(Warning: Light spoilers and very mild mentions of gore.)
I just spent roughly a month going through an entire book series. I have analyzed the literature of the entire series. I’ve examined these books for themes, implications, and all that other highbrow stuff. Now, let’s change everything and talk about a comic series about dinosaurs who kill each other with absolutely no text at all!
Ricardo Delgado’s Age of Reptiles series is something completely different. First published by Dark Horse in 1993, the ongoing series is about dinosaurs and their daily, brutal lives.
The first thing that jumps out about this comic is that there is no speech. There is no narration. There is no text anywhere in this series. These are dinosaurs, and as such they have no dialog at all. This is something I don’t see many comics do. Dialog can be used in comics to give exposition or information that can’t be visually communicated. So if your comic has no text, it is a challenge to tell a story. It is even more challenging if you want to create a compelling narrative. And this is all assuming you have the art skills to not only convey an object, but an object in motion. It is a challenge to create a gripping comic without narrative text.
Because of this, Delgado’s Age of Reptiles story, “Tribal Warfare”, is nothing short of a triumph. Delgado created a story about warring dinosaur tribes with expert comic technique. Everything, from the colors, panel placement, chapter structure, character design, and timing add up to create a tense, unique dinosaur story.
Let me describe the first few panels of the comic. Four pterodactyls are sleeping. One of them wakes up, raises its head, jumps off a cliff, and dives down to fly. The nest panel is spread out over two pages. The pterodactyl is dwarfed in a ginormous(I love it when I get to use this word) landscape shot that shows us every major location in which the story will take place.
As you can see, the words I used to describe these scenes can’t do them justice. A picture is worth a thousand words, and these pictures are no exception. No panel is wasted. The subtle movement of the pterodactyl’s head and claws. The change of perspective which gradually makes the dinosaur smaller and smaller until a two page opening reveal of the world where this story is set. All of this, and to think its just the first two pages of the comic.
The next few panels show us the grisly hunting of a dinosaur by a pack of Deinonychus. A green T-Rex, (named Blue Back in the cast of characters section) then shows up and steals their meal. There is a technique of mirroring in these comics.
Comparing the face of the Deinonychi’s prey to the Deinonychi just before they shred it to pieces. The attack is equal parts impressive as it is terrible. Each of the Deinonychus has a unique color scheme and look. They are each their own character. This applies to Blue Back as well, who is distinct from any other T-Rex in the story.
From a technical level alone “Tribal Warfare” is impressive. The scale and color texture of the T-Rex stays (mostly) consistent. The shape, color, and texture, all of the comic is drawn the same for all 120 pages. The amount of effort that clearly went into this hand drawn comic is nothing less of amazing.
Some liberties are taken with how these Dinosaurs behave. They are just so subtly anthropomorphized so that this story of a war between the T-Rex and Deinonychus tribes can be told. There is affection between the green T-Rex and his mate, anguish as their eggs are stolen, terror as dinosaurs of all sizes and shapes are hunted. All of these moments add up to create some distinction and nuance to these giant long dead Reptiles.
This ends up leading into Themes! The futility of war. (Spoilers for the end.) The T Rex and Deinoychus slaughter each other, destroying each others lives. Yet in the end, everyone ends up dead. This war the two fought only leads to the destruction of both of their tribes. Nothing is more showing of this than the final panel, where the T Rex fail at even protecting their final egg. In the end, all of the bloodshed and battles distracted the T Rex clan from its ultimate goal of protecting its offspring.
It’s amazing. I’ll assume most of us are accustomed to analyzing text and literature like The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or even this blogpost. It is the primary way we communicate on the Internet. Examining the word structure, the use of words that are triggering, cliche, overused, rarely used, and completely, utterly, pretty much useless and unneeded. So it’s like stepping from a strange portal into an old, yet whole new world when reading “Tribal Warfare”. Without text the reader is forced to look at the pages and drawings for details usually described over text. The reader is forced to slow down or else not enjoy the story at all.
A comic like Tribal Warfare is very unique. A family drama about Dinosaurs without any text. The result is a story driven by pure visuals. It’s appropriate in a funny way. Tribal Warfare takes place in a world without language, and its story is told without it. Everything combines into an engaging book about war and Dinosaurs.
Images courtesy of Dark Horse