An Interview with Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll Authors by wsa62486



      Question / answer                          |   800-992-2908

           An Interview with                Chris Loffelmacher: In reading your book, it looks like this is the perfect pairing
 Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll                 of art and science. How did the two of you get together for this project?
                  Authors of                Ray Troll: I remember it quite clearly. It was in the fall of 1994 when I had a show
 Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway                at the Burke was was there, and the museum hosted a reception for the Society of
                by Fresh City Life’s        Vertebrate Paleontol ogi standing by a display case full of fossils, chatting with a
                Chris Loffelmacher          few scientists, when I looked up to see this giant guy staring down at me. It was
                                            Kirk. He said he was a big fan of m Museum in Seattle. My exhibit Planet Ocean,
                                            Dancing to the Fossil Record sts. I y fishy T-shirt art, and he said, “We’ve gotta work
                                            together someday!”… and the rest is history.

                                            CL: The map of fossil finds that accompanies the book is beautiful.
                                            Does the map reflect your road trip, or was it created as a guide for the road trip?
                                            In other words, which came first, the expedition or the map?
                                            RT: After our first foray into Colorado and Wyoming, we realized we needed a map
                                            to define the parameters of our territory. We kept going back and forth on where
                                            to draw the line. Should we include California? Should we have Alaska in there
                                            too? One day in the studio I did a quick line drawing of the western states, got out
Troll and Johnson                           a giant piece of paper, stapled it to the wall, and turned on my overhead projector.
                                            After monkeying around with a few options, I got out the pen and ink and started
Top-10 Signs That You Suffer from           in on it. About a year later, I was done. So the trip happened first, then the map,
Paleonerd Syndrome (PNS)                    then more trips!
10. You own at least one dinosaur
    T-shirt.                                CL: Ray, many of your images for the book seem less based in reality than in a
9. You bought a dinosaur toy for yourself   sort of surreal dream state — like looking at dinosaurs through amber. What
   after the age of 15.                     inspires, or compels, your approach to recording the natural world, whether it is
8. You can’t look at a bird without         prehistoric or contemporary?
   thinking, “Hmmm, so that’s what a        RT: I value the work of the surrealist painters, who freely drew upon the dream
   dinosaur looks like.”                    state to inform their work. Somebody once described my work as “scientific
7. You’d stand in line tomorrow for         surrealism,” and that seemed to fit nicely. So I guess that’s what I do. The critters
   Jurassic Park IV.                        are real, but the context may shift wildly underneath them. So when contemplating
6. Road cuts make you salivate.             the intricate beauty of Didymoceras ammonites, I’ll paint them as realistically as I
5. Rock hammers: 3;                         can, but will place them hovering above a sleeping couple in a bedroom.
   regular hammers: 0.                      Kirk Johnson: The question was for Ray, but I just want to pipe in and say that his
4. All of your summers are planned          organisms are wonderfully rendered and true to the fossils. He’s not making them
   around fossil-hunting trips that you     up, he’s just dropping them into unexpected settings. I spend a lot of time working
   make the whole family go on, whether     with scientific realist illustrators like Jan Vriesen in attempts to make plausible and
   they want to or not.                     photorealistic reconstructions of ancient landscapes. Their efforts often surprise
3. You compulsively whack every nodule      me. Ray’s efforts always surprise me.
   you see in your lifelong quest to find
   the perfect ammonite.                    CL: You write in the opening of your book about becoming so obsessed
2. You know precisely where and how         with plant fossils that you began to gift your girlfriends with floral
   you want to be buried so you’ll make a   fossils instead of the standard cut-flower bouquet. Fossil-geeks
   good fossil.                             everywhere would like to know — how did that work
1. You bought our map.                      out for you?
                                            KJ: (laughs) Better than the geekiness
                                            of it suggests.

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Question / answer              |   800-992-2908

                       CL: What states did your expedition cover?
                       KJ: Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming,
                       North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana,
                        Idaho, Utah, and New Mexico.

                           CL: Okay, weeks on end, driving around the United
                              States. You must have developed some Road Rules to survive the journey.
                                Any favorites you can share with us?
                                RT: It kinda started out as a joke, but “FEED THE TROLL” was a mantra
                                heard often in Big Blue (the nickname for the pickup we traveled in).
                                Maybe I’m borderline diabetic or something, but if I don’t eat on a regular
                           basis I can be a complete terror to behold. Especially in the morning after too
                          much red wine the night before. So we built the trip around roadside eateries
                       and indulged ourselves in lots of white gravy–covered chicken–fried steaks. At
                              least I did. If I was gonna point out one of Kirk’s very few foibles, I’d say
                               he’s a little unrealistic when it comes to making travel plans. He’d
                               announce that we were going to get from X to Z in one day, and I’d roll
                       my eyes knowing we’d never make it, cuz invariably we’d end up talking for hours
                       to a fellow paleonerd or walking through gullies for hours finding fossils.

                                           CL: What were the triumphs (favorite fossil, discovery, or
                                           moment) along the way?
                                           KJ: For me it was the discovery of the K-T boundary layer in
                                           North Dakota. I had been looking for that layer for 20 years
                                           and had pretty much given up. Then I showed Troll this outcrop,
                                           and, lo and behold, my eyes focused and there it was. The layer
                                           contained round balls that began their lives as drops of molten
                                           glass blown out of a crater in Mexico and blasted all the way to
                                           North Dakota.
                                           RT: Man, there were so many. Finding my very first dinosaur
                       bone in the field, the time I had Kirk stop the truck because I had a vibe about
                       the place and promptly found a plesiosaur vertebra, stopping at the Little Bighorn
                       battle site at dark as the wind came up, spending time in a loft full of Ernest
                       Untermann paintings, when Kirk pulled the shark tooth out from right under my
                       butt in Kansas, opening giant milk dud concretions full of ammonites, pulling
                       over in South Dakota after Kirk spotted trackways while glancing out the window
                       and finding a huge crocodile footprint, and that last roadside ammonite on that
                       very last day.

                       CL: Can you guys offer any advice for neophyte fossil hunters who would like to
                       get in on the action? Where should they start? Any cool local sites to check out?
                       KJ: The best bet is to get hooked up with a local fossil club. They are full of
                       friendly folks who know the local ropes and often lead field trips to the good
                       spots. In Denver, it’s the Western Interior Paleontology Society. And, oh yeah,
                       buy the book!
                       RT: Kirk would probably have them all digging up their backyards right away.
                       I’d tell folks to pay attention to all those fantastic road cuts. Fossils really are
                       everywhere, especially in the western United States. I’d caution folks to be familiar
                       with the laws, though, and pay close attention to land ownership. Vertebrate fossils
                       on public lands cannot be hauled off and put on your mantel. It’s just plain illegal.
fulcrum publishing     They belong to the man! Private lands are another matter altogether.

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