Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 160

Age Of Reptiles: The Journey

by Richard Delgado
Genre notes: di-fi (dinosaur fiction)
400 pages
ISBN: 1595826831 (Amazon)

Silent comics are really difficult to pull off well. They’ve got a lot going against them. Exactly half of the linguistic repertoire being forbidden, the creator is forced to rely wholly upon visual language for all exposition. When characters cannot exposit their own motives to the reader, they must rely on illustrated cues to make their purposes, intents, reasons, and passions both knowable and then known. And as difficult as that sounds, the requirement upon the artist of these characters is phenomenal. Not only does the artist have to reliably draw characters recognizably and convey story through panel-to-panel storytelling transitions (as is the case even in comics featuring dialogue and narration), but beyond this, the artist must be able to convey all those burdens generally carried by the writer of words. Personality. Interaction. Interrogative. Exclamation. Thought. Emotion. Reaction. Success in these tasks takes the hand of a master.

In his third book in the Age Of Reptiles series, The Journey, Ricardo Delgado reveals a magnificent work of dinosaur fiction. Fourteen years after he began the series, Delgado’s come to a design and illustration sense that is easy on the eyes, powerful in communication, and still adept at conveying the wonder of the earlier series’ best moments. His work is still incredibly detailed but shows a marvelous sense of restraint, allowing abstraction where needed. As well, there are moments such as a partially devoured anklyosaur floating in a river that are magnified by Delgado’s talent with framing and negative space. What may be most jaw-droppng in “The Journey” is just how many dinosaurs Delgado draws on every page. His story calls for it for sure, but it’s still a minor wonder to behold.

Where The Journey also excels over the prior two series is in story. To illustrate, however, I’ll have to complain about something central to the earlier two books.

The reason, presumably, that Delgado chose to make Age Of Reptiles a silent work is that dinosaurs are not people. They presumably have little facility for language and if they did and we could translate it, their way of conveying meaning might be so alien to us that we wouldn’t understand anyway. My guess is that this book was made wordless in a bid for realism.

The problem, if realism is Delgado’s reason for not verbalizing anything, is that the first two series (Tribal Warfare and The Hunt) are built almost entirely on personification. Tribal Warfare features a grudge between a family of T-rexes and a family of utahraptors (I think they’re utahraptors). The lead tyrannosaurus scares the raptors off their fresh, rightful kill and initiates a back-and-forth war of attrition that lasts four chapters and ends in all-out battle. It’s a fine story but not a fine dinosaur story unless you want your dinosaurs fixed with embedded human motivation. The Hunt follows a young allosaur as he flees from the murder of his mother by some wildly coloured raptors. Their pursuit of him lasts for what seems years. Long enough at least for him to grow to full-size. Both the raptors’ dogged pursuit of the allosaur despite there being far more docile game everywhere and the allosaur’s plan to revenge himself against them left me incredulous. I couldn’t be sure why Delgado didn’t just give these animals voices if he was going to give them human motivation.

The Journey solves this problem in two ways. The first is that Delgado gives no opportunity for these reptiles to act in any way other than as the animals they are. The other is that The Journey is not the story of a dinosaur protagonist but instead the story of a massive migration. I’m reminded of Planet Earth's segment on the migration in Africa toward the Okavango Delta. Delgado depicts a collection of herbivore dinosaur herds moving from arid lands toward a lush forest. Their way is perilous and they are followed closely and picked at by predators. If there is a protagonist at all, it is the combined herd, striving forward while being winnowed and whittled. It’s magnificent and I’m so very glad that Delgado chose this direction for the third series.

The one sadness is that Age Of Reptiles isn't collected into a gorgeous oversized hardcover. It isn't even collected in a standard-sized trade paperback. Instead it's bunched into the back of a perfect-bound manga-sized omnibus collecting the first three Age Of Reptiles series. The Journey is a book that deserves space and room to breathe. It would have made a great 13"-tall hardcover, like those ones that Nobrow was doing a while back. The one bright spot of this development (beyond that the book exists at all) is that you DO get to see the earlier two series and marvel at just how well Delgado has evolved as an artist and storyteller.

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