I've unearthed a childhood relic from the darkest recesses of my parents' loft – the first issue of Dinosaurs! magazine, carbon dated back to the halcyon pre-Jurassic Park days of 1992.
Dinosaurs! was published by Orbis Publishing, with venerable palaeontologist and Iguanodon fan Dr. David Norman as consultant. It ran for no less than 104 issues, lasting into 1995 – quite impressive, even if the 104th issue was an index. Many of the dinosaurs featured in the magazine during its run were pretty new to science – again, impressive for a kids' magazine. Admittedly, some of the animals profiled turned out to either be completely different from how they were initially perceived – Majungasaurus was pictured as a pachycephalosaur (and named “Majungatholus”) - or chimeric cock-ups like “Ultrasauros”, Jim Jensen's 'biggest dinosaur EVAR'. But still – not bad.
While I could wax nostalgic about the magazine all day, it suits this blog's focus to look at one issue alone – and why not the very first? As has been noted here before, early 1990s dinosaur art often looks, to modern eyes, like a strange blend of traditional, phylotarded 'monsters' with more modern ideas of active, dynamic animals – and so it is with the first issue of Dinosaurs!.
First – the front cover. Never mind the dented tyrannosaur hogging the limelight – it's only shaped in that strange way because it had a pair of similarly-strangely shaped 3D glasses stuck on top of it. Note instead the rather odd T. rex head at the top, complete with what look like capacious cheeks, and get used to it 'cos it pops up again repeatedly inside (what exactly is meant to be going on with the cervical vertebrae I don't know). Look at the price too – a mere thirty pence! Of course, that would be at least four thousand pounds in today's money.
The earlier issues of Dinosaurs! featured illustrations by one Neil Llloyd. His Tyrannosaurus is undoubtedly modern in many respects, with its elevated tail, horizontal posture and bulging musculature – and yet, like so many 1990s dinosaur restorations, it nevertheless look historic. The proportions are all wrong, and the shape of the skull (with 'arches' over the eyes) and uniform teeth are very strange. Note too the elongated, spindly forelimbs, which prove that Jurassic Park was by no means alone in giving Tyrannosaurus twig-like forelimbs back in the early '90s.
Looking positively more retrograde is this Tyrannosaurus just a couple of pages further in, apparently licensed from an old Kingfisher book. Although the tail is elevated, this is a classically fat-bodied, under-muscled theropod with anachronistic prey (here, Parasaurolophus, also looking rather peculiar). Watching this fat old monster waddle around on its apparently atrophied legs certainly would've been a sight.
As well as profiling one dinosaur in detail each issue, the magazine also took a brief look at a couple of other genera. In the first issue we are served Avaceratops and Dicraeosaurus, both illustrated again by Neil Lloyd, who apparently was very fond of brown. I've selected Dicraeosaurus here as it's doing rather odd things with its (admittedly elevated) tail. What the hell?
Naturally, the debut issue included a guide on 'how to spot a dinosaur', which featured a charmingly old-fashioned 'dinosaur parade' to give an idea of the creatures' scale relative to each other and an apparently very short man dressed for a funeral (a pleasant coincidence, as he is about to be stepped on by an obese brachiosaur). While Edmontosaurus looks rather dainty, Tyrannosaurus has come off far worse, with fat legs, a bizarrely-shaped head and no neck. The bald Deinonychus, while commendably up and active, is also huge, even if one compares it with the other dinosaurs rather than the tiny man. The Pteranodon – which, by the way, they do point out is not a dinosaur – is a simple Burian rip-off.
More Tyrannosaurus I'm afraid. Then again, one really can't have enough Tyrannosaurus in a day. Every issue would feature the primary profiled dinosaur in a suitably dramatic artwork on the centre spread (called 'Giants of the Past'). Here Lloyd's strange Tyrannosaurus is savaging what looks like a Euoplocephalus, but is identified in the accompanying text as Ankylosaurus (the 1990s, eh?) - two brown dinosaurs in a brown world. The ankylosaur is probably just grateful to the T. rex for livening things up a bit – it looks like a rather drab world in which to live. (Of course, a swift blow to the leg would follow.) Present in the background but, alas, cut off by my rather small scanner are three generic small ceratopsians and three tail-dragging generic sauropods. Back in the early '90s, it was still pretty common to see sauropods trailing their tails all over the place, even if other dinosaurs had long since abandoned the practice.
Penultimately – part of a comic by Pat Williams, detailing the discovery of “Iguanodon anglicus” by Gideon Mantell. Did Mantell really scream “EUREKA!” when he found a scrambled collection of fossil bones? Was Baron Cuvier really that confused? Who cares – it's fun. Check out that 'modern' Iguanodon too. Wild.
Dinosaurs! played an important role in my childhood love of dinosaurs, and undoubtedly contributed to making me the man I am today. Sorry, Dr Norman. Here's your back page Q&A for the finale – cartoons by Deirdre McHale. The first issue featured sensible questions, but later on they were sent in by readers, so naturally they degenerated into things like “Who would win in a fight – Tyrannosaurus or Smilodon?”, which to his credit Dr Norman gamely answered (if you were wondering, he dodged giving a definitive answer, but hinted at Smilodon for the win. Yeah, right). Oh, and he told one correspondent that he didn't think there were any feathered dinosaurs. Tee hee.
I'd like to thank Marc for submitting another tremendously entertaining guest post. Be a peach and keep up with him at the Dinosaur Toy Blog and Twitter.