Monday, November 7, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs: Questions & Answers

I was drawn to this book (full title: Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals: Questions & Answers) on eBay thanks to its Bernard Robinson cover. As you'll recall, Robinson's work is notable for being simultaneously very outdated and very gorgeous; while his lizardy, man-in-suit theropods (like the Tyrannosaurus below) wouldn't pass muster today, they remain a marvellous accomplishment artistically. The pebbly skin textures look almost touchably real, the glassy eyes veritably alive.



Unfortunately, the cover is the only one of Robinson's illustrations to feature in this book - probably because, by the '90s, they were already looking historic and scientifically obsolete. First appearing in 1993 under a different title, the book was first published in this form in 1995, and then again in 1998 as part of a Weetabix promotion (hence the logo). Rather boringly, the illustrations that are inside are, for the most part, competent and accurate enough for the '90s (with the usual quotient of John Sibbick rip-offs). As such, there aren't too many that really stand out, so forgive me if this is a short entry.



By way of example, the above Troodon is actually pretty good - you know, for the early '90s. Of course it's buck naked and bunny-handed - as all contemporary maniraptors were - but it's clear that the illustrator (one Steve Kirk) knew what he was doing. This is hardly surprising, as the venerable Dougal Dixon was behind the text, and I doubt he'd want his name stuck to any old muck. Another pleasing aspect of this Troodon is that it doesn't resemble anything sculpted by Dale Russell (look ma, round pupils!) and there's no mention of the bloody 'Dinosauroid' travesty, which as Trish has noted (here, for example) was a near-obligatory inclusion in '80s and '90s dinosaur books for no good reason whatsoever.



Here's one that's good for a giggle. It was revealed at this year's SVP that Archaeopteryx was, in fact, rather black, thus ending the long reign of the 'sparkleraptors'. The above Archaeopteryx isn't the worst ever anatomically, but wow - those colours. Those searing, horrifically clashing colours. It reminds me of Quentin Blake's illustrations of the Roly-Poly Bird. Interesting to note, Archaeopteryx is included on a spread alongside a gathering of different pterosaurs, but none of its dinosaurian relatives - an example of the strange old trend of keeping Archaeopteryx apart from other dinosaurs.



Finally, here's one that I've included because it's the exception that proves the rule (and because peculiar illustrations are a lot more fun to look at than blandly good-enough ones). Once again, poor old Tyrannosaurus is subjected to sub-par treatment, in this case adopting a very peculiar 'BOO!' pose while its cranium and mandible go in different directions. Dixon's text takes an odd turn here too, speculating that the forelimbs of Tyrannosaurus were "possibly used for picking its teeth". This in spite of the fact that, as every kid who's read a dinosaur book knows, T. rex had 'arms so short that they couldn't even reach its mouth'. What the hell, Dougal? At least the long-snouted Spinosaurus here is impressively forward-thinking.

Still, all in all I need to look a lot harder to find antiquated, interesting and/or amusing dinosaur books. Preferrably not from the '90s, and preferrably cheap. We'll see where my efforts get me!

8 comments:

  1. "The above Archaeopteryx isn't the worst ever anatomically"

    Refreshingly good, in fact! Only mistake I see is the presence of tertials. (And there's perhaps the matter of its behavior....)

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  2. I was at a Dale Russell lecture at the Canadian Museum of Nature while he was still there. Someone excitedly ran over to the (old) dinosaur hall and retrieved the ape-dinosaur sculpture then on display. He reacted in a very embarrassed manner and asked the culprit not to put it up on stage. Didn't work. Just a small defense of Russell.

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  3. "By way of example, the above Troodon is actually pretty good - you know, for the early '90s. Of course it's buck naked and bunny-handed - as all contemporary maniraptors were - but it's clear that the illustrator (one Steve Kirk) knew what he was doing. This is hardly surprising, as the venerable Dougal Dixon was behind the text, and I doubt he'd want his name stuck to any old muck."

    When you say "venerable", do you mean "extremely old or obsolete; ancient"? I ask b/c lot of Dixon's books have really mediocre art (E.g. Those reviewed by Babbletrish).

    "Dixon's text takes an odd turn here too, speculating that the forelimbs of Tyrannosaurus were "possibly used for picking its teeth". This in spite of the fact that, as every kid who's read a dinosaur book knows, T. rex had 'arms so short that they couldn't even reach its mouth'. What the hell, Dougal?"

    You seem surprised, yet a lot of Dixon's books have text like that. It's part of the reason why I can't take him seriously. "If Dinosaurs Were Alive Today" was the last straw: As if it wasn't bad enough that an Archaeopteryx flock was mobbing a Bald Eagle w/an obviously-photoshopped lizard in its talons, Dixon actually referred to the lizard as Archaeopteryx's ancestor!

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  4. that T-Rex is just cracking me up!

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  5. I can´t stop laughing at that T.rex. Looks like someone just gave him very, very bad news.

    And I´m loving that carnival Archie too!

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  6. @Hadiaz: Did he? Yikes. I haven't read too many of Dixon's books - I had one as a kid and remember that being passable (as this one is, for the most part).

    By 'venerable' I did mean old and/or obsolete, although primarily just old; a veteran, if you like. Commanding of respect for, if for no other reason, just the sheer amount of work he put out.

    I haven't read 'If Dinosaurs Were Alive Today', though. It sounds diabolical.

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  7. @Hadiaz and Marc - Amazon has _If Dinosaurs Were Alive Today_ for a PENNY. It will be coming to my house soon and oh, I cannot wait to review it.

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  8. @Trish: OK, now I've gone and bought a copy too. Hope you don't mind me reviewing it as well (no harm in having two perspectives, surely?).

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