Friday, June 25, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: John Hamberger's Sea Monsters

For the last couple months, Jennie and I have been working our way through the entire run of The X-Files. It was one of my favorite shows when I was a teenager, and I was curious about how it would hold up. At the time, I was a Mulder: listening to Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell, writing school papers about UFO cover-ups, bitterly wondering why I never saw a flying saucer of my own. Now, I'm a Scully. Would the show still hold up now that I'm not sympathetic to its paranormal-friendly premise?

For the most part, it does, mostly on the strength of Mulder and Scully's relationship. But now I can see how much it uses science as a punching bag. Scully's tendency to get kidnapped and tied up metaphorically illustrates Chris Carter and the gangs' attitude towards science: they're good at throwing jargony dialogue at the audience, but it often betrays their disinterest in depicting science accurately (they can't, of course: in the fictional world of the X-Files, no form of woo-woo is too nutty to be real). Case in point: one of my favorite episode's, season three's "Quagmire," actually has Scully calling the supposed lake monster Mulder is hunting an "aquatic dinosaur." That's just not a mistake Scully would make. She should know better.

Mulder actually theorizes that "Big Blue," the lake monster he's chasing, is a pliosaur. The writers may have meant "plesiosaur," as that's such a common diagnosis for the Loch Ness Monster - and when Big Blue makes an appearance at the very end of the episode, that's what its clearly been based on. But had they gone with a pliosaur, it would have been a pretty cool and unique choice.

What's a pliosaur? It's a family within the order Plesiosauria; it includes such notable beasts as Liopleurodon and Kronosaurus. Here, a Kronosaurus hunts a smaller plesiosaur.


This image is taken from Sea Monsters of Long Ago, another Millicent E. Selsam title. It's full of striking paintings by John Hamberger. Huge thanks go to Matt Van Rooijen for letting me know about this title, and uploading it to the Vintage Dinosaur Art flickr pool.


I haven't been able to dig up much information on Hamberger, but it appears that he has done at least one dinosaur book. Many of the titles associated with him are nature books, so I imagine that was his special interest. Like the one below, many of the images in Sea Monsters are dramatically composed, depicting the giant marine reptiles as gods who made the sea their playground.


Here, a Tylosaurus is about to make breakfast out of a Hesperornis.

Icthyosaurs like Opthalmosaurus also get the spotlight.

If you know any more about Mr. Hamberger, please share it in the comments below. I haven't found anything about him, not even a single mention on any of the illustration blogs I follow. Thanks again to Matt for adding these to the group. If you have any old dinosaur books lying around, feel free to scan them and upload them so these illustrators aren't lost in the shadows.


  1. Please don't say you're a Scully. You know I hate Scully...mainly because David Duchovny is cuter and doesn't wear frumpy clothes...but oh well. Sorry this isn't a dino related comment. See ya later!

  2. Duchovny is cute, but not cuter. That's absolutely the silliest thing you've said in like, a week. And Scully's wardrobe has vastly improved since the beginning, when she seemed to have raided Paula Poundstone's petite sister's closet.

  3. OMG give me a break!! He is like WAAAAY CUTER!!! Look at what you're doing to're making me talk like a 13 yr old. And I am spamming your respectable blog with a lot of nonsense. Let us just agree that Mulder is way better and cuter than Scully.

  4. This book was a pretty big inspiration to me as a kid. I like your description of it Dave.
    Oh, and Scully was a pretty big reason to watch the X-Files. A red head who in the first episode stripped off to let Mulder check for signs of abduction...nerd dream!

  5. I love John Hamberger!

    I think we ordered that book and another through Scholastic when I was a kid. I'll try to dig it up over the weekend.

  6. Matt - I'm going to go ahead and not comment on that. I haven't been married eight years for being stupid...

    Glendon - Are you talking about his dinosaur title? I'd love to see it. Haven't found a single picture from it online.

  7. I'd love to see the dinosaur book John Hamberger did too Glendon.
    Dave, better safe than sorry! Plus,I don't think I've seen that episode for at least as long as I've been married.

  8. The powerful skull of Kronosaurus will fracture your skull like an egg for a mere morsel within.


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