I went into Paleo with high hopes due to the author, Jim Lawson’s, pedigree. I didn’t quite what to expect, however, because the concept was rather hard to wrap my head around. A three hundred page graphic novel focusing on real-life dinosaurs. No anthropomorphizing them. No applying human thoughts or attributes, or breaking from the likely reality that these massive creatures experienced. It’s an easy enough concept but seemed like a doozy to make a lengthy storyline out of. It also seemed terribly, compellingly unique, so I jumped at the opportunity to see what exactly Jim Lawson has been up to and why the fans of this series were so ravenous.
Let’s not bury the lede. Lawson keeps this book interesting by breaking it up into a series of vignettes. Each vignette focuses on a day, or series of hours, in the life of a single dinosaur. I was worried there would be a lack of drama but was very wrong. The line between life and death is only minutes, or even seconds, when the focal ‘saur becomes the hunted — even if they begin their day as the hunter. Likewise, Lawson avoids humanizing his subjects, but also narrates from inside their heads, letting us peek into what each dinosaur may be thinking. These are creatures you can empathize with and root for, which is no easy feat to pull off.
The art certainly helps. While I am partial to full color, the black and white sketches are well done and do a good job of setting the scene and allow us to settle into the pre-history before us.
All of that said, Paleo just wasn’t for me. It is absolutely unique, and dino-fans will go ga-ga for it, but the side-effect of keeping the dinosaurs true to life is that the narration often feels like a National Geographic documentary. It’s interesting, and some stories are better than others, but I often found myself returning to it just for the sake of finishing, not because I was consistently compelled by what I was reading.
This isn’t a knock against Paleo. It accomplishes its goal with exceptional grace and style. Graphic novels just aren’t the medium I turn to for that type of story. I’m happy to have read it, but caution new readers that this is a truly different type of story for the medium. Whether that’s a plus or minus depends entirely on you.