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Friday, October 28, 2011

REVIEW: Dinopopolous

One of the great things about comics is that their only limitation is the imagination of the creator(s) and, to a slightly lesser extent, the reader. Comics can be anything and do anything any time they want—and they don’t even need a reason for doing it. Cartoonist Nick Edwards proves that point with relative ease in his latest work, Dinopopolous. Creating a world filled with adventure, dinosaurs, evil lizard armies, ancient artifacts, laser knives, and sprinkled with a bit of heavy metal, Edwards taps into an innate sense of wonder and excitement that turned many readers on to comics in their youth. It’s that same sense of wonderment that has made Jesse Moynihan’s Adventure Time so brilliant and that burned movies like The Goonies and Monster Squad into the collective psyche of a generation; it’s what made Kamandi so amazing; it’s what fuels the cult following of bands like The Aquabats. I would even go so far as to say that, at its core, what drives this comic is the same sort of felling that makes people love Tom Sawyer. It’s adventure, it’s imagination, it’s boyhood.

It’s hyperbolic to compare Dinopopolous to something like Jack Kirby’s Kamandi, but the spirit of Kamandi certainly fuels Edwards’ work and gives it a certain quality that makes it much more than just another off-the-wall indie comic.

The hero of the adventure is thirteen year old Nigel. Nigel loves heavy metal, video games, comic books, is a genius, and his best friend is a dinosaur named Brian…a dinosaur with a saddle that has laser cannons attached to either side. The saddle that Brian wears is immediately reminiscent of the 1980s cartoon/toy-line Dino-Riders. Not only is Nigel a genius, but he’s an investigator for an organization that seeks out ancient, mysterious, and legendary artifacts, and when their backs are against the wall, they turn to Nigel for assistance. Nigel even has enemies in the League of Lizards…a gang of evil lizard men—the most insidious kind of men!

Most recently Nigel has been tasked with recovering something only known as “The Miracle Bird of Ndundoo”; it’s pre-pre-pre-historic and it is unknown what magical secrets it may hold. At least one man has already been lost and it’s up to Nigel to recover the bird—but can he do it with the evil League of Lizards, led by the sinister Julian, on his tail? Is Nigel’s genius enough for him to thwart Julian, solve ancient riddles, defeat horrendous beasts, navigate the Escher-esque caverns, and recover Bird of Ndundoo?

Nick Edward’s comedic sense is certainly on display here and the humor ranges from the dry and subtle to the child-like. What I really like about the child-like humor is that, the way it’s written, a lot of the dialog reads as though it was crafted by a second or third grader, but there’s an identifiable, adult, sense of sarcasm that motivates it, which is what really makes it work. It’s the sort of thing that, if an eight year old were to read it, it would seem natural. Yet, when an adult reads it, it’s very funny.

The cartooning is terrific throughout the work; although it’s difficult to pin down a stylistic influence—assuming that there is one—it’s somewhere in between Jim Wooding,  Jesse Moynihan, and Thurop Van Orman (creator of The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack). What is most impressive about Edwards’ style is his use of backgrounds. When it feels as though Edwards needs the reader to speed up, the backgrounds become more limited; when he needs the reader to slow down the backgrounds become more complex and carefully rendered; when he needs the reader to focus on a specific portion of the page he only renders that section, blacking out the rest. It’s a subtle touch, but it’s a great way to get the reader to slow down and get comfortable with who a character is or the importance of their immediate situation. The use of backgrounds provides a tremendous sense of substance; where as, without them, it would be all too easy for the reader to swiftly move through story and not spend any significant time with the characters.

Dinopopolous is a comic that is not only light-hearted fun and well cartooned; it’s a comic that evokes the memories, excitement, and sense of adventure that made childhood great. Nick Edwards’ visual sense makes all of those things work within confines of this 26-page adventure and more than worth checking out. 

Nick Edwards
Blank Slate Books

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