February 1st, 2003. The Colin Farrell and Al Pacino thriller The Recruit led the box office. “Bump Bump Bump” by B2K topped the Billboard charts. The U.S. invasion of Iraq was just over a month away. And in a quiet corner of the internet, a new six-panel comic was about to change the world forever. It was twenty years ago today that Dinosaur Comics, the creation of cartoonist Ryan North, premiered in all its pixelated glory, and today North celebrated the occasion with an extra-long installment of the strip featuring, for the first time in the comic’s history, all-new artwork.

it is a purposely inauspicious start
The very first Dinosaur Comics strip, from February 1st, 2003.

For those unfamiliar with Dinosaur Comics (and you now have twenty years’ worth of strips to catch up on), the structure of the comic is straightforward. Each installment is comprised of the same six panels of artwork, primarily featuring a lime green Tyrannosaurus Rex. T-Rex is joined in the third panel by a Dromiceiomimus as he prepares to stomp on a log cabin, and in the fourth an fifth panels by a Utahraptor. The fourth panel also finds T-Rex about to step on a tiny human woman. While the images are static, the dialogue is ever-changing, with the topics of discussion between the dinosaurs covering pretty much anything you could possibly imagine, from history to philosophy to computer science to food to the simple joy of stomping on things.

On its surface, Dinosaur Comics feels like it would get old fast. The art never changes? It’s all clearly kind of poorly-rendered clip art? What even is that font? But those surface negatives actually contribute to what makes the strip so much damn fun. The way that I read Dinosaur Comics has changed over the years. At first the gag in my mind was that the art never changes, which is itself pretty hilarious. But after a while it became clear to me that Dinosaur Comics is like a puzzle that North is constantly solving, day in and day out. How do you make a comic where the art never changes work and still feel fresh and fun? Where the only thing that changes is the dialogue, and how that dialogue – which is more often than not completely unrelated to what’s going on in the panels – plays in juxtaposition with the images? It would take an enormously clever writer to do it, and North has proven himself to be just that over and over again. The surface simplicity of Dinosaur Comics almost acts as a distraction to hide just how utterly brilliant it is.

North wrote a lovely post marking today’s 20th anniversary of the strip, and I won’t reproduce all of it because you should definitely go to his website and explore the strip’s archives and, frankly, fall in love with these ridiculous dinosaur characters. But I will share this part, where North talks about a conversation he had with Achewood creator Chris Onstad about the relationships creators have with their work:

There are those who hate to be known as “the x guy”, because we’re all so much more complex than a single piece of work. True! All true. But we agreed we love when people call us “The x Guy” because so much of who we are IS in our work, and we don’t need a single thing to represent us. It’s all us! And we’re happy you like it.

There’s no chance that being “The Dinosaur Comics Guy” will ever be North’s only legacy – Doreen Green would never hear of it – but even if it was, it’d be an impressive one. Here’s to 20 years of Dinosaur Comics, and to whatever the next 20 years hold for the series.

The first half of today’s extra-long strip, originally presented yesterday as a standalone post.