I think we can all agree that there are few things in this world as cool as comic books, and that one of those things is probably dinosaurs. This explains why comic books about dinosaurs tend to be fairly awesome, and Hitoshi Shioya’s Dinosaur Hour, a recent offering from the Viz Kids line, is no exception.
Yes, it’s a kids book (recommended for kids ages 9-12 on Amazon), and yes, it’s educational, but don’t hold any of that against it. It’s also a pretty funny sketch comedy starring various dinosaurs from various periods of prehistoric history. The comedy is all physical or character driven, to the extent that the dinosaurs are able to develop personalities in their few page appearances, and is otherwise pretty much realistic and naturalistic.
Basically, it’s a slice of life comedy starring a bunch of dinosaurs.
Each chapter, called a “Bone,” opens with a title page drawing of a dinosaur, in a perfectly straight, serious, this-is-what-the-dinosaur-looked-like style. For example, here’s the clidastes, a type of carnivorous mosasaur:
Within the story, however, that same clidastes gets a bit cartoonier, acting and reacting frantically. For example, here he is after the ammonite he was planning to eat disappeared just before he could close his jaws around it:
It turns out that a pterosaur was snatching the shellfish out of the water before he could eat them, so he develops a plan to catch the pterosaur, which ends with an unexpected reversal of fortunes. This particular piece, like several of these, play out a little like a Roadrunner vs. Coyote cartoon, only without the ACME kits and the forces of nature taking the Roadrunner’s side in the battle.
Other conflicts include a pack of allosauruses trying to figure out how to bring down a gigantic brachiosaurus since they can’t reach his weak spot, various pterosaurs stealing the fish out of a particular pteranodon’s beak, and a carnivorous solar-powered dimetrodon trying to chase an herbivorous, solar-powered caeseasaur through shade, and so on.
Some dinosaurs appear repeatedly, like a nameless, luckless pair of protoceratops, who often end up in the mouth of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Rather than a fearsome, alpha predator, this T-Rex mostly sits around with a blank expression on his face, until his prey wanders too close to his mouth.
Here are the protoceratops testing their theory that T-Rexes are blind and hunt by smell. The last time they walked by it tried to eat them, and they assumed it was because he could smell the garlic on their breath. Here they have just eaten mint leaves to hide the garlic smell, so attempt to breathe right on him:
Shioya is great at the simple, panel-to-panel progression necessary in good comics storytelling, progression that is particularly important in comedy comics, as timing is so important in comedy.
The educational aspect ranges far beyond the names, types and size of the dinosaurs (all of which gets identified whenever a new dinosaur is introduced), to incorporate various theories and aspects of paleontology.
For example, an old-school conception of a Tyrannosaurus wanders into one story—you know, highly reptilian, cold-blooded, slow, big, ponderous, tail dragging on the ground—and the protoceratops dinosaurs explain how he’s based on outdated theories, the proper way to hold his tail, and so on. (Again, they end up getting eaten. I don’t know about other species, but protoceratops seems to have gone extinct because of their apparent instinct to do everything in their power to end up between the jaws of predators).
In other, two members of the same species talk about the “rumor” they heard that some dinosaurs might have been feathered. Trying to determine what that might look like, they come up with a couple of possible ideas
but are completely unprepared for the reality:
It’s interesting to see how many different strategies are employed in the course of the book to explore some aspect of dinosaur biology and behavior while also telling a joke about it.
Shiyo does 23 of these short, humorous stories here, amounting to about 200 pages, and it never gets old. Quite an accomplishment considering his youngest characters are at least 65 million years old.