Monday, November 5, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Complete Book of Dinosaurs - Part 2

In addition to hosting a range of often rather bizarre-looking, pop-eyed dinosaurs, The Complete Book of Dinosaurs also sees fit to heavily feature bizarre-looking, pop-eyed pterosaurs (as if pterosaurs didn't look weird enough anyway). Pterodactylus receives by far the most attention, and that'll be because it was the star of one of the Beverly Halstead books that were haphazardly cobbled together to make The Complete Book.

Plaudits should be offered for making the pterosaurs hairy, but other than that they look quite alarmingly strange. Repeated mentions are made of the animals' "leathery wings", and it seems to be a description that Jenny Halstead's really taken to heart - they look like the sort of animals that, if alive today, would be farmed to create wallets, handbags and general accoutrements for Harley Davidson enthusiasts. You'd probably get quite a lot of breast meat too, but the matchstick arms would have to be disposed of (by snapping them off, presumably).

I'm particularly fond of the pterosaur chicks, who wail hauntingly in unison while wearing their own adorable, tiny Dracula capes and staring piercingly from their cold, black, lifeless eyes. Of course, no Late Jurassic flying creature is ever safe from being grabbed in mid-air by a small carnivorous dinosaur, and so it transpires here.

I love the mottled pattern on these Compsognathus (erroneously depicted with two-fingers here, as they frequently were well into the 1990s), although the one in the background is just a plaster and a hairy pimple away from turning into a Korky Paul cartoon, while the unlucky pterosaur appears to have wings made out of tissue paper (what happened to that tough ol' leather?). Meanwhile, Bev Halstead solemnly intones that "Compsognathus has been found with the remains of the longtailed pterosaur Bavarisaurus preserved in its stomach". There's only one problem with that - Bavarisaurus was a lizard.

Still, if nothing else this part of the book (as with the Deinonychus section) does depict some pterosaur behaviour besides 'flying over the sea, going fishing' and 'hanging impossibly from a tree', which is quite unusual for a popular prehistory book of the time. The speculative symbiotic behaviour in the above image has been portrayed a number of times elsewhere, but is quite a nice touch nonetheless. Also, the smug look on the face of the theropod (allegedly Megalosaurus, which tended to just mean 'a generic big theropod' at the time) is absolutely priceless, as is the palms-up posture of the pterosaur perched in its maw. Maybe the little guy will try and hold the palate up when its host decides it's had enough.

Rhamphorhynchus now, and this one's perhaps most alarming because it's borrowed the de facto palaeoart uniform of the Late Cretaceous bird Ichthyornis, and therefore appears to have a head that doesn't belong to its body; this certainly isn't helped by its head also being the wrong shape and size. In the book it is, rather unfortunately, also described as a "large flying dinosaur" - just to compound the wrongness further. Why, if it's flying dinosaurs you want...'ve got one right here! (Yes, I'm aware that the true flying ability of Archaeopteryx is up for dispute...bloody pedants.) "On each of the wings was a little, clawed reptilian hand," coos B. Halstead, rather misleadingly. The illustration subsequently follows the boringly frequent 'cute mini-hands' trope seemingly developed by people who didn't spend anywhere near long enough examining their roast dinners, but at least is quite pretty, if you pay no heed to the ugly bat-pterosaurs that are intruding upon the scene.

And finally...Quetzalcoatlus, once again with arms like toothpicks, but at least it boasts the characteristic azhdarchid long neck and legs and large, toothless head (by no means a given in the early 1980s). "They certainly could not have taken off from the ground under their own power," scoffs Halstead. So that's you told, then.

Coming next time: a book from Woolworths! Ah, thank you Jon D, I owe you one.


  1. I like the chick on the far right in that second image. It looks as though it's belting out a deep lament in the middle of a blues chorus. He's really going to town. In relation to the comment to the picture below that, the Korky Paul comment, have you seen Tyrannosaurus Was A Beast by Jack Prelutsky? If not you should look for it. More dinosaur poems abound in it and it's one of my favorite books from when I was little. I've got a pop-up book you'd probably love to get your hands on too. I took some photos a while back and put them up here:

  2. "Meanwhile, Bev Halstead solemnly intones that "Compsognathus has been found with the remains of the longtailed pterosaur Bavarisaurus preserved in its stomach". There's only one problem with that - Bavarisaurus was a lizard."

    Maybe he was using the logic that pterosaurs are literally "flying lizards". As sad as it is, he isn't the only paleontologist to do so in recent times (E.g. See the 1st paragraph: ).


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