Dino Dad’s “Dinosaurs of Transylvania”

So at least one person has pointed out to me that I have a tendency to be far too nice in some of my reviews. I do try to critique major errors, but I suppose I do tend to be rather forgiving. Perhaps I hold back in part due to the fear that someone will exclaim, “Oh yeah? Well I’d like to see YOU do better!” So in the spirit of fairness, and maybe to grow myself a bit more of a spine, I thought I would share this book idea I come up with a while back. Think of this as my self-roasting acknowledgment that I can NOT in fact do better than the books I review!

First, some background. I have been quite enamored with the charismatic paleontologist Franz Nopcsa ever since I first learned about him over a decade ago. At the time, I would often doodle little pictures along with a “Dinosaur Fact of the Day” on the whiteboard in the office for my coworkers, and one Halloween I did Nopcsa-themed facts for more than a week straight. There’s plenty of trivia to keep one occupied, as he stayed busy his whole life! A Transylvanian baron, he became fascinated with paleontology after his sister gifted him a hadrosaur skull (which he later named Telmatosaurus) that a peasant had discovered nearby. After careful study of many more local fossils, he not only developed the concept of Insular (or Island) Dwarfism to explain the small sizes of the dinosaurs of his homeland, but correctly deduced from their bone structure that dinosaurs were largely warm-blooded. This led him to affirm their relationship with birds, decades before John Ostrom would describe Deinonychus which finally broadly convinced other scientists of this fact. He also volunteered as a spy in World War 1, during the course of which he fell in love with the country of Albania and wrote one of the foundational ethnographies of the people there. It was here that Nopcsa hired a man named Bajazid Doda as a secretary, with whom he eventually developed a long-term, committed relationship, at a time when merely identifying as LGBT would have been illegal. (Nopcsa even named a Cretaceous turtle Kallokibotion bajazidi because it reminded him of his lover’s butt!) When Albania gained its independence and was trying to decide on a new government, the Baron made a serious proposal to become their king, even going so far as to strongly hint at his homosexuality, implying it would actually be a positive thing for the country, since his disinterest in women meant he would be free to marry for money so as to boost the Albanian treasury. That being said, he did make sure to promise to do his “patriotic duty” with the hypothetical queen at least once in order to produce an heir. Albania ultimately decided against a monarchy, and Nopcsa unfortunately lost his wealth soon after, forcing him to sell his fossil collection in order to pay the bills. Sadly, the increasingly desperate former Baron eventually felt he had run out of options, and killed both himself and Doda in a fit of despair.

But what if he hadn’t? This tragic ending seemed an ignoble end for the charismatic Baron, and over the course of several years I found myself doodling (often on the bus to work) an alternate history where Nopcsa and Doda instead find themselves displaced in time, marooned on the very prehistoric island of Cretaceous Transylvania which Nopcsa himself had discovered the geologic evidence for. I had delusions of grandeur at one point of developing this story idea into a children’s book, but despite a couple of drafts, I never quite figured out how to rise above the level of a bad fan fiction. It doesn’t help that I wasn’t sure if the idea of giving the Baron a “second chance” at a fictional life was in poor taste or not. Further damning the project is the fact that I’m no illustrator, and while my dinosaurs sometimes look decent, my humans are all kinds of misshapen. That said, I do still sorta like some of the ideas and visuals I came up with, and have kinda wanted to share it with people for a few years now, despite my misgivings. So I guess I’ll take the plunge and post it here for your amusement. I doubt I can do any better than what’s here, so please be kind in your comments! I don’t have any plans to work on it further at this time, but we can joke about it together.

I’ll post the illustrations alongside the text I wrote for each scene, with occasional comentary in parentheses. So without any further ado, here’s Dino Dad’s “Dinosaurs of Transylvania”!

(I distinctly remember the boat I referenced for this drawing had a second mast somewhere, but I got bored and wanted to get to the dinosaurs sooner.)

One cloudy day, I, the Baron Franz Nopcsa, and my dear Bajazid Doda, boarded a ship to take a leisurely trip around Greece to visit some dear friends in Albania, where I had previously spent so many years. My fortunes had recently turned against me, and they had offered to help me get back on my feet.

(You may notice my attempts at including an art deco inspired border to most of the picture, with the large box in the middle being where I intended for the book’s text to be written.

We had scarcely set out when a strange electrical storm overtook us! The waves rose ever higher, and in a moment of panic, Doda and I boarded a lifeboat (bringing only a few of my most essential possessions), only for the storm to hopelessly separate us from the ship and its crew!

A large wave swept us up, and as we flew along, it seemed as if we were being washed not only back to shore, but clear across Romania!

The storm suddenly settled, and we looked around in vain for any sign of humanity. We were adrift in a vast ocean, with a forested island before us. Strange sounds reached our ears from the distant woods. Much to our shock, a great sea reptile surfaced beside us, and all at once it came to me! The storm had sent us back in time, and the landmass before us was none other than Hateg island, the archaic precursor to my own Transylvania!

(I only just just realized I cut off the ammonite on the left when I scanned this.)

What an opportunity! To think I should have the chance to witness the prehistoric life I had studied firsthand! I could tell Doda was a bit reluctant to explore, but he never was one to say “no” to me, bless his heart.

Retrieving my motorbike which Doda had thoughtfully stowed in the lifeboat, we set off on our adventure in this strange, primeval world!

(I knew our dear Baron had no direct connection to the freshwater mosasaur Pannoniasaurus, but I didn’t realize at the time that it lived in a completely different geologic era relative to the other creatures in this story.)

(Apparently I was still too inhibited at the point in my life that I drew the above river scene, because it doesn’t seem I managed to write any accompanying text about Kollokibotion…)

(The two Magyarosaurus in the foreground are meant to be a part of the bordering. Picture them as bas reliefs.)

Making our way along a river, we came across a herd of small long-necked dinosaurs. My observations led me to conclude that they happened to be Magyarosaurus, which I myself had named from fossil material many years ago… or should I say many years from now?

(I guess I just had a really hard time truly conceiving of a dwarf sauropod, because I made this Magyarosaurus seem approximately twice the size it should be.)

We saw individuals of many sizes, but the largest was hardly taller than myself at the shoulder, supporting my original inference that this was a dwarf species. In fact, this was what had first lef me to the idea that Transylvania was once Hateg Island, long before I had ever seen it with my own eyes: the limited resources available in island environments encourage large-bodied creatures tend to become smaller in order to survive!

(It’s not much, but I really like the bellowing Telmatosaurus for some reason.)

As we continued on, Doda shouted, “Look, your first dinosaur!” “What do you mean?” I asked, “We have just seen a whole herd!” “No, I mean Telmatosaurus”, he clarified, and so it was! This was the first dinosaur I had ever described, based on a skull gifted to me by my sister before I set off for University. This gift ignited my lifelong passion with paleontology, especially in my own homeland. It was marvelous seeing it in the flesh, and not at all the swamp dweller I had imagined it to be!

A sudden sharp pain forced me to my knees. It felt like I had been struck with a spiked mace! Doda hurriedly dragged me away, as what I had taken for a pile of rocks grunted angrily at us as we scurried away. Luckily it hadn’t hit my shin, or else I would have had a much harder time retreating!

Now at a safe distance, I could see I had accidentally stepped into the personal space of the dwarf armored dinosaur Struthiosaurus. Doda felt like teaching it some manners, but I talked him down. “Clearly it has been conditioned to act aggressively towards intruders,” I explained.

(Nopcsa named a trio of small theropods from frankly wholly inadequate remains, one of which was briefly suggested to be a giant owl! They are now sometimes collectively regarded as evidence for the presence of some sort of alverezsaur on Hateg Island. I tried to reference both theories by making an alverezsaur that looked a bit like a barn owl, a creative decision which I swear pre-dated the same choice made by Prehistoric Planet by several years!!!)

“If that’s the case, doesn’t that imply there are predators around here?” Doda asked nervously. Almost on cue, a pair of small theropod dinosaurs darted past us between the bushes, though we quickly realized they were too small to attack even their fellow dwarfs, instead being more suited to hunting the local invertebrates.

(I still don’t know the name of the Hateg Island snake, if indeed it has been named yet.)

After resting my bruised calf, Doda helped me to my feet, and led me back to where we had stashed the motorcycle. We hopped on, and continued our exploration.

Coming around a bend, we nearly ran straight into a herd of Zalmoxes! These small herbivores startled at the intrusion, and took off running as we slipped off the bike.

(That’s… probably not what Allodaposuchus’s back looked like.)

All of a sudden, a small crocodilian burst from the bushes and snagged a young Zalmoxes from the herd. From my previous studies, I recognized it as a an Allodaposuchus. As it scampered off, I wondered if this small creature might fulfill the niche of apex predator, and I was seized by a sudden urge to chase after it through the bushes to study it more closely.

Balaur bondoc!

Suddenly I found myself face-to-face with what looked for all the world like an oversized hawk! Apparently just as startled as we, it ruffled its feathers and posed menacingly at us.

Dissatisfied that we didn’t immediately move, it opened it’s toothy maw and leapt at us. Fortunately it seemed disinterested, and soon turned back. While it certainly possessed savage looking teeth and claws, it apparently was content with a more omnivorous diet, as it began to pick at some berries off a nearby branch.

(This particular image definitely owes its composition to Emily Willoughby.)

Catching my breath, I exclaimed to Doda, “Do you realize the significance of this creature? Look! I can hardly tell whether it is a theropod dinosaur or a bird! This validates my hypothesis of a connection between the two groups!”

In our earlier excitement, we had quite lost the motorcycle. Seeing the herd of Zalmoxes in a nearby field, we decided to reconnect with them and retrace their steps back to where we had first seen them.

A sudden shadow swept over our heads, sending the herd into a panicked stampede. We hesitated a moment in confusion as we looked around for the source of the shadow.

(This might be the single best drawing I’ve ever made… which isn’t saying much, but hey, I’m still proud of how I managed to convey the angle of the Hatzegopteryx‘s banking turn here.)

This gave it plenty of time to decide that we were an easier target than the panicked dinosaurs, and we gasped in horror as a monstrous pterodactyl wheeled around, alighting on the ground not far from us.

It turned its massive beak in our direction and locked eyes with us. We needed no discussion to realize that this was the true apex predator of this ecosystem, and we began to back away.

(Whelp. Just in case I needed my head deflated from a couple pages ago, here’s my reality check. I’m not even entirely sure what went wrong here, all I know is that the galloping Hatzegopteryx doesn’t look quite right.)

Without a sound, it began galloping towards us, and we sprinted in a terror back to the tree line.

Thankfully, the foliage was tough and dense, and though its beak was long, it was not very maneuverable. With a frustrated squawk, it gave up the chase and withdrew.

Gazing it at it as it strolled haughtily away, we saw a vision of the fate that could have befallen us. Finding a young Zalmoxes that had decided to hide in the grass rather than run, the pterosaur snapped at its skull, and briefly thrashed it around before swallowing it whole. We were quite ready to call it a day after that.

Though we were a bit shaken, when our nerves returned, our enthusiasm did as well, even Doda’s. It had been a wonderful and productive day of exploration, and as we couldn’t figure out a way home for the time being, I was more than content with the prospect of exploring our island together for many more days to come.

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