"All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals" By John Conway,
C. M. Kosemen and Dr. Darren Naish , with skeletal drawings by Scott Hartman (Irregular Books)
One fact about science that is hard to communicate to not only those who reject it, but also those who stand at a distance from it even as they are open to its findings, is that science is a form of changing knowledge where evidence leads truth, and as evidence changes, so does truth. In this way, science marches alongside art, although in that field, it's more often revelation through experimentation that fuels its changes.
Tackling these issues in a practical way -- as well as an engaging and informative one -- is this self-published hybrid art and science book that barrels ahead for attention from interested lay people.
The basic idea is not a simple one. Paleoart, although integral to the communication between research and general public, is too often ruled by the task of getting out the most basic information about dinosaurs by depicting them in recurring poses and situations. What this does is perpetuate popular legends about the creatures that just aren't up-to-date and also play more into cinema than science. The goal here is to update these perceptions, and also show that, at the very least, when it comes to science, art is hard and as much a discipline of the mind, reliant on research and studied speculation as the discipline from which it takes its cues.
Some popular wrongs become righted, such as the insistence of too many visual artists on portraying microraptors as more lizard-like rather than in their full bird-like glory -- too alien, apparently, and indicative of a larger lag in the field, the digging in of heels on transitioning into the changing perceptions of feathered dinosaurs or even furred-ones or hybrids of the two, such as Theizinosaurus.
There's also plenty of studied scientific speculation, based on the full knowledge of current animal behavior, used to illustrate unknown corners of dinosaur knowledge, such as placing protoceratops in trees and depicting Tyrannosaurus rex in a sleeping position, despite the popular perception that they were terrorizing the world 24/7.
"All Yesterdays" has a lot to offer. Its presentation of not only the particulars of how paleoart is rendered, but also the history of it as a discipline, is engaging and unpretentious -- you do not have to be an expert to love this book. The gorgeous illustrations, though, make the effort most special, walking between imagination and study, through illuminations that capture the common ground between them and revealing each to be a mandatory part of the other.
For ordering information, visit irregularbooks.co.
"Song of Roland" by Michel Rabagliati (Conundrum Press)
Quebecois cartoonist Michel Rabagliati has quietly been staking out a strong corner of the graphic story-telling community for himself by relying on simple technique as a way of conveying much deeper truths. With the flashier, and more stylistic, graphical approach not being utilized for quick emotional power like so many of his contemporaries, Rabagliati has had to rely on aspects of storytelling that aren't often equated with alternative graphic novels these days -- reliability and familiarity that lets a reader grow with the character in an unpretentious way.
Rabagliati's Paul books have followed the title character as he became a grown-up, meeting the right woman, having children, and all with the backdrop of Quebec culture and the landscape of the province, which stands as an exotic parallel world for those of us who grew up on American highways, but so normal for the characters, surely an extra dimension of interest for readers.
In "Song of Roland," Paul's father-in-law takes center stage as the family comes to terms with the demise of a man who, within the context of their lives, is a bit of a natural force, as well as a monument to a Quebec that is fading away. The year is 1999 and Paul is transitioning into the digital age with his illustration career, but Roland's illness and heightened needs drive home that change comes in both directions.
As the situation progresses, Paul finds that helping his wife through is only part of his job -- trying to connect with his father-in-law through the process is important as well. It's in this dynamic that Rabagliati illustrates the generational movements -- one further from childhood, the other closer to an end -- that defines any family relationships, and it's a very touching detail of Paul's father coming to the rescue of supporting Roland emotionally near the end, all as part of Rabagliati's presentation of death -- including the ceremonies that follow -- as not a final chapter, but a part of a long continuum almost mundane in comparison to other stops on that line. It's that reality -- death as quiet, normal -- that helps us get through it. Ritual grounds the moment, as it does the reader's experience in this wonderful series of graphic novels.
John Seven is the Transcript's arts and entertainment editor.