Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Know the World of Dinosaurs

When I first saw this book I was convinced that it was from the 1970s or, at the very latest, the 1980s. It has every backward trope you care to mention - man-in-suit theropods, blobby, useless sauropods and an utter disregard for, you know, looking at skeletons and doing your research and all that nonsense. In fact the art very closely resembles that found in the '60s book I mocked in my first ever LITC post.

But no. It's from 1993. The year of Jurassic Park.

Oh dear.

It gets worse. The copy of Know the World of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals (to give it its full title - and even the title sounds '70s) that I have dates not from 1993 but 2000, although the book apparently did not change in that time (this is the only edition, reprinted several times). Blimey. Some of the art must date back to before the '90s, but that this book was still being printed in this form in 2000 - and being given to someone called Theo as a Christmas present from his grandparents, apparently - is remarkable. Let's be fair - illustrator Geoff Campion was probably just jobbing. But some of the worst mistakes are in Colin Clark's text!

Let's start with a classic 'Bronto'.

Elephantine skin, camarasaur head and weird, weird feet - the whole phylotarded shebang. (Oh yes, and Apatosaurus means 'unreal lizard' now apparently.) But why is he looking so concerned? Perhaps it's because his tail is about to be stepped on by the cackling villain behind him...

GODZILLA! Allosaurus meets tyrannosaur meets man in a rubber suit meets camp. Speaking of men in rubber suits...

Here's Gorgosaurus the "deinodont" (the hell?), a fat-bellied tail-dragger that was probably an obligate scavenger. But of course. For some reason Tyrannosaurus is given a more flattering depiction - why, it even has its tail clear of the ground, although it's still bolt upright. How the skeleton is meant to fit in there is anyone's guess. You can almost picture there being little eyeholes inside the mouth for the actor inside. T. rex gets a size boost too, now topping 15 metres in length. The beast's ego doesn't need it, really.

Still, the book does concede that some theropods might have been speedy - and maybe even had horizontal postures with their tails clear of the ground. Madness - Alan Charig would not approve. Unfortunately this point is illustrated with what might be the worst Velociraptor ever to appear in a commercially published book, children's or no. Nice hands. The dip in quality in terms of artistry here is very strange, like this was a tacked-on addition to the book.

When it comes to the all-out surreal, however, not a lot beats this "Scolosaurus" (aka Euoplocephalus). Remember: this is meant to be an ankylosaur, not a weird knobbly lizard. It's so utterly, utterly wrong that it makes you wonder where on Earth the artist was getting his inspiration.

For guaranteed weirdness one need never look further than the ornithopod-themed pages of retro dinosaur books - and so it proves here. The Iguanodon is pretty typical of the mid-20th century, if not necessarily 1993. The Corythosaurus would be too, if it weren't for all those pointy teeth. Was a terrible '80s Made-in-China bargain bucket rubber dinosaur the inspiration here?

Did you know that 'plesiosaur' means 'swan lizard' in Bullshitese? Well, it does. The animals were so named because they absolutely definitely held their heads above water all the time, as if they were imitating a rubbish hoax photograph of a fictional Scottish lake monster. I probably needn't tell you that plesiosaurs are referred to as 'marine dinosaurs' too. Yeah, it's a kid's book, but come on - there's no excuse for this stuff. Not even in the early '90s.

And finally - an Archaeopteryx with cute, glued-on mini-hands (and a mad stare o' doom). That this happened so often in palaeoart is a lesson that you should at least make sure your illustrator knows a little about theropod anatomy (including that of birds) before letting them loose on an expensive project. Oh well, the colours are pretty, and I do like the dramatic nature of this attack on a tiny arthropod - "FEEL MY WRATH, PUNY CENTIPEDE!"

Remember - if you have any hilarious old dinosaur books knocking about, do tell David or I about them. We pay for every one that is brought to our attention (in the currency of warm geeky comaraderie, rather than actual cash money, obviously).

LATE BONUS! Extra plesiosaur pics for a friend of mine.


  1. The man in the rubber suit comment is not funny. It doesn't look good on you when you make fun of the hard working artists of the past.

  2. Worse is the slander against Scottish lake monsters... Sir, I am incensed.

  3. "Deinodontoidea" is the technically correct name for Tyrannosauroidea, though hardly anyone cares anymore (

  4. It feels much older because in that great tradition of kids' dinosaur books all the pictures are copies of older art.
    I can't remeber the artist's name off the top of my head, and can't Google at the moment, but these poses are very familiar.

  5. At least the plesiosaur wasn't furry. I was at an animatronic exhibiton named "Giants of the Ice Age" and there was a pterosaur, a gorgonopsid, and a furry, yes furry, plesiosaur. Well, it is Russia, after all.

    1. If only I had seen that beautiful monstrosity!

  6. I challenge the notion that that is the worst commercial depiction of Velociraptor. There is that relatively well-known guide about dinosaurs (dating from the '80s I think, but the copy I have is also a reprint from 2000) that has an upright Velo, naturally scaled, has quite a belly and lacks it sickle claws.

    Though it does have a correctly elongated head-shape (as opposed to this one), and as I've said it's a much earlier book, so maybe they kinda even out in their horribleness?

  7. @Deekpak - As I said, the artist was 'probably just jobbing' and likely didn't know any better. The failure was really on the part of whoever was meant to advise them - the art is of a pretty high standard, it's just scientifically unsound.

    Also, these articles aren't meant to be taken entirely seriously. I'm amazed only that comment offended you! Often we mock with the benefit of hindsight - the acknowledgement that a lot of these reconstructions were in keeping with contemporary thinking is implicit, I think. Indulgent, but's fun.

    @Albertonykus And no one's ever going to call T. rex 'Manospondylus' either, no matter what Matt says. ;)

  8. @Deekpak "Man in suit" is a style of reconstructing theropods that has been proven false by research, so if it is this particular artist who you're defending, please understand that it's the tropes we criticize in these posts more than the artists. Though no artist is above criticism, and where deserved, we won't pull punches.

  9. I'm also outraged by the man in the rubber suit comment. It could totally be a woman in there.

  10. I uh...have this book...a little...ashamed of it...I mean it dates back to my childhood...yeah...

  11. I have the UK version of this book titled "My First Book of Dinosaurs". Identical, though I don't seem to have that "Velociraptor" anywhere in my book.


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