Monday, December 5, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles

Way back in April, when I was supposed to be finishing my undergradaute thesis, I wrote my first ever post for Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs - a Vintage Dinosaur Art guest post looking at an amusingly crap 1960s book named Dinosaurs of the Earth. When this book - simply titled Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles - arrived on Saturday, I was immediately struck by the similarities. Originally published in 1966 (with this fifth edition arriving in 1972), DaOPR similarly takes readers on a colourful journey through time from the origins of life on land in the Palaeozoic through to the end of the Mesozoic. The key difference is that the art here is much, much better, and that'll be down to the talents of one Rudolph F Zallinger, who surely needs no introduction to anyone reading this blog (but just in case).



Many of the animals in this book are obviously similar to their counterparts in Zalinger's The Age of Reptiles mural, but - and in spite of the book still being firmly 'Dino Dark Age' in style - they actually look a little more modern, and anatomical improvements have been made. Still, it seems that even Zallinger wasn't above ripping off (or more generously, 'paying homage to') other artists' work, in this case (below) Charles R Knight's bird-grabbing Ornitholestes which, as David has examined before, ended up turning into a meme. It never did seem to bother anyone that Ornitholestes and Archaeopteryx lived in rather different parts of the world...



Ah, the swamp-bound sauropod trope. Just as in Dinosaurs of the Earth, the text here (by Jane Werner Watson) is more interested in telling a story that conveying lots of facts about the dinosaur's anatomy and possible behaviour. Still, we are told that Brachiosaurus lives in the water much of the time not only to support 'his' (yes, the animals are always described as male) weight, but because for this gigantic animal "the safest thing to do is to hide" in a lake. Looking carefully, it's possible to see the nasal crest of one brachiosaur just poking out of the water in the middle, presumably where there is a sheer drop in the lake bed. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - how did this idea persist for so long without people realising how utterly barmy it was?



More memes! This time, Allosaurus sinking its teeth into the neck of "Brontosaurus". Both clearly draw on Zallinger's previous work, but Allosaurus looks leaner and meaner than in the AoR mural and no longer has its forelimbs growing out of its neck. Outdated as it obviously is, Zallinger's skill ensures that this remains a highly striking and evocative scene to behold - just compare it with the same scene in Dinosaurs of the Earth. (And then have another good laugh at the latter.)



Stegosaurus is still looking very old-fashioned here, as it did even into the '90s. Not a lot to say, really, other than the colour scheme is rather different to that featured in the AoR mural (unlike the Allosaurus and "Brontosaurus" which are broadly similar), and is if anything more typical - a green body with orange plates. I'd love to know who exactly invented that, and if other artists were copying them or just happened upon the same colours independently. There's an Ankylosaurus featured too, which I haven't scanned, but rest assured it is the same weird, super-squat, no-neck creature so prevalent in art of the time.



There's a very peculiar trope in old palaeoart that leads to Protoceratops having an unduly sprawling, lizardlike appearance for no good reason. Zallinger carries on the tradition here. Bizarrely, Oviraptor has transmorphed into an ornithomimosaur, although unlike the bigger theropods its tail is very clearly elevated above the ground.



There's something I quite like about this Gorgosaurus - maybe because depicting theropods squatting down at the water's edge still remains quite unconventional. Zallinger's also given it a lot of character, and it looks a little tense, as if it's eyeing something beneath the surface. Which it is, although not what one would expect - a Corythosaurus and Parasaurolophus have turned scuba diver, the text describing how "they fill their hollow skulls with air [like an aqualung], and down they go to the bottom". A lovely illustration and a totally nutty one based on a long-discarded idea on the same page - that's why I love old dinosaur books...



This Triceratops manages to combine the lovely and the nutty in the same animal. It's as beautifully painted as ever, and (quite literally) has a huge presence on the page. On the other hand...what's up with the head? The neck frill appears to fold out, fan-like, in a semi-circle behind the animal's head. Still, I love the way a lone Triceratops completely dominates this scene, and the surrounding environment just looks gorgeous.



It's Tyrannosaurus time. Sexy rexy puts in his (oh dear, now I'm personifying them) inevitable appearance near the end of the book, wading in and baring his fangs from stage right. Triceratops looks unimpressed. When compared with the AoR mural, this T. rex is notably nothing like as pot-bellied, while the head too looks somewhat more modern (although, as was seemingly typical for illustrators of this time, the animal's characteristic cranial lumps and bumps are smoothed out into a neat arch over the eye). In spite of its sleeker appearance, however, T. rex is still firmly a 'man-in-suit' tail dragger here, and the text describes it as such - when it loses its battle with a Triceratops, it's described as 'shuffling' away. We are also told that "like all cold-blooded animals, [T. rex] tires quickly". Strangely, although this is typical of the way dinosaurs are portrayed in the book, pterosaurs are described as probably being endotherms.



Although 'he' comes off worse in his fight with Triceratops, all is well for T. rex in the end as a rather alarmed Pachycephalosaurus is plucked from the ground and devoured. The T. rex looks stranger here, if still very muscular, but I just like the fact that it's in a scene with Pachycephalosaurus. Although the two species (T. rex and P. wyomingensis) lived contemporaneously, it seems like they're hardly ever seen together in palaeoart.



Overall I'd say the art in this book remains impressive, especially technically. Although the ways that the animals are portrayed are hopelessly out of date, Zallinger's characterful, intricate work remains beautiful. Like all the best palaeoart, even as they age to the point of scientific obsolesence one is still able to believe these creations as living, breathing animals.

22 comments:

  1. My favorite dinosaur book during my single-digit years!

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  2. Has anyone ever seen a small version of this book? I had one as a kid. It was about 3"x3". It wasn't an exact copy of this large book but it used the very same illustrations.

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    1. I have. Used to own it way back. Ahh, I loved these old dinosaur illustrations and the obsolete descriptions of them. Thank god for Robert Bakker!

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    2. Thanks Robert. I lost mine almost 40 years ago and have never seen another copy.

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  3. Ooh, I had this one when I was a kid. The artwork is so great. I think I also had a puzzle that featured that Stegosaurus picture.

    One slight correction: The second time you link to Dinosaurs of the Earth, you call it Dinosaurs of the World.

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  4. This book!

    I remember this book!

    I had it in the early/mid-eighties. When I started school and my grandmother saw the kindergarten "We assume you don't already know how to read, so let us teach you some three-letter words" program, this is the book she took to the administration to get me moved up a few levels. (It was a private school. Things were sort of fluid.)

    I loved that book.

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  5. Goodness - I remember this book too! One of my favourites when I was but a youngling and I wish I still had a copy today.

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  6. Ditto what everyone above says. Get the Brooke Bond Tea album and the Viewmaster slides and your '60s life will be complete.

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  7. Found this book at a library once, and even with the benefit of hindsight I quite liked its style.

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  8. OMG this book is awesome. I had it when I was a kid, rediscovered it in a used bookstore about a decade ago, and have been hoarding my copy like freakin' Smaug (who I believe is in the book, somewhere in the Jurassic). In some parallel universe, this is exactly what all dinosaurs looked like. The Platonic ideal of classic.

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  9. A true classic! I also had the smaller square version of the book in the '70s. It was my favourite dino book until I bought a better one thru a school book program. By "better" I mean more dinos - I was surprised to find that there were more than three sauropods and not just one stegosaur and one ankylosaur.

    One book that hasn't been reviewed/poked here yet is the How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs. IIRC it had an appalling, bright green, man-in-rubber suit Allosaurus with huge thighs, an emaciated chest, and a lizard-dog head. I think there was also a horse-headed giant ground sloth labelled Iguanodon. Most, if not all, of the pics were knock-offs of others that I later recognised. I think I still might have mine somewhere.

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    1. I had the pocket sized version too. I lost it on a camping trip. I've never found another copy anywhere on line.

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  10. @Mark Robinson - I have the How and Why Wonder Book in my to-scan pile. Maybe after the semester is over I'll get to it.

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  12. i actually have 2 copies of this book. different printings. I always loved this book and still do to this day. I will always picture most dinos the way zallinger, knight and burian painted them.

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  13. Thanks for the comments everyone. Glad it brought back some found memories. (Thanks also to Scott Hamilton - I've fixed it.)

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  14. Like some other people have commented, this book was one of my favorites from my growing up years, back in the early to mid 70s. I still have my copy, although the binding is starting to give way. I'll keep it as long as it's still remotely solid, though.

    Thanks for the trip down Mesozoic memory lane!

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  15. This book is sitting on my shelf right now. I've had it for over thirty years....

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  16. I remembwe this book very well and the other one you reviewed. Love those red Allosaurs!

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  17. Yay, thanks for the pictures! I can't thank you & the wonder of the internet enough for bringing my favourite childhood dinosaur pictures back. A good thing about this book was that it had a timeline along the bottom of the pages explaining the different eras the creatures lived in & basically introduced me as a child to the hugeness of evolutionary timescales.

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  18. I have been passionate about dinosaurs since I was a child.
    Awesome post!
    I enjoyed going through it and the pictures are a very nice touch.
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  19. Sure it's out of date but for the time it is responsible for mine and my children s interest in dinosaurs! Thank you for bringing back memories of my elementary school years.

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