The age-old debate between evolution and creation plays out in Alberta’s Badlands with monstrous effect in the newest offering from Canmore-based Renegade Arts Entertainment.
Sharkasaurus, written by Calgary-based writer and filmmaker Spencer Estabrooks and illustrated by Jethro Morales with colours by Adriano Augusto, pits creationists against paleontologists – at least until they’re forced to set aside their differences and work together as they face off against the horrid love child of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and the extinct super-sized shark Megalodon.
On one side are paleontologists Frankie and Alice, while on the other side is the Rev. Peter Matthews. Matthews’ daughter, Addy, and Evan, the adopted son of Frankie and Alice, meanwhile, do what most teenagers do and ignore the antics of their parents while proceeding to fall in love, giving Sharkasaurus a Romeo and Juliet subplot.
Matthews, along with his disgust that Addy would fall for the son of paleontologists, is irate that the paleontologists are excavating on land he plans to use. He wants to expand his Heavenly Holes Creationist Golf Course, where a bizarre and rather hilarious mismatch of dinosaurs and Christian icons mix it up, including Jesus riding a triceratops and a nativity scene with raptors instead of sheep and donkeys.
Frankie and Alice, meanwhile, believe they are on the verge of a major fossil discovery; however, instead of making the fossil find of a lifetime, they have disturbed the multi-million-year-long hibernation of Sharkasaurus.
Estabrooks said recently that Sharkasaurus is the personification of death and he’s using the monster as a device to explore the sticking points between science and religion.
“Here’s the inevitability that all men must face,” he said. “No matter what you believe, or how you back up your facts or faith, there is something that is inescapable and that’s Sharkasaurus, a.k.a. death. In my head, it’s the thing that brings them all together and makes them better versions of themselves.”
And rather than recycle another monster – such as werewolves, vampires or zombies – to represent death, Estabrooks wanted something uniquely Albertan.
“I was thinking that there were too many shark movies in the world and then I realized Alberta didn’t have a shark movie. My first impulse was a land shark, so I looked it up and there were already movies about that and then I came up with this idea for Tremors meets Jaws meets tunnelling-dinosaur-shark-monster and Sharkasaurus came up,” he said.
It needs to be said that even though lots of kids would be into “a tunnelling-dinosaur-shark monster”, Sharkasaurus is not for kids. It’s also not for the squeamish or the easily offended.
Sharkasaurus is gruesome and it is gory. Sharkasaurus turns the Badlands red with blood. And, like any good horror story, no one is safe from a horrible end. All the members of the Elderly Atheist Choir, for example, meet their end with a swipe of Sharkasaurus’s spike-covered tail, while two creationist golfers are eaten with one great “gulumph!”
But tucked in among the copious amount of gore and all that death is a sharp, intelligent and funny story.
“I wanted it to be fun and tongue-in-cheek,” said Estabrooks. “I get a little political and mean to creationists, but I try to be as mean to palaeontologists just to try and fill the barrier up. It’s meant to be fun. I hope people enjoy it, and I hope people laugh because there are some fun moments.”
One of those moments comes when Evan and Addy meet up under the full moon. As they sit on the head of a triceratops, with Jesus, his arms spread wide, riding on its back, the burning carcasses of gophers launch through the night air like fireworks as the groundskeeper goes full-bore Caddyshack.
Along with its fun and political story, one of the great things about Sharkasaurus is that it’s an Alberta story in every way, from its setting to its creative team and to the publisher: it doesn’t come to us via New York or Los Angeles or even London, England. It’s 100 per cent home grown.
Estabrooks said local content is important given our tendency to focus on stories and ideas that come to us from somewhere else.
“It is important to tell our own (stories) because no one else knows what we know and that is what creates that authenticity. We have to stop trying to tell other people’s stories and just tell our own. We’re an amazing province, and there’s a lot of cool stuff going on,” he said.
And when we do tell our own stories, Estabrooks said there’s an authenticity that can’t be matched.
“That authenticity, when we tell our own stories, just rings with truth and that is what really connects with readers and viewers.
“It’s important to keep trying and keep putting the stories out there. When a good story strikes a chord, and there’s truth to it, it’ll resonate but sometimes that has to come from somewhere else because as Canadians we tend to undervalue our own worth,” he said.
And when it comes to death and destruction and a good monster story, Alberta’s Badlands can proudly step up and put itself among all those other places across the world that have ever been attacked by a giant monster, be it Tokyo, New York or London.
Sharkasaurus, published by Renegade Arts Entertainment, is available for $19.99.