Kelci D Crawford

Comic Review: Thoughtful Dinosaur

[Standard Disclaimer: This review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy PDF that was provided by the creator Kelci D. Crawford.]

[Nonstandard Disclaimer: Kelci is an online buddy and a collaborator on a project that we hope to realize together someday. This will of course bias my opinion, but no reviewer is entirely free of bias; and you are probably aware that I focus on positive impressions on this blog anyway.]

Introduction

Thoughtful Dinosaur is a comic created by Kelci D. Crawford. It is not a webcomic, but it was available for free to newsletter subscribers and Patreon supporters. With a successful Kickstarter it will become a self-puplished book. See her blog for details, and for her many other comics.

Thoughtful Dinosaur is one of these smaller comics that are not particularly ambitious in scope, but are extraordinarily fun to read. Kelci has done many of these before (my favorite is Charlie & Clow), as well as an ongoing comic (Validation, with Christian Beranek), and her experience is clearly noticeable in the quality of Thoughtful Dinosaur.

Setting & Worldbulding

The setting is Fantasyville, already known from Kelci’s webcomic Johnson And Sir. This reuse of a ready-made setting allows both the creator and the – knowledgeable – reader to focus on the main character and her live, rather than spending time to explore an unknown setting first. (But don’t worry, if you haven’t read Johnson And Sir, you will get into the story quick enough.)

It looks ike the typical – whatever that means – small American town, except it’s populated by fantasy people, and anthropomorphic animals, living or extinct. This makes for an environment that feels very familiar, but also fresh and interesting.

Plot

[SPOILERS for the first half of the story -BEWARE!

The plot is simple and straightforward, but very well structured. The story begins with the titular hero, Thoughtful Dinosaur Billy Veloci, graduating college, getting her first job, and getting fired. All on the first page, this is just right to set up the story.

Billy has to move back in with her mother, starts looking for jobs, works some unsatisfactory ones, and checks in with old friends. One friend suggests she write a blog, and after short deliberation, she does so, becoming the Thoughtful Dinosaur. This happens on pages 7 and 8, right in the middle, providing an excellent midpoint where the story changes direction.

The second half of the story shows how Billy gets traction on her life, starting to earn money and have fun, barely enough of the former, but all the more of the latter, and ends with her having overcome the crisis and gained a positive outlook on life and the future.

[No More Spoilers Below]

Narration & Dialog

The narration and the dialog are equally fun, colorful, naturally flowing, and never pretentious or overwritten. They are very well-integrated with the visual storytelling, and provide the reader with wonderful insight into the thoughts and feelings of Billy Veloci.

The dialog reflects remarkably distinct character voices, which are totally consistent with the behavior and the outward appearance of the characters.

Apart from one instance each, neither narration nor dialog are typically specific to the species involved; without visuals, they would mostly read as human. But this is by design and not a flaw.

Art & Visual Storytelling

The visual style of Thoughtful Dinosaur is pure Kelci D. Crawford:

The backgrounds economical rather than lush, but with remarkably details wherever she puts her focus on; the characters varying in shape and look, way more than what’s necessary because of species differences; most of the characters look quite attractive, but nobody is just eye-candy; body language and facial expression are spot on.

The page layout is clear and effective, it always keeps the reader oriented, and guides the reader’s attention, and helps the reader follow the story. It also demonstrates Kelci’s great ability to render scenes without physical movement or action, e.g. two people talking, or just one person thinking or writing, in a very dynamic way that infuses them with motion, emotion, and occasionally commotion.

Anthropomorphic Non-human Characters

The characters are pretty cool: They are somewhat stereotypical for their roles, but have their nice quirks as well, and the characterization is full of life.

They speak and behave like humans, but they look their part as fantasy or animal folks. Kelci uses her own variation of the animal-head-and-upper-torso-but-human-hands-and-legs technique that we all know and love from BoJack Horseman or Zootopia. In her style, she keeps the upper torso human for most people, which among other things allows her to draw some of the female characters with a shape that is very sexy in a realistic way.

It is great how using this style Kelci conveys the full range of human facial expressions without compromising the animal shape: E. g. the predator dinosaurs have long faces with lots of teeth, but they can smile and laugh, and be pensive, worried, or angry, just like human beings.

If you’d argue that the fantasy is kind of a gimmick, in the sense that the story could happen just as well with human characters, I won’t deny it, but it is done with so much charm and expressiveness that I don’t mind at all, and neither should you.

Recommendation

Thoughtful Dinosaur is a fine little story, written with charm and drawn with atmosphere, and well worth reading, and, if and as long as it’s possible, supporting.

Coda: Comics & Short Stories

I would like to invent the term Graphic Short Story to describe comics like this. To elaborate: You may be aware of the discussion about the term Graphic Novel and the desire to see the term abolished. In my opinion its use as a badge of merit, in contrast to mere comics, is indeed superfluous and detrimental. Comics are fine comics are art, comics are literature, comics are a proper medium, comics are culture. The only use I’d ever make of the term Graphic Novel is to describe a comic that resembles a prose novel in scope, structure, and storytelling technique.

And in the same sense, Thoughtful Dinosaur is a Graphic Short Story, because it resembles a prose short story in a couple of ways: Limited scope, strong focus on a core idea, straightforward execution of a simple plot, an open end that makes the reader ask more questions instead of providing all the answers, and an excellent and beautiful, somewhat poetic presentation of the story details (words and sentences in prose, art and dialog in comics).

For the record: My favorite prose short story example is A Day’s Wait by Hemingway: The simple story of a boy who thinks he is going to die, because he is not aware that the doctor measured his fever in Fahrenheit and not in degrees Celsius, beautifully told so it tugs our heartstrings.

Storytelling Scrutiny Squared: Beyond The Trailer, By & With Grace Randolph

This is another installment of the Storytelling Scrutiny Squared feature, where I link to other folks who are interested in storytelling and provide information and insight, and demonstrate appreciation, attitude, or amusement.

Today I want to talk about the YouTube channel Beyond The Trailer, which is created and hosted by Grace Randolph. On that YouTube channel you’ll find a plethora of videos about movies, especially geeky ones – whatever that’s supposed to mean – that are coming out now or are in development.

Grace’s speciality, as the title indicates, is to look at movie trailers with critical intellect and fully engaged heart.

She does quite interesting movie trailer reviews, e.g. Minions and The Martian, but she also talks about details that are leaked or otherwise much discussed. There is a whole series of videos that I’d call Suicide Squad Speculations, about who’s gonna behave good versus bad or about who’s gonna die?

Most interesting are Grace’s breakdowns or shot-by-shot trailer reviews, for example Suicide Squad and (the Netflix show) Jessica Jones. She goes into incredible detail, describes everything as it appears on the screen, and gives us her mind. She talks about artistic choices, speaks with great enthusiasm about all the stuff she likes in the movies, but also discusses problematic aspects, like pitfalls with the origin stories of female superheroes.

Grace also does full movie reviews. She loves to cheer movies and glee over them, she clearly loves great film-making and great stories, but she also looks into the deeper context. Her review of The Martian brims with optimism, but she doesn’t shy away from discussion of history and politics where it is important for the movie, like in her review of Sufragettes.

And if I don’t fully agree with all of her opinions when it comes to movies like Kingsman and Spy – for example I do not think that Miranda Hart’s performance in Spy was unfunny – I always find her comments thoughtful and interesting.

Check out Grace Randolph’s Beyond The Trailer!

Where do you look for information about upcoming movies? Tell us in the comments!

Storytelling Scrutiny Squared: Kelci D Crawford

This is another installment of the Storytelling Scrutiny Squared feature, where I link to other folks who are interested in storytelling and provide information and insight, and demonstrate appreciation, attitude, or amusement.

Today I want to talk about Kelci D Crawford, who is the skillfull artist, and often also the writer, behind a couple of cool webcomics, the best known of which is probably Validation, which is written by Christian Beranek. (Both answered my Seven Questions About Validation here.

The reason that I write about her in Storytelling Scrutiny Squared is that she also writes a blog full of cool stuff about comics, making comics, creating art, and pretty much anything that influences these endeavors, up to and including life, the universe, and everything.

Plus, she talks the talk, and she also walks the walk, by sharing her work-in-progress.

Another favorite topic of her are reviews of comics she reads, which she regularly features both on her blog and in a series of fascinating video blogs. Her reviews are short, concise, well-thought-out, engaged and engaging.

So if you do love reading about comics – and given that you read my blog, chances are you do – you will do well to check her out.

Seven Questions About Validation

Here’s the fifth installment of the Seven Questions About feature: This time I interviewed Christian Beranek and Kelci D Crawford, the writer resp. the artist of the wonderful webcomic Validation, which I have talked about a couple of times on this blog.

Q1: Who are you?

K: I’m a comic artist who makes lots of comics and does my best to make the work speak for me.

C: I’m a writer, musician, photographer, and filmmaker.

Q2: What is Validation about?

C: A girl and her stuffed dinosaur.

K: A nerd girl, her life, and comics.

Q3: Why and how did Validation get started?

K: Deviantart and Tumblr.

C: I met Kelci through those sites after posting some adverts.The idea had been floating around in my head for a few years until one day something clicked and I wrote the first fifteen strips. After sending Kelci those pages, along with some descriptions, she drew up a sketch of Ally straight away and I immediately knew she was the right person to collaborate with.

K: We’ve been working off each other ever since.

Q4: What influences made Validation into what it is?

C: The comic is not autobiographical, but it does draw from real life experiences. Growing up I read loads of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Mark Twain, John Updike, and other humanist authors. I devoured my share of comics, as well. I knew with Validation what I didn’t want, and that was something sensationalistic. I wanted the story to resonate with readers, not titillate then. So drew I inspiration from those writers who were able to tackle challenging issues and scenarios in a genuine way.

K: For artistic influences, I’d say Validation is, at least partially, inspired by the palette of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – an anime that shows the beauty and hideousness of life with vibrant, gorgeous colors. Validation is also inspired by the full-color editions of Jeff Smith’s Bone in that way, as well. The look of the characters is part inspiration from the likes of Svetlana Chmakova (Dramacon), part the Flight comics anthologies, part gestures and emotions from Jen Wang (Koko Be Good) and Vera Brosgol (Anya’s Ghost), and part intensive training from my time as a caricature artist. To make Validation REALLY come to life, I pulled a lot from my own daily life – Coffee Time is based on a coffee shop I used to frequent, the convention comics are directly from my own experiences.

Q5: Do you see people who are trans (or are immediately affected by trans issues) versus people with limited knowledge (and maybe even only mild curiosity) as two different audiences you want to reach? Do you target these audiences separately, and if so, how?

K: I think the intent was to meet in the middle between the two audiences – have things that anyone can relate to, but talk about how certain situations affect trans people. We’re trying to tell the story of a life – not an exaggerated or simplified caricature.

C: I consider our audience to be one group: Readers. I am aware there are different backgrounds, viewpoints and levels of interest/curiosity following the comic. The key is to not pander to any one group and just tell the story. That being said, I do read all of the comments. Feedback is valued. Our readers are incredibly smart, passionate and invested. We are honored by that. To say I am not influenced by some reactions and insight would be arrogant. We would never change the story due to a complaint, however. We do our best to stick to our own code.

Q6: How did you decide on the tone – amount of humour, intensity of teaching, focus on problems vs. focus on solutions – for Validation, and how did that decision affect storytelling and visual choices?

K: I definitely wanted more vibrant colors and a generally pleasant look for the comic. One thing I did notice in other comics of a slice-of-life nature (especially for LGBT+ stories) is that the art is very…dim. There are very few webcomics about trans characters that have large color palettes. I wanted to change that and show the life-like variety of colors available. That’s what life is to me – colorful. And I wanted the art to reflect that. Even if there are negative events or people around, there is still color, and the colors define it.

C: Validation is written in three panel segments. It took me awhile to figure out the best way to execute the pacing. Manga, for example, is almost written in 3/4 time, like a waltz. I mixed in that sensibility (we skip a beat to get to the next idea) with that of a comedian. Although the comic is not jokey, the set-ups and payoffs you find in comedy are similar.

We considering writing in 2/4 polka time but discovered that might be a little jarring 😉

Q7: One remarkable feature of Validation is its insightful description of both the differences and the commonalities of different forms of communication and social interactions (casual talk, online talk, blogging, conversations in public, formal interactions). Is it by design, or rather serendipitous, and what thoughts about this went into the writing process?

K: I think it’s a little serendipitous, but these are subjects I like to explore and I think are worth exploring. People mold themselves in different ways depending on what the basis of interaction is – blog, tweet, party chat, etc. I think it’s something that non-binary gender folks notice a lot because they can see from a new outside view how people talk to each other. You realize certain truths, like the idea that “men and women communicate differently” is something I hear a lot from older people, but really they don’t. (Also, the idea that men and women just can’t communicate with each other, like they’re two different alien species, Men are from Mars, Women from Venus, is bullshit.) But conversations can have a lot of politics to them. It’s interesting to note the different politics with different modes of communication, and ultimately what makes them similar. It seems like the ultimate rule, no matter what form of communication you use, is ‘don’t be a dick.’ I think with the comics we’re just trying to reinforce the idea that no matter how you choose to express yourself, just don’t be a dick.

C: Day-to-day interactions are way more interesting to me than crazy action scenes. For example, I enjoy superhero movies, but I usually tend to tune out during the third act. Many of these films do a great job developing the characters early on in the story, and that’s the stuff I always remember. For my own writing, I am massively invested in how the characters react to something that happens and what they can learn from it. The action, per se, is actually in the wrestling with the ideas. Day-to-day all of us are adapting to how this is done. It is changing and evolving thanks to technology. That being said, one-on-one is really where differences can be made and resolved. It takes time to get there. I find we have these amazing ways to communicate but many of us are afraid to reach out. It’s sad, but also fascinating. The cruz of the dilemma always comes down to the human condition. It’s up to us how we tend to it.

Got any comments?

I found Christian‘s and Kelci‘s answers interesting, informative, illustrating and intriguing.

In my opinion, they provide great insight into the creative process behind validation, especially the “strategic level” thinking.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments!