Monday, January 9, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Iguanodon by Rourke

A large share of my to-scan stack is taken up by titles from the Rourke Publishing series of storybooks featuring prehistoric animals. Today, we'll look at their 1984 Iguanodon title, written by Rupert Oliver with illustrations by Bernard Long, a British illustrator who unfortunately lacks much of a web presence. But his national heritage is fitting, as this title takes place in Early Cretaceous England, which we know from the geological feature called the Wealden Supergroup.

Iguanodon cover

First, I am delighted to report the return of the tongue-lolling Iguanodon, which appeared in a recent VDA post by Marc. Here, it accompanies text explaining that the Iguanodon could smell an approaching storm, so I suppose that it's meant to be a scent organ.
Iguanodon in a storm

When megalosaurs attack, out comes Iguanodon's tongue again.

Ditto for when, in a scene perhaps inspired by Fellowship of the Ring, the Iguanodon escapes the megalosaurs thanks to a flash flood. If only Long had the cheek to shape the surging water into enraged ornithopods.

Dinosaur flash flood

In other news, those megalosaurs are of the hunchback persuasion.

Megalosaurus chase

With that bit of meme-spotting out of the way, we can proceed to the work in general. While the illustrations may not be up to the level of anatomical accuracy of Greg Paul or Doug Henderson, to pick two eighties dinosaur artists out of a hat, they're excellent quality for a children's storybook. And writer Rupert Oliver and the folks at Rourke deserve a mighty tip of the hat for considering the setting in which their prehistoric characters would live. The text describes "a vast green carpet of cycads, horsetails, and rushes," and Long mixes these in with conifers rather than simply slapping green-plant like things and anachronisitic grasses in the background.

The fauna are appropriate, for the most part, including ubiquitous rhamphorynchids buzzing about in the skies (reminiscent of the great flocks of crows now making themselves a noisy part of my town's milieu) and beasts like the nodosaurid Polacanthus.

Exhausted Iguanodon

Its presence here is fitting, as the first fossils of the genus come from the Wealden strata of the Isle of Wight. If written today, this title would be more appropriately called Mantellisaurus, which is the currently accepted name for the former I. atherfieldensis since 2007, when Greg Paul renamed the animal as part of a larger trend of bringing some sense to the traditional wastebasket-taxon status of Iguanodon.

Out of place in the early Cretaceous is Megalosaurus, which will probably always be part of a matched set with Iguanodon thanks to their status as founding members of the dinosauria. Problem is, it's a middle Jurassic beast. The book could be updated to include any of a number of scrappy theropods from the Wealden, perhaps Eotyrannus (I should note that a field guide to the Wealden was recently released, reviewed last month by Darren Naish).

Rourke titles close with brief sections on the scientific background of the story, describing the history of the relevant taxon's fossil discoveries and its place on the dinosaur family tree. Here, Ouranosaurus gets a rare cameo.


Overall, a respectable effort that sets its self apart from the glut of slapped-together dinosaur titles of the eighties. Plus, it gives us this majestic sight: the Iguanodon conga line.

Iguanodon conga line


Previous Rourke books featured here:
Triceratops (John Francis)
Pteranodon (Doreen Edwards)
Allosaurus (Doreen Edwards)


  1. Got to love it when Megalosaurus and Iguanodon appear in the same scene - a very common mistake even into the '90s. I'd love to know if it's still being perpetuated now, but I haven't seen it in any modern books.

    Also, hooray for the tongue trolololololl!

  2. The other Iguanodons in the second picture look as if they're quietly saying to each other "there he goes sticking his tongue out again. As if he's special because he can smell a storm".

  3. I gotta say I love the birdlike feet. Even if the toes are a bit long for Iguanodon, they look like they're doin' work and carrying weight, instead of afterthoughts.

    This is from that late '70s early '80s limbo where artists new the game had changed but the only visual references available were still the old-fashioned Burian/Zallinger/Knight tropes-- tails are dutifully (and emphatically) lifted off the ground, but the overall pudginess remains.

  4. 'If only Long had the cheek to shape the surging water into enraged ornithopods.'

    Too irresistible.

    Love the idea of Iguanodon being able to 'taste' the air rather like snakes.

  5. What's with the red throat on the cover?

  6. Mike - No idea. It comes and goes throughout the book. Maybe it's feeling occasionally horny?

  7. I like that the artist is an accomplished one. The skills at background and water effects imply there is some skill at rendering scenery and wildlife. The little croc on the fifth scan image is a good example of (playing around with) a crocodilian high-stepped run. The figures are almost certainly cobbled from variously modified but largely static poses rendered from mounts, models, and other people's art. The inability of the elbows to extend implies the artist is less familiar with these animals than they could be, and are plunging on with copies of the memetic "kangaroo" posture without much concern for accuracy.

  8. Jaime - Nice comment. Books like this are among the most fun to look at, a combination of skilled artistry and spotty accuracy (both in lack of research and obsolete knowledge). I've got some more Bernard Long books here, which I'm sure I'll get to this year.

  9. The iguanodon on the cover looks like it's line dancing. I had no idea they were such fans of the performing arts.

  10. 1984 and megalosaurs hunting in a group? Not a bad bit of speculation for the time.

  11. Specifics of anatomy aside, it's interesting the degree of facial musculature and expressiveness that Long gives his dinosaurs- his iguanodons' noses and lips are so flexible that they could almost count as trunks, for example, and in the group scenes, both they and the megalosaurs seem to be taking cues from each other's facial expressions.

    Obviously, a lot of this is anthropomorphism (he gives the iguanodon white sclerae, for heaven's sake!), but I wonder how much Long was sacrificing realism for expressiveness in service of the narrative, and how much he was actually trying to depict his subjects as highly social, visually-oriented animals with sophisticated means of communication?

    He goes a lot farther into quasi-mammalian territory than I would have done, but it's at least refreshingly different from both Shrink-Wrapped Dinosaur Syndrome and the lovingly-rendered but almost abstract-looking blocks of lizard flesh that Zallinger and company topped their theropods and ornithopods with.

    Also, you gotta love how skeevy Ouranosaurus looks.



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