Dustin Harbin’s Dinosaur Parade Marches On… And On… And On… In ‘Behold! The Dinosaurs!’ [Interview]
If there's one we thing we should establish from the off, it's that my love for dinosaurs is infinite. There is something inherently fascinating about this whole world that existed before us, the completeness of it: the sheer array of lumbering aquatic, flying, and terrain beasts that roamed the Earth; their power and size, the wonderful shapes, colours, and variations, the mystery of their total obliteration, the fact that we're still discovering more about them today.
So when I learned that UK publishers Nobrow Press had teamed up with cartoonist and illustrator Dustin Harbin to produce one of their gorgeous leporellos, this time focusing on dinosaurs, my excitement levels were pretty damn high.
Nobrow's leporellos -- a tall concertina book that unfolds panoramically and bands together again -- have become something of a signature line-, with artists from around the world taking on a range of subjects: a psychedelic weekend at a festival by Kyle Platts, Ugo Gattoni's intricate bicycle race looping around London, the Space Race, a beautiful history of aviation, and more.
If you're familiar with Harbin's work, you'll know that whilst perhaps best known for his Diary Comics, he can draw the hind legs of any dinosaur as both his Tyrannosaurus Bats and Triceratops prints evidence. As he details in our chat below, the Behold! The Dinosaurs leporello grew from the print he created of the same name, and if you'll excuse the terrible pun, it's something of a magnificent beast in itself. Measuring a staggering 13 feet (including both the back and front -- each side is approximately six and a half feet long), it's a gorgeous parade of over 100 meticulously researched and rendered dinosaurs, simply marching on and on as the leporello unfolds: the tallest, longest, smallest, shortest, - they're all here. There might not be every single known dinosaur depicted here, but it's as close as it gets, and exquisitely, impressively so. I sat down with Dustin to talk about how the book came about, how you'd even beginning planning something of that scale, and of course, his favorite dinosaur.
ComicsAlliance: How did the leporello come about? Did Nobrow approach you?
Dustin Harbin: They did—a couple years ago I gave Sam Arthur at Nobrow a dinosaur print that I’d done, and he seemed to like it. Or maybe Alex [Spiro] liked it. Or maybe both! Either way it was most likely due to Sam Bosma and Kali Ciesemier, who colored it. Not too long afterwards Alex contacted me about doing a leporello, which was of course very flattering.
CA: Were you asked to do a dinosaur themed one, or did you get to float/decide the 'subject'?
DH: Alex came to me with pretty much what we ended up with -- a longer, larger, more involved version of that original print. I was like “oh yeah great, how hard could that be, I already did it once right?” and told Alex to give me a month or two to do the work. But then it took like six months to actually do of course, with the last three of them being taken up mainly with me emailing apologies to Alex every few days.
CA: I love dinosaurs, and when I say love, I mean LOVE. To me it makes perfect sense that you're making a gorgeous chronicle of every beautiful dino beast that existed. Why do you love dinosaurs?
DH: Hm, why do I love dinosaurs? I’m not even sure that I would have said I really love dinosaurs a few years ago, or at least not more than any other big sciencey thing. But I am a fussy drawer and I guess something about drawing dinosaurs lends itself to a lot of weird details, surface texture, etc. Not to mention all the research—I know so much more about dinosaurs and paleontology now, just from researching each one of these guys.
When it comes down to it, a lot of it has to do with nostalgia in a way. The original drawing I made that turned into that print that I gave Sam was for an old friend of mine, as a gift for her 5-year old son. I -- like most kids -- was really into dinosaurs, and spent a lot of time reading books and laying on my bed and staring at the two or three little things my mom had hung on the wall. So I wanted to make a drawing of something a 5-year old boy would like, with a ton of crazy details to get lost in on some rainy afternoon. In the process of doing this book I went bananas on that, detail-wise, but it was weirdly pleasant to zone out into some kind of kid-nostalgia fugue and read dinosaur books and draw dinosaurs and trees and water for six months.
CA: So, this leporello is a beast in itself -- how do you begin to approach something like this: map it out and divide it into sections and so on?
DH: This was the trickiest part. The final piece is something like 13 feet long, split in half between sides. At first I thought I’d stitch together a series of smaller drawings, but because of the overlapping dinosaurs, it was just too complex. I decided to draw each dinosaur separately, which would allow me to move them around for a strong composition, and bob and weave if there were problems or I ran out of time or whatever. But then the problem was scale -- if I was drawing each dinosaur on a separate piece of paper, I needed to draw them to scale so that I was doing very little growing or shrinking of the lineart. When you scale lineart up and down, you run the risk of the line-weights getting all weird.
So I decided that the Triceratops, one of my -- and all thinking peoples’ -- favorite dinosaurs, would be my standard. To give you an idea of how big the originals were, I think the triceratops I drew on an 8.5” x 11” piece of Bristol. From there the biggest dinosaurs, like Spinosaurus and Brachiosaurus, were on 11” x 17” paper, and the smallest guys, like Velociraptor and Psittocosaurus, were on 5” x 7”. Even then, with the really big guys, I had to curl their tails around just to fit them on the page.
When deciding what dinos to leave in or out, I went with a) which ones I like the best, b) which ones are the most recognizable and would be weird to leave out (even though I don’t like them) (*koff* Tyrannosaurus), and then a representative sample of other guys. Plus I added in some aquatic and aerial reptiles, which of course aren’t actually dinosaurs, then some fish, eels, prehistoric trees and ferns, etc. The book begins with the Devonian Period, when the first tetrapods were walking up onto land, and ends with the extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous.
CA: What's been the most difficult aspect you've encountered whilst creating the leporello?
DH: Definitely coloring it. My color sense is very ramshackle and untrained. I had great inspiration from Sam and Kali’s original coloring, but deciding what colors to make everything, then how to do markings that made some sort of sense but still would make for an effective composition… maddening. Right around the time I finished the main research and planning and started the drawing, I decided to use a Moebius-y style of contour inking. Joe Lambert had been doing some drawings in that style for a few months and I really wanted to figure out how to do it myself. Of course that meant having to draw a bunch of dinosaurs twice while I figured it out, which sucked. But it also meant rereading all my Epic Moebius books, which was pure pleasure.
CA: Favorite dinosaur?
DH: This is my favorite question with kids at cons now -- little boys always have an answer, and it’s usually “Tuwannosoewus Wex.” Boys seem to prefer the most murderous dinosaus. Little girls are much smarter and usually go for Brontosaurus (I will always think of it as Brontosaurus too). When I was a little kid my favorite was Brontosaurus, or Stegosaurus, or Triceratops, depending on the day. When Alex asked me my favorite dinosaur for the About The Author copy I said Stegosaurus, but I’ve already changed back to Triceratops by then. In around an hour it’ll be Brontosaurus again.
Behold! The Dinosaurs! is on sale now from Nobrow Press.