Illustration: illustration of two men

Ronan Allain and Mazan

Illustrations by Mazan

Ronan Allain, a French paleontologist, recently received a grant from National Geographic to continue his research on dinosaurs in Laos. In early 2012, Allain will go to Laos to collect the entire skeleton of a carnivorous dinosaur, including the skull. He will be accompanied by his friend Mazan, who is a professional cartoonist. Not only does Mazan create hilarious cartoons, but he also draws amazing illustrations for scientific journals. Read the interview to find out how Allain and Mazan became interested in dinosaurs and drawing, and what they hope to find in Asia!

NG Kids: What do you want to accomplish during your research next year? How many dinosaurs have you dug up so far? What else have you found while digging that is really cool?

Allain: I am planning three fieldwork missions for the incoming year, but the most exciting one will happen in Laos, a small Asian country south of China. We intend to collect the complete skeleton of a new carnivorous dinosaur we found two years ago.

I have worked in Laos for ten years and I already described a sauropod (quadrupedal herbivorous dinosaur) we named Tangvayosaurus (Tang Vay is the locality where we found it). Otherwise, I have discovered four dinosaurs in France—including the largest dinosaur bone ever known, a 7.5-foot-long (2.4-meter-long) femur—two in Morocco, and one in Lesotho.

In 2003, I joined the team of my colleague Paul Sereno (and National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence) of the University of Chicago and I have participated in the first exploration of the Gobero archeological site in the middle of the Sahara desert. I have very happy memories of this site.

NG Kids: How do you work with Ronan on a project? How do you collaborate with him? Do you work with other scientists

Mazan: I met Ronan Allain last year, during the paleontological excavations in Angeac-Charente. Angeac-Charente is a small village southwest of France which lies 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) from my home. It is a great opportunity for me because paleontologists have discovered there one of the largest sauropod femurs in the world! Two meters, 40 centimeters! But above all, the excavators found in this place many other animal remains dating from the Cretaceous period ... This real nest of dinosaurs attracted many scientists. That is why today I am lucky to work with many of them.

I draw, on a daily basis in small notebooks, the work of paleontologists and I describe the evolution of a dig and all the new discoveries.

I work on reconstructions of the paleoenvironment and dinos ... and since I'm also a cartoonist, I make funny pictures of it all!

NG Kids: What were you like as a kid?

Allain: Reading, minerals, and ... dinosaurs.

Mazan: When I was five, I wanted to be a paleontologist. I was looking for small fossils (shells and sea urchins) in the rocks of the Perigord region with my dad. I was surrounded by famous prehistoric caves such as Lascaux, where you can see paintings dating from the Cro-Magnon. And I imagined myself hunting the mammoth!

When I came home I prepared a small museum in my room where I could show my fossils (sometimes mixed with cow's teeth ...) When you are five years old you can easily believe in having found dinosaur’s teeth!

And I began to draw it all ... I enjoyed sketching dinosaurs, mixing, of course, with woolly rhinoceroses and Neanderthals. And step by step, drawing became my main passion.

I ascended the stream of history, illustration by illustration, to become a cartoonist.

NG Kids: What do you daydream about?

Allain: This year: to find the skull of our Laotian carnivorous dinosaur!

Mazan: I would like to realize my childhood dream of becoming a cartoonist and travel the world in search of archaeological and palaeontological sites, a sketchpad in hand (and a whip!) ... but ... but then ... Dreams can come true?!

NG Kids: What is your job and how did you get into your field of work?

Allain: I am a paleontologist. I spend a lot of time in the field collecting material, doing research, studying bones and also a lot of time writing without a lot of sleep.

To become a paleontologist, you have to study biology and/or geology in university. In France, it took me eight years after the high school diploma to have my doctorate, and then another five years to get a permanent position in the National Natural History Museum in Paris.

Mazan: In fact I have become a comic strip artist (I even have three books translated in the United States! ;) ). I have made comic books since 1988, after many years studying design in art school. And I was lucky enough to travel to a few countries and I have filled dozens of sketchbooks ... By working hard we can achieve our dreams! Sure!

NG Kids: What's a normal day like for you?

Allain: In the Paris Museum, there is no normal day but too many uninteresting administrative tasks to do. The place to be in the Museum is the fossil preparation laboratory!! In the field, we spend all the day prospecting or collecting for fossils—my favorite professional activity.

Mazan: Up early! Chief, yes, Chief! Coffee ... and at work!

I try to draw all day … while trying to help my children with their homework. Of course when I can I play with them ... I made them discover the video game Tomb Raider ... an adventurer in search of eternal treasure who ends up destroying all the archeological sites around the world!

NG Kids: What do you do for fun or to be silly?

Allain: I really like comic books (I have more than 1,400 comic books at home) and it is a great pleasure to have Mazan in my team. He works as a professional cartoonist and loves dinosaurs, I work as a professional dinosaur paleontologist and love comics ... Otherwise, I love to play with my children.

Mazan: I think this next trip with Ronan to get the big dinosaurs in the jungle at the end of the world will be the craziest thing I have done ... Beware of mosquitoes, big spiders ... or velociraptors? Frightening!

NG Kids: What's the best place you've ever traveled to?

Allain: The High Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

Mazan: I love so many different places! Egypt? ... Vietnam? ... Croatia? My lovely garden behind my home?

NG Kids: What's the best piece of advice that anyone has ever given you?

Mazan: Do not forget to bring a good mosquito net in Laos, said Ronan! Reassure me ... There are no piranhas there?!

NG Kids: Do you have any good paleontologist jokes?

Allain: Not yet, but Mazan has lots of hilarious drawings!

NG Kids: Do you know any good jokes about scientists or illustrators?

Mazan: Not really, because I am among scientists for a short time in fact. But Ronan, knowing that I am coming to Laos with him, sent me a picture of what will be my breakfast there: A bowl of roasted caterpillars! And a soup of boiled toads for lunch.

NG Kids: What's the one thing that you can't travel without?

Allain: I would like to answer my wife and kids, but I think it is my oyster knife (my favorite tool to dig up dinosaurs).

Mazan: My sketchbook and my pencil.

NG Kids: Do you have a hero or someone who inspires you?

Allain: Gon [a dinosaur from the Japanese manga series created by Masashi Tanaka].

Mazan: Indiana Jones of course!

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