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Moriarty Reviews Doug TenNapel's TOMMYSAURUS REX!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

Time flies. It seems like just yesterday that I was sent the editor’s proofs of a bizarre, beautiful book called CREATURE TECH. If you don’t remember the extent to which I went totally over-the-top batshit in my review of that book, CLICK HERE and witness me at my most hyperbolic.

Well, about a week ago, I went to the mailbox and found another big envelope waiting for me, and when I opened it, I was surprised to see that Doug TenNapel, the artist who wrote and illustrated CREATURE TECH, has already finished his new book. This is in addition to his various side projects like the psychotic short film series SOCKBABY over on the weird and wonderful Channel 101, his Nickelodeon pilot CATSCRATCH, or any of the other ways he keeps busy in his free time. I took the 112 page editor’s proofs to the gym with me, my new favorite place to get some uninterrupted reading done, and I planned to spend my 40-minute cardio reading as much of the book as I could.

Now my brain and my geek heart adore TenNapel more than before, even if my legs might never forgive him. I lost track of time. I forgot where I was. I found myself tearing through the pages, overcome with emotion as I reached the note-perfect conclusion. As much as I loved and praised CREATURE TECH, it was always with the caveat that it is a very strange book, and might not be for everyone.

In every single way, TOMMYSAURUS REX is better.

I know that Fox and New Regency have been hard at work trying to turn CREATURE TECH into a movie, and I certainly wish them well with it. I have this sinking feeling, though, that any adaptation of that book is going to softpedal all the eccentricity that made it such a delight in the first place.

Whoever ends up owning TOMMYSAURUS REX (and believe me... someone will) has the easiest job in town. Sweet, simply told, blessed with a giant heart, this is a story that anyone is going to be able to embrace. It’s of a very particular genre, and like E.T., HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS, or Brad Bird’s magnificent THE IRON GIANT, this story of a little boy with an unusual friend feels universal, instantly relatable. If you read TOMMYSAURUS REX and find yourself unmoved, check your pulse... you may already be dead.

TenNapel loves to open his books with full-page drawings of key images that set a tone for the story to come. This time out, there’s a two-page splash panel of an old man picking a toy off a crowded shelf in a store, then a full page image of a wedding ring, then the title, framed by a really, really big leash. Part of the fun of a TenNapel book is waiting to see exactly how those images come together and pay off.

Right away, we’re introduced to Ely, a pretty typical kid who has one small problem... he doesn’t make friends very well. He’s an awkward boy, and he spends most of his time playing with Tommy, his golden retriever. TenNapel does a great job of establishing the bond between the boy and his dog, making it even more painful a few pages in when Tommy is hit by a car and killed.

TenNapel’s got a real gift for drawing emotion, and this story is positively ripe with it. You can practically see Ely’s heart break as he kneels over Tommy’s body. And when his father comes to talk to him later that night, we see him set aside his own dislike of the dog, suddenly feeling his son’s pain acutely. He reaches out, tries to find something to make him feel better. He tells Ely they’ve decided to let him visit his Grandpa Joe on his farm for the summer. Ely lights up and says, “I thought you said I was too young to go work for Grandpa.”

His father’s response hits hard. “When a boy loses his dog, he gets a lot older.” Don’t worry, though. This book isn’t just page after page of sentiment. Far from it. TenNapel has a sly, wicked sense of humor, and he also seems to remember the particular horrors of being the new kid in town. When Ely meets the local bully, Randy, the encounter’s both tense and funny.

TenNapel’s not about easy stereotypes, though, so just because Randy introduced him as a bully doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know about him. In some ways, this is a book about loneliness and what we need to make us whole. Ely’s starting to regret his decision to visit the farm, getting really discouraged, when he meets the friend that changes everything.

Somehow, improbably, there’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex trapped in a nearby cave. Even more incredibly, once he breaks through all the outer wall, drawn by the sound of Ely’s voice, all he wants to do is play.

Discussing any more of the plot particulars is unfair to readers. You should be able to experience the book’s tremendous charms for yourself the first time through. What makes the book worth revisiting (and I’ve already read it three times) is the detail packed onto every page, all of it worth savoring, and the open, unguarded humanity of the thing. And, yeah, it's pretty damn funny, too

You may remember that TenNapel sent us his review of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST before the film came out, and if you’ve read CREATURE TECH, you no doubt noticed some overt and striking religious imagery. He’s a man of strong personal faith, no question about it. What I find compelling about his work is the way he weaves powerful moral ideas into his work without ever preaching or losing sight of the primary goal of entertaining. Ely’s journey and the effect his friendship with his T-Rex, who he names Rex, has on him and his community is somehow both very simple and deeply profound. There’s meaning in even the most seemingly offhand moments, and it adds up to a powerful conclusion that stirred me to the same degree as that amazing moment in IRON GIANT with the closed eyes, the slight smile, and the whispered “Sooooooperman...”

I’m not sure when Image is going to have TOMMYSAURUS REX on the shelves, but as soon as it comes out, I urge you to get a copy. Get several. This is one you’re going to give as a gift, over and over. Sometimes, it is the simplest story that gets deepest inside you, and this quiet masterpiece will, I suspect, be one you treasure for a long time to come.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • May 12, 2004, 6:43 a.m. CST


    by Rupee88


  • May 12, 2004, 10:07 a.m. CST

    i read creature Tech after reading your review

    by mansep

    i was really dissapointed. i didn't like the drawing style and i found the dialogue predictable and stilted. this doesn't look much better. there's a lot of hype around this guy but i really think he's over-rated. give me Jeff Smith over this any day.

  • May 12, 2004, 10:23 a.m. CST

    cant wait

    by AlgertMopper

    enjpy creature tech ALOT, great book, and realy looking forward to it

  • May 12, 2004, 12:39 p.m. CST

    that 'look' on the cow's face is fantastic

    by Blacklist

    and Creature Tech was great, on par with Iron Giant. Someone NEEDS to option these books into movies!

  • May 12, 2004, 1:12 p.m. CST


    by jsm1978

    The only work of his I've seen is the cover art for the Five Iron Frenzy albums, and that was always very unusual. This sounds interesting, although I noticed something since "The Iron Giant" was named in this review... The kid looks just like the kid from that movie.

  • May 12, 2004, 4:27 p.m. CST

    Now Earthworm Jim, that was the shiznit

    by Terry_1978

    I remember that game so fondly, purely bizzare in its own right. That was some of Doug's best work.

  • May 12, 2004, 5:25 p.m. CST


    by AlgertMopper

    Zeekade, you actually got a link to what your talking about, cause i cant find it.

  • May 12, 2004, 7:23 p.m. CST

    "whoever directed it should make another movie already!"

    by Toonimator

    Like, say... The Incredibles? :P Wish granted! I picked up Creature Tech about a year ago, but still haven't gotten through it all. One of these days. Loved Earthworm Jim, though I've lost the knack of playing it well. Hope this one's as good as it sounds!

  • May 12, 2004, 10:41 p.m. CST

    Sad, sad thing.

    by JackMerridew

    This Ain't Cool. Actually, I shouldn't say that. It _may_ be cool to a _very_ narrow audience of...oh, say, maybe overweight geeks who waste their money reading comic books at gyms. Peter Jackson's King Kong will shit heavily upon this trash. Go read your old copies of Devil Dinosaur.

  • May 12, 2004, 10:51 p.m. CST

    I think it's great how TenNapel deals with religion in his books

    by Blacklist

    I may not agree with everything but no one else has managed, at least to my knowing, making a religiously themed book that was willing to engage its audience at a mature topical level. It's no more heavy handed than Signs (hey, I have a short attention span). It's too bad (for comic lovers and people who like great children's books) that CT doesn't represent the preferred type of diversity for most people. Comic Book Galaxy posted a hilariously bigoted "non"-review (Why I Won't Review Creature Tech) back when it came out, and I couldn't help but think of how much people like that were missing out. A damn shame.

  • May 13, 2004, 1:50 a.m. CST

    He needs to send a check to Bill Watterson

    by Fred4sure

    A swipe is a swipe is a swipe...

  • so says Flansy Tamzarian.

  • May 23, 2004, 8:32 p.m. CST

    tommy T rex

    by the Big suit

    Does this remind anyone else of a short story in the SCATTERBRAIN anthology put out by Dark Horse a few years ago? It was called TOMMY T-REX.

  • Sept. 28, 2007, 1:32 p.m. CST


    by ironic_name