Monday, May 7, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Rourke's Ankylosaurus

Yes, it's time once again to wander into the Mesozoic as rendered by Rourke Publishing. This will be the sixth go-around in Rourkeland for LITC, and it's always a treat. These books, which tell stories about prehistoric animals set in environments built on the latest paleontological understanding, generally provide an excellent snapshot of pop-paleontology in the eighties. More often than not, they feature excellent illustrations as well. Bernard Long's work in the Ankylosaurus title is another good example of the quality titles Rourke released.

Ankylosaurus cover

One thing which dates the title, as is usual, are the bunny-handed theropods, devoid of the fuzzy and feathery coverings which have become de rigeur these days. The book opens with the titular character waking up to see a Troodon - here called Stenonchysaurus - trotting by with something furry for breakfast. The Troodon is clearly based on the Ron Seguin sculpture (the one almost always seen with the dinosauroid), which I will admit is always going to be the first thing that pops into my head when I hear or read the name. It was the most striking image in my old Doring-Kindersley visual dictionary; something about those big lantern-eyes and smooth, slick skin captured my imagination. It's nice to see my obsolete pal make an appearance here.


A pachycephalosaur makes a cameo as well, in the form of Gravitholus, and the text refers to the well-accepted idea of courtship battles between the "boneheads," which made an appearance here last week.


Our protagonist also meets some hadrosaurs, in the form of Parasaurolophus. I particularly enjoy the look of the one in the foreground. She looks like she's asking to bum a smoke off of Ankylosaurus, though the text says that she's "uttering fierce noises." The reason, of course, is that Ankylosaurus has wandered too closely to the Parasaurolophus nesting grounds, clearly a reference to the then-recent revelations into nesting provided by Jack Horner and his work on Maiasaura.


The next encounters with other dinosaurs is a bit more eventful. The ankylosaur runs across a couple of roughneck Tyrannosaurus rex, immediately going into "stop, drop, and swing" posture. This doesn't stop one of the tyrannosaurs from performing the indignity of jumping up and down on her back, which seems like as good of a method of taking down an ankylosaur as any.


Luckily for Ankylosaurus, an Alamosaurus distracts the giant theropods and they run off for another chance at lunch. Last week's post by Marc also featured T. rex and Alamosaurus, and Hadiaz mentioned in the comments that the Rourke Tyrannosaurus title also features this pairing. I'll be posting about that one soon. It's a bit of a fudge to include Alamosaurus here, as it doesn't occur in the Hell Creek or the Lance formations with Ankylosaurus, coming instead from the Southwest US, either from the Kirtland or Ojo Alamo Formation.


After this long, eventful day, our hero finds some supper and settles in for a well-deserved slumber. but not before watching a slightly anachronistic hunt in which Saurornitholestes slaughters the ornithopod Parksosaurus. The day ends as it began. Nothing like a little dinner theater.


As usual, this Rourke book ends with a great section giving the scientific background so the story we've just read, and this one features a little illustration of the all-but-abandoned Palaeoscincus, a grumpy little guy.


As I said, this is another good example of what a fine job Rourke did with their line of dinosaur storybooks. Ankylosaurus herself is pretty respectable for an 80's reconstruction; Bernard Long avoids the old neckless sluggard look of mid-century depictions as Palaeoscincus above demonstrates, imagining the famous "tank-dinosaur" as a dynamic animal. The plates are a bit armadillo-ish, but on the bright side, Long doesn't slavishly repeat mid-century tropes and the osteoderms and spikes are not too far off of the newer ideas of what Ankylosaurus looked like - see Kenneth Carpenter's recent redescription, for example (PDF). Well done, Mr. Long.

Previous Rourke books featured here:
Brontosaurus (Colin Newman)
Iguanodon (Bernard Long)
Triceratops (John Francis)
Pteranodon (Doreen Edwards)
Allosaurus (Doreen Edwards)


  1. Gotta love that picture where the rexes just forget about the Ankylosaurus and go after an oblivious Alamosaurus. And how happy Ankylosaurus looks with this.

    Speaking of which, judging by the arrangement of the spikes, shouldn't it be called "Euoplocephalus" instead?

  2. I don't even know what you could equate those T. rexes with, but they're amazing.

  3. Great post, I have a bunch of these at home and I still pull them off the shelves just to read the stories and see the illustrations.

  4. By wonderful coincidence, there was a thread about this series just recently on the Dinosaur Toy Forum, too.

  5. "She looks like she's asking to bum a smoke off of Ankylosaurus, though the text says that she's "uttering fierce noises.""

    I'm leaning towards the latter interpretation since (to me) it looks like she's taking a dump.

    "Last week's post by Marc also featured T. rex and Alamosaurus, and Hadiaz mentioned in the comments that the Rourke Tyrannosaurus title also features this pairing."

    Always good to get a mentioned or referenced in 1 of your blog posts. :)

  6. AAAAAHHHHH!!! I remember reading this as a child!!

    Do you know the name of the collected works which featured this, and other stories? I believe there were three of them published in the 90s.

    1. I have one collected volume at home, but I don't recall if it was a set of these Rourke books, or if it's a similar series. I'll check it out when I go home. It's another book in my to-scan stack!


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