Friday, April 23, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Lewis Zacks

This week, the featured artist is Lewis Zacks. Unlike many illustrators put in the spotlight here, he has a solid web presence, including an honest-to-gosh website. However, most of what I've found has been the art he's produced later in life, after leaving the illustration game in the late sixties.

In 1963, Zacks illustrated In the Time of Dinosaurs, written by veteran children's book author William Wise. It's a run-of-the-mill kid's title, hitting all of the usual basic points: dinosaurs were big, dinosaurs were dumb, dinosaurs fought each other, dinosaurs died and no one knows exactly why. It starts with a typical mistake: the first critters shown aren't dinosaurs at all, and lived millions of years apart. Additionally - andI've admitted to my still-small knowledge of paleobotany before - I'm pretty sure that tree, which looks kind of angiospermy, wouldn't have been familiar to Dimetrodon.

Anachronistic Dimetrodon

It's not the only anachronism, either. Later, a Triceratops and Stegosaurus share a page. It seems that this book was published merely because dinosaurs are a safe gamble. The prose is pretty simple, and besides getting basic things like spelling right, not a lot of time or effort was put into the science. Zacks' illustrations seem to have been done pretty quickly, without much reference to fossils for accuracy. Take this Triceratops, whose beak sprouts from his face above the mouth, as if it's another horn.


Yet in this next drawing, the beak is clearly part of the mouth. Note that the Tyrannosaurus with which it's fighting has three fingers; this reflects then-incomplete knowledge of T. rex forelimbs rather than disregard for anatomy.

Rex versus Trike

The book ends with this solitary T. rex, another common trope of kid's books.

Lonely Tyrannosaurus

I've done quite a bit of searching, and can find no other examples of work from Zacks' illustrating career. I don't know how the dinosaurs in this book fits in with his body of work. Some of the wider views, such as that last T. rex, are pretty nice, and I love the limited color pallettes of many of these old books. The larger close-ups aren't as nice. They seem both busy and rushed. Not that I doubt the artist's skills; I'm sure many of these illustrators were working under short deadlines.

Here's a recent interview with Zacks, concerning his current artistic interest in the architectural artifacts of the mid-20th Century, especially old signs. If you'd like to see more from this title, head over to the Vintage Dinosaur Art flickr group.


  1. I know they're factually inaccurate, but I can't help it: I really like that last one of the lone T. rex looking into the horizon... even though he's managed to squeeze in that extra digit there, too.

  2. I always liked that scene of the Tyrannosaurus about the bite off that Triceratops's horn. OUCH! Also, isn't that lone Tyrannosaurus just a knock-off of the Charles R. Knight Tyrannosaurus from the AMNH paintings? (Nothing personal against Mr. Zacks.)

  3. It definitely is, yeah! Although the first one that came to mind was the one from "The Valley of Gwangi." I've noticed that a lot of illustrators based their drawings on earlier ones. The Knight Ornitholestes is the biggest offender, in fact I'm keeping an eye out for more to do a big post of them.


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