On the prehistoric island continent of Laramidia, the raw, real dangers of the late Cretaceous period come to life in this stunning graphic novel debut. When tragedy strikes its family, a Tyrannosaurus Rex embarks on a harrowing journey to reunite with the remaining member of the group, before they are separated permanently. An animal documentary blast-from-the-past, this heart-wrenching story takes to the skies and dives into the sea — and explores everywhere in between — in this research-based, fictional account, beautifully written, illustrated and colored by Tadd Galusha. (TMNT/Ghostbusters)
I’m sure Mesozoic Earth was a violent place, but I doubt it was quite the slaughterhouse as depicted in comic books. Ricardo Delgado’s Age of Reptiles series set the standard with its anthropomorphized dinosaur protagonists encountering death and dismemberment every few pages. Cretaceous, a graphic novel by Tadd Galusha, is very much in the same vein as Age of Reptiles. It is a comic without people or speech balloons, telling the tale of its dinosaur characters entirely through visuals. There is a lot of death and gore scattered throughout its pages, but surprisingly, the novel also is a somewhat moving tale about family.
Cretaceous is set in North America at the end of the Cretaceous period and features a T. rex as its protagonist. The dinosaur is out hunting one day when its mate and two of its three young chicks are slaughtered by a pack of Albertosaurus. Picking up their scent, the T. rex begins a pursuit of the killers to exact its revenge. Meanwhile, having fled the massacre of its family, the surviving chick is lost in the woods. One day the chick may grow to be king of the jungle but at its young age, it’s still only a small link in the food chain. The dinosaur’s survival depends on reuniting with the surviving parent.
Cretaceous obviously isn’t trying to paint an accurate picture of dinosaur behavior. However, the comic does attempt to provide a broad overview of the late Cretaceous ecosystem. The T. rex is the protagonist but occasionally the action breaks away from the main story to delve into side tales about other animal inhabitants of the world, such as a dying Triceratops and a hungry Quetzalcoatlus. Most of these stories end with something getting eaten, including a series of panels that will remind you of the “there’s always a bigger fish” scene from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Still, despite all the killing the comic ends on a surprisingly touching note. The book ultimately is about family and what a parent is willing to sacrifice to give its children a fighting chance in the world. It was a nice way to conclude an otherwise grim take on nature as “red in tooth and claw.”
With no dialogue, the quality of the art is ultimately what makes or breaks a book like Cretaceous, and I’m happy to report it is excellent. While I’ve seen more detailed dinosaurs featured in comics (mainly Delgado), Galusha’s art is energetic with inventive use of paneling to convey action. The artist particularly excels at environments, with the characters inhabiting a world of misty ocean shorelines and dark forests filled with skyscraper trees. Galusha also did the coloring himself, and the use of bright colors and contrast makes the images pop from the page. If you are a dinosaur lover and a comic lover, you really can’t go wrong with Cretaceous.
- Galusha is an Alaskan freelance artist whose comic work include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Godzilla and Bubba Ho-Tep. He says on his blog that Cretaceous was a project eight years in the making. You can find samples of Cretaceous and his other work on his website.
- Previews of the comic can be found at SyFy Wire and the AV Club.