Lack of Space: Paleoartist Glendon Mellow, who is now also blogging at Symbiartic, poses an intriguing question: Where are all the space-art bloggers?
Further Proof That You Can Find ANYTHING On Craigslist: You know economic times are tough when someone offers his services as a costumed dinosaur housekeeper. (Duties include scaring the mailman and washing dishes).
June 14, 2011
Web comics may be a small genre, but a few have risen to widespread popularity in web culture, including XKCD, Indexed, The Oatmeal and Dinosaur Comics, also known as Qwantz. This last one is an odd fit; while it features dinosaurs, the jokes rarely touch on paleontology, and they border on absurd. It’s by most definitions a comic strip, but the art never changes. There’s always T. rex talking with his friends Dromeceiomimus and Utahraptor, as he nearly steps on a small house, car and a woman—memories of clip art from computers of old. To get a better understanding of where Dinosaur Comics fits in the Venn diagram intersection of dinosaur blogs and web comics, I corresponded with Ryan North, the mad genius behind the strip, via e-mail.
Why dinosaurs? And while the T rex. is a natural, why two other, more obscure dinosaurs? No Triceratops?
I wish I had a better answer than “I had some dinosaur clip art lying around.” I actually experimented with Astronaut Comics first, but you don’t get facial expressions wearing a space helmet, so dinosaurs it was! I went with the T. rex as the main character because he’s the celebrity dinosaur: If you know one, it’s him. He’s thought of as this peak predator, unstoppable, and I thought there was a lot of potential for comedy there. Although, in the first version of the comic I never released, there was a Maiasaurus in the first two panels, and if I’d gone with her, it would’ve been a very different comic.
Have you learned a lot about dinosaurs while doing the webcomic?
Yep! SO MUCH. My readers now keep me apprised of every new dinosaur development, so I’ve learned quite a bit. And I had a lot to learn: It’s embarrassing to admit, but since I use the same art over and over, the dinosaurs as they appear in the comic reflect my knowledge of dinosaurs when I started the comic. T. rex walking upright like a person … that makes sense, right? And they were big, like eight stories big, right? Yes, I’ll go with that.
I knew that the house and car and tiny woman were wrong, but with everything else I thought I was doing PRETTY OKAY.
What was your inspiration/reason for keeping the art static across all the comics?
Desperation, really. I’d wanted to do a comic for a while, but being wholly unable to draw kinda limited that ambition, until I came up with this workaround. It turns out there’s tons of people working in comics that can’t draw: A Softer World is a photocomic, others use video games or find other ways to get around it. I think the lesson here is that comics are awesome, and even those who really have no business doing them will love them enough to find a way!
If you were to change the art and mix things up, what new dinosaur would you add and what would his or her characteristics be?
I’d like to have someone airborne. I added Pteranodon and a Rhamphorhynchus to the top of the site in my last redesign, and if you scroll down, the page is set up so the pterosaurs are flying above the comic, watching the footer at the bottom of the page from above. So while they’re not IN the comic, they’re still interacting with it a little!
I think it’d be fun to have a super manly, ultimate Rhamphorhynchus hanging around, only despite all his tough talk he eats insects for dinner. Maybe I’d make her female though, to balance out the gender split in the comic.
Another question, the very pedestrian but still interesting: “Where do you get your ideas from?”
There’s a couple of answers to this. I used to worry that I had a finite supply of ideas, that I should hold on to each of them in case it was the last. But then I talked to other cartoonists and I realized, ideas are cheap, you can have a million ideas. The tricky part is the follow-through: making good ones work, making the best out of the raw material! So now I don’t worry about running out of ideas.
That said, there are days where I have no idea what to write. I keep some text files full of protostrips: stuff I started and then abandoned because it wasn’t working, snippets of dialogue, things I’d like to explore but haven’t yet. If I’m stuck I’ll flip through those and try to find something that works! You can treat that like a buffer: I fill it up when I can, and when I can’t, I can dip into it for a starting point.
What did you do before you started Dinosaur Comics, and how did that inform the genesis of the strip?
I was actually a student. I started the comic in undergrad (computer science), continued it through grad school (computational linguistics), and when I graduated I had the choice between getting a real job or seeing if this comics thing could work. No offense to real jobs, but comics seemed a lot more fun. Being as familiar as I was with computers, doing the strip online wasn’t even a decision, though in retrospect I’ve talked to many cartoonists whose default choice is to work in print and going online is a “Big Decision,” or at least a conscious choice. But for me there was no choice, because online I can reach millions of people. I can’t print that many comics on my own!
Being online works really well for any creative work, but especially comics. You have to recognize as a creative person that not everyone’s going to be into what you’re doing. Let’s say 1 in 10 people likes my comic: that means if it’s printed in a paper, 90 percent of the audience will say, “What is this? The pictures don’t change. That’s terrible and now I am physically angry.” Anyone who publishes it is going to get letters about it. But online, that one in 10 can self-select, and when they find my site they say, “Oh man, this is great, this is unlike anything I see in the paper. I’m gonna show this to my friend who shares my sense of humor.” I’d rather have that reader, who loves it, than ten times the number of readers who don’t like it, who read it just because it’s there.
Which web comics do you read?
So many! I link to a ton beneath my comic, operating on the, “if you like my comic, you may like the same comics I like too!” theory. My favourite is Nedroid, which is so good-natured and hilarious. I proposed to my wife with a Nedroid comic that Anthony and I collaborated on. I guess what I’m trying to say is I REALLY LIKE THIS COMIC, YOU GUYS.
Do you foresee any changes coming to the strip anytime soon? What’s next for you?
I don’t know! The comic itself has changed a lot (look at the earlier comics and compare them to the ones I write now and it’s like they’re written by a different author), so I expect I’ll continue that slow evolution over time. Every day I try to write a comic that I myself would like to read, and it’s worked out pretty well so far. I’ll have another book collection coming out soon; the advantage of the books is you can give them as a gift. Our society hasn’t yet evolved to the point where we can say, “Hey, check out this URL,” and pass that off as a present, so until we reach that point, books it is.
September 1, 2010
How Many Dinosaurs Could Live in Central Park? Finally, Bob’s Dinosaur Blog has the answer.
When Humans and Dinosaurs Walked the Earth: ART Evolved presents an illustrated guide to the various categories of “paleo-fiction” plot devices that bring humans and dinosaurs together: Lost Worlds, Cryptozoologic, Time Travel, Scientific Resurrection, Radioactive Resurrection, Fantasy, Hyper-Evolved Dinosaurs, Anthropomorphized and Cave People. (In my opinion, the list overlooked three other fictional genres: Extraterrestrial Dinosaurs, Robotic Dinosaurs and Intelligent Design.)
Put a Sauropod in Your Tank: Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs presents a gallery of vintage dinosaur art, courtesy of Sinclair Oil: “It’s not technically accurate to use a dinosaur as an oil company’s logo. But a logo of a plant probably wouldn’t scream ‘fossil fuel’ to most people, so it’s understandable why the company would draw inspiration from the most iconic fossils of all.”
Back to Nature: At Whirlpool of Life, Scott Sampson argues that—far more than innovative “green” technologies—we need a new mindset that reinserts humanity inside nature. Sampson believes natural history museums are crucial to achieving that goal: “Imagine for a moment natural history museums becoming agents of social change. Imagine if they fostered a new, more sustainable worldview by connecting people with local (nonhuman) nature. Imagine if the information flow went two ways instead of one, with museums acting as centers for convocation, catalysts for conversation about the current state of our community, our country, our world…. Such a vision would not only include advocacy, but embrace it.”
Paleo-Politics: Budget-cutting senators have expressed their disapproval of a National Science Foundation-sponsored trip that sent Montana State students to study dinosaur eggs in China. Dinochick gives Washington, D.C. a piece of her mind.
The Taxonomy of SpongeBob SquarePants: In an act born of brilliance or too much free time (likely, both), T. Michael Keesey, who blogs at Three-Pound Monkey Brain, has created a phylogenetic tree of cartoon animals.
Defying Gravity: Mark Witton presents a cool new Pteranodon sketch—depicting it in the moments before take-off, using its arms, not its legs, as the main launch propulsor. Why its arms? Witton explains it all for you.
Superarchaeologist: At Palaeoblog, the Man of Steel reveals yet another superpower: fossil-hunting.
April 1, 2010
Back From the Dead: Catalogue of Organisms asks readers, “if you could bring any organism back from extinction, what would you choose and why?” (One commenter suggests “Utahraptor, for human population control.”)
Just Another Day at the Office: “Some things that are commonplace in the world of palaeo would probably be considered really quite odd by anyone else, even those within the sciences,” observes David Hone at Archosaur Musings, who posts some photos to demonstrate his point. For instance, how often do you see a tool rack supporting a hadrosaur vertebral column?
Challenging Science: Whirlpool of Life ponders the growing tendency of creationists to participate in the climate change debate: “By creating (fictitious) debates among biologists and climate scientists over the veracity of evolution and global warming, respectively, it might be possible to foment doubts in the general public and legislate for more ‘critical thinking’ in schools. Astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University argues that this strategy may involve even grander aims, ‘casting doubt on the veracity of science—to say that it is just one view of the world, just another story.’”
Paleozoic Olympics: Walcott’s Quarry salutes the Olympic Games, bringing a new perspective to “survival of the fittest.”
Purple Passion: Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs thirsts for the now-extinct Kool-Aid flavor, “Purplesaurus Rex.” (Apparently, others share this passion.) So, what is it about purple and dinosaurs? Barney, Dino from the Flintstones, etc. Possible dissertation topic here?
Comic Relief: Be sure to check out the new collection of artist interpretations of Therizinosaurs at ArtEvolved. Fans of the X-Men comic books will especially appreciate “Therizinosaurine!”
Paper Trail: At Tetrapod Zoology, Darren Naish makes his case for the usefulness of “dead tree literature” over PDF libraries. (“I blame the few billion years my ancestors spent in three-dimensional space for all this.”)