Monday, September 10, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Rourke's Deinonychus

deinonychus rourke

There's that smell in the air... it's time to dip back into the paleoartistic publications of Rourke publishing. It's hard to believe that it's been three months since the last visit to the series: those were the halcyon days before Marc blew our minds with an explosion of Sibbick-itude heretofore unseen on the web, then followed it up with an equally epic exploration of Zdeněk Burian.

Now, we'll come back down to Earth and the muddlings of work-a-day illustrators with a 1984 publication devoted to the poster-child of the Dinosaur Renaissance, Deinonychus, the theropod who so ably served as the world's favorite dromaeosaur until that greedy little usurper wrought by Crichton and Spielberg pounced onto the scene. These scans were kindly provided for our pleasure by Terry Thielen. Even without the publication date provided, we'd have a rough idea of where we are; the first spread is a clear depiction of pronated, ready-to-dribble-a-basketball theropod hands, of the sort that makes the modern, discerning dinosaur fan cringe.

deinonychus rourke 1

Illustrator Roger Payne is middle-of-the-road among the Rourke stable; nothing too daring here, with bright colors and de rigeur plain green color schemes for his dinosaurs. Feathers are absent, naturally. But Deinonychus is an active predator, chasing after his prey, as with this hapless Psittacosaurus, and in this he fits squarely within the renaissance ideal of a warm-blooded, speedy killer. The animals were roughly contemporaneous, though they hail from North America and Asia, respectively.

deinonychus rourke 2

Attention to paleoecology is a hallmark of these titles, as anachronisms tend to be fairly minor. Here, the titular theropod does his business in an environment that suitably passes for a hot, tropical floodplain. There are some distant mesas as well, because, well, what in the heck else are you going to stick on the horizon? (Note: check comments for some discrepancies noted my Mike Keesey, which I did not bother with or pay attention to in my haste to finish up this post).

deinonychus rourke 3

Rourke titles tend to end one of two ways: in death or slumber. Fearsome Deinonychus gets the latter. It's actually sort of notable: besides a fellow who goes by the initials GSP, there were not many images of theropods at rest in the paleoart canon at this point. Here, those pronated hands rest atop one another in the manner of a sleeping dog; poor thing lacks a proper coat of feathery integument and hands arms that fold up in the fashion of the animal's extant relatives, the better to tuck a cold nose into.

deinonychus rourke 4

As always, browse the Flickr Vintage Dinosaur Art group for much more saurian goodness.

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


  1. I could have sworn the illustration in the first spread is drawn directly from a Dorling Kindersley model. Or is it the other way round?

  2. "Attention to paleoecology is a hallmark of these titles, as anachronisms tend to be fairly minor."

    Is that sarcasm, or did you miss the Henodus (wrongly called "turtles") and the temnospondyl?

    1. Also, pretty sure I see some [true] palm trees and grass, but points for the Araucarian.

    2. I stand by the attention to paleoecology claim.

      When I was a kid in the 80's these were probably among the best Dinosaur books aimed at my age demographic. The only other books out there that were better were aimed at teens if not outright adults... David Norman's Illustrated Dinosaur Encyclopedia is the only singular book I can recall from memory that I held in higher regard.

      Sure by TODAY's standards these books are crap, but we have 25+ years advantage. For its time this book and its kin attempted to make the world of the Dinosaurs a lot more real seeming, and less Palaeo-memey. Those landscapes feel like a place, and that Dinosaur actually lived there. They aren't just roaming in a generic backdrop that most other old Dino books drop their saurians into.

    3. And that's why you don't rush yourself in writing a post... In general, Craig's right, these books were notable for this aspect, but there are some notable anachronisms here that I just didn't catch / follow up on. Thanks for noting them, Mike.

    4. The cycads and (as I noted) the araucarian are nice touches, but it's not like we didn't know that temnospondyls, etc. were from completely different time periods in the 1980s. (Although, funnily enough, there is an Early Cretaceous temnospondyl, Koolasuchus, but it wasn't discovered until the 1990s! Although it's from Australia, so it wouldn't be beside a Deinonychus.)

      I will say it's nice to see Henodus -- placodonts are all-too-rarely illustrated -- even if it has traveled forward in time about 100 million years.

      As for paleo-memes, the Deinonychus looks to be heavily based on the sculpture at the Natural History Museum in London, especially on page 7.

  3. Please Chasmosaur crew... could we please stop tagging on the parts in these reviews about how wrong these OLD reconstructions are due to modern discoveries... PLEASE!

    The artists in question were creating this while you were still a young kid. It's not cool or fair to beat on them for using the best information avaliable to them in their time (way before the net and the freedom of information we enjoy today too boot!).

    No one, not the publisher, author, nor artist are still pushing this as accurate. It's not like these books are even in publication anymore, that alone a top seller or something. There is no need to educate the public about the problems with this book. Only palaeo-people in the know are interested in it or seeking it out.

    Can't you just celebrate what was great about this old work, and not have to beat the the science has moved on and makes this wrong drum.

    Why it espeically bothers me with this book, is that of the 80's kids books this series was the cream of the crop. No others came close to touching them. I took out the avaliable titles at my public library hundreds of times. They were of such high quality even my mom recognized it, and on the spot bought four big collection volumes that collected the majority of the whole series when she came across them at the book store (I usually had to wait till X-mas for that kind of book load).

    GSP hadn't even really published his feathered Dinosaurs in a real way at this point in history (Predatory Dinos was 89). Why would this artist think to put feathers on at the time? The hand position has only been a big issue this past decade... It is not relevant or productive to point out in a review of this work. It takes the fun out of what was.

    Pick on people who make dinos like this today instead.

    We need to pay respect to our palaeo-art forebearers, espeically in the days before the great palaeo-art rush of the 90's.

    1. If you read all of these reviews we are on the whole quite fair, often praising aesthetics and more than balancing out nitpicks, which we have stated numerous times are to be expected and forgiven. Especially in the Rourke reviews, which tend to be very positive. I compare the illustrators of Rourke titles to each other and in my opinion this one is not one of the best. And this blog's readership contains many people who don't spot inaccuracies as easily, so part of this is always aimed at them. This is a textbook example of pronated hands, so it was worth a mention. Hell, I don't spot all of them, as Mike's comment illustrates. In all I don't think we cross the line very often (at least not the one I've drawn, clearly yours is different).

    2. First off sorry if that sounded bitchy. I was typing that after a bad day at work (the Principal has put a stiff deadline on us at school).

      You are typically fair, but I was (not well it seems) trying to point out something that has hit me many times after reading all your reviews. Individually the causal nitpicks in each review are very offhanded. However they are always there. There is almost always a reference to fuzzyless or naked theropods, and a comment about bunny hands. Yes they are minor off handed comments, but they are always there... Hearing something all the time like that makes it get louder as it were.

    3. Okay, that's more like it. I'll cop to that criticism, As I admitted in reply to Mike, this was a rushed post, and I already know not to post just for the sake of it. I think there's a right balance to strike when comparing older art to modern art and knowledge, and it can get *very* repetitive to read about bunnyhands and scales. I probably don't notice it as much as readers might; but I do notice it. Part of it was a conscious choice a while ago as the blog grew in readership: repeating certain things made sense as not every reader has read every post. But you've made me reconsider that, and think more deeply about how to best approach these posts. Thanks for that.

      Rattling off a checklist of every inaccuracy is something no one wants to read. And it would have also meant looking at every element of every illustration and checking it against paleo knowledge. Bunny hands are easy. Other things aren't. And I'll never be as smart as someone like Mike. It would take more time than I can devote. When I was an office drone, not so much; much of my knowledge comes from seeing cool new press releases and delving into research during breaks and lunch time. Now, balancing teaching, studies, freelance work, and homelife... that's not realistic.

      So, I guess I need to not worry about hitting these weird OCD milestones like a new vintage art post every monday, and just let the blog be what it is: a collaboration between Marc, Asher, and myself, each contributing in our own way. For me, it won't be the kind of meaty stuff I've enjoyed writing in the past. I've said this before here, but it's hard to let go.

      Anyhoo, thanks for the constructive criticism.

  4. What in blue blazes is a 'mesa'? Thought that was something Jar Jar Bink crafted to piss off a generation?

  5. Actually, Wayne Douglas Barlowe does a rather fetching "theropods at rest" painting:

  6. wow, I missed you posting this yesterday. (I had a deadline to finish some pages of my graphic novel bearing down on me) I'm always happy to see my images used for this series. I'm just glad I found people who love these old dinosaur books as much as I do. (I have another small stack ready to scan;) ) I especially love to see the discussions that they can start. Thank you everyone on the LITC crew for doing this fantastic blog and thank you everyone who interacts here in the comments. I always enjoy this.

  7. I'll just weigh in and say I love these posts. I think Marc and David acknowledge that it's a bit like shooting fish in a barrel to nitpick over these, but I think the whole exercise is a "look at how far we've come" thing. But I agree that we wouldn't really know any better than the artists about things like pronated hands and inappropriate paleoecology without the benefit of research done by others. Once in the know, the flaws become that much more apparent to us, but we can all sometimes be a bit overbearing in our taking down of those not in possession of this or that bit of information.

    1. Is this a good time to say that I've got hold of another 1980s book to review for next week?

  8. Those "turtles" are a pretty blatant swipe of Burian's Henodus (from the Triassic).
    I also like the Eryops-like amphibian on the cover (Permian. SIGH...).


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