Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Behind the scenes of "The Lost King of Africa"

If you've watched THE SECRET SATURDAYS you know that the Saturdays are cryptozoologists; scientists who study cryptids. Cryptids are hidden, or unproven animals. The most famous cryptids are Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, the yeti, and the Loch Ness Monster. Whether any of these elusive creatures exist, or not, in the real world remains unproven, but other animals that we've all heard of at one time were cryptids themselves. Gorillas, pandas, okapis, the megamouth shark, and the komodo dragon were at one time all believed to only be legendary animals that didn't really exist. Unknown animals are being discovered all the time, and while none are as mysterious and otherworldly as the Loch Ness Monster, there's still a chance that someone will prove that something like Bigfoot really does exist.

In "The Lost King of Africa" (published in CARTOON ACTION PACK #44, by DC Comics) the Saturdays venture to the Congo in Africa to search for a cryptid known as Mokele Mbembe. Mokele Mbembe means "the one who stops the flow of rivers" and to the people who live in the Congo and who claim to have seem this cryptid, it is said to look a lot like a sauropod, a long-necked dinosaur similar to the Apatosaurus, or Diplodocus. It is also supposed to be hostile to hippos, as depicted in this painting.

Below is a drawing in the mud of what local witnesses say Mokele Mbembe looks like. Could a prehistoric dinosaur still be alive in the jungles of Africa? It's unlikely, but who knows for certain?

There has been some recent speculation that Mokele Mbembe could actually be a huge, surviving, prehistoric mammal such as the Indricotherium seen below. This animal, which lived in Central Asia and China during the Oligocene, was related to the modern rhinoceros. It was about 27 feet long, the largest land mammal that ever lived, and was as long as some sauropod dinosaurs. If this theory had appeared before I wrote this story, then most likely I would have used this really cool looking mammal as the focus of my story.

Because I was thinking of Mokele mbembe as a dinosaur, I decided to combine it with other dinosaur cryptids from Africa in this story. All three of the dinosaurs are creatures that are said to exist in the Congo. The first dinosaur the Saturday's meet in the story is Emela-Ntouka, whose name means "killer of elephants." Below is a sculpture of what African witnesses say this creature looks like. Could those large floppy ears actually be the frill of a ceratopsian dinosaur?

If so, then the Emela-Ntouka probably looked something like this:

That's roughly what the Emela-Ntouka looks like in our story. Finally, we come to Kasai Rex, the lost king of our story. "Rex" means king. Kasai rex was reportedly witnessed in 1932 attacking a rhinoceros and also elephants. It was described as something similar to a Tyrannosaurus rex, but some say may have been a Tarbosaurus, like the one shown below, a slightly smaller relative of the Tyrannosaurus, which lived in Mongolia.

Again, it is unlikely that any dinosaurs are still alive, particularly a large predator like tarbosaurus, which never lived in Africa to start with, but since THE SECRET SATURDAYS wouldn't be as much fun if we didn't include all cryptids as actually being real, existing, creatures, we just made them real living creatures for the purposes of this story.

Will the Saturdays survive their encounter with Kasai Rex and find Mokele Mbembe? You'll just have to wait until part 2 in January. In the meantime, here's some trivia about the story. The boat that the Saturdays travel in was meant to like like the boats from the Jungle Cruise, one of my favorite attractions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. I was originally going to have them pass some of the familiar animals seen on the Disney ride as well, but it didn't help the story move forward so I cut those bits out. Now, the Saturdays don't see any animals for some time in the story.

The name of the boat, "R.P. Mackal" is named after Roy P. Mackal, a biologist and cryptozoologist born in 1925, who searched for both the Loch Ness monster and Mokele Mbembe (where he also learned about Emela-Ntouka). He is also one of the founders of the, now defunct, International Society for Cryptozoology. He has written books about both expeditions and about cryptozoology in general.