Dec 3, 2018

Jurassic Park is a Comic

Jurassic Park is a comic. I don’t mean there is a comic based on the novel or the concept. There have been.

Jurassic Park is a Comic
Integral Visual Communication and Document Semblance
Travis Hedge Coke

The Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (and divers illustrating hands) is a comic. Especially, prior to the movie adaptation’s visual confirmation of the dinosaurs’ veracity, the visual elements of the novel are so requisite to a reading, to an understanding, that yes, it is a prose novel, but it is also, more honestly, a comic.

There are over a dozen illustrations in the original/standard Jurassic Park, ranging from the fractal iterations that frame the progress of the book, hazard signs, and the semblance of formulae. Semblance is significant here, because it is neither reality nor genuine formulae, which would be a text-based communication, versus a visual representation; visual communicator.

When a string of GTCA letters appear in Jurassic Park, it is not a fragment of DNA, it is the semblance of DNA information. It is a visual cue to a faith that this genetic information exists, not a genuinely decipherable communique.

Which is, perhaps, the foremost reason we do not think of the novel as also being a comic. These visual cues are necessary to believing in the world and happenings of Jurassic Park. They buy veracity that words, alone, could especially before the movies, never have done.

Michael Crichton says his test readers disliked the book on multiple drafts, because it was aimed too young, and loved it when it was rewritten for adults. I do not doubt that the illustrations were a big part of that. They are not children’s book illustrations, because they are not representative of shape and shade of physical objects and animals. They are abstract illustrations of concepts, or symbolist works evoking a cache of seriousness and reality. At one point in the novel, there is, instead of a warning notice in text, an insert of a warning sign. The sign has strength that words cannot similarly carry. A biohazard symbol has resonance and reality sturdier than text.

And, if we have to distinguish comics from illustrated prose, is the artwork carrying weight that the prose cannot, not a great way to divide the camps? You cannot delete the visual elements of Jurassic Park without losing a ton, and you cannot swap them out for other, particularly more physically-representative artwork, without fundamentally changing the book and the read.

Are illustrations of abstract/symbolist caches more sophisticated? Or, simply more uncommon?

Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek’s Marvels gets so much props for being “realistic” and “showing how it would really look,” when the actual comic, when you dig down and read it, is full of evocations, of symbolic representations, even if the first few pages. Because we think of illustration as representative forms; most comics is outline art, or blocked out visual shapes of physical objects.

The artwork in Jurassic Park, instead of communicating a physical shape, primarily communicate confidence, knowledge, realness. The use of symbols like GTCA or the biohazard shield imbue the narrative with a sense of knowingness and immediacy, especially in a 1980s text, when dinosaurs cloned from bugs in amber was way the hell out there stuff. But, it remains illustration, it remains artwork.

Jurassic Park remains a comic.

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