Monday, December 24, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaur Babies

If any of the great artists of the Dinosaur Renaissance era deserve a much greater online presence than they currently have, then it's Eleanor (aka Ely) Kish. We've only featured her work on two occasions before, and this is the first book to grace LITC that is entirely illustrated by her. Happily, it's also a pop-up book - from the same National Geographic series as the recently-featured Creatures of Long Ago: Dinosaurs. As the title suggests, it's an insurmountable onslaught of cute.

Dinosaur Babies is quite unusual for Kish in that, by necessity of the format, it places the animals up front and centre, rather than featuring them as components of a more broadly realised prehistoric landscape. That doesn't stop the backgrounds being beautiful, of course, as amply demonstrated by the gorgeous desert scene on the cover.  Of course, the Pinacosaurus are lovely too - I'm particularly taken by the expression on the face of the individual on the right. It's not impressed...

A 1980s book about fresh-from-the-egg saurians was inevitably going to feature Protoceratops - after all, it took a nest with it wherever it went (even the Carnegie toy had one). True to form, the opening spread features a hatchling peering right out of the page at you. There's wonderful attention to detail - note the egg teeth - and the inclusion of a lizard, if quite common in these scenes, helps add a little faunal variety. The adult animals display Kish's typical anatomical rigour, with a modern-style posture advanced from the sprawling, lizardy portrayal of the animal that was still quite prevalent at the time. Kish's creations were sometimes prone to 'zombie dinosaur' syndrome - deathly thin with a pelvis that could take your eye out - but fortunately there's scant evidence of that here.

Maiasaura was another shoo-in for a book like this, for obvious reasons. In fact, a Maiasaura nesting site also appeared in Sibbick's pop-up effort, and there are a number of similarities - from the viewer taking on a nestling's perspective, to the adult chasing off a Troodon in the background. While the Sibbick scene, with its three-dimensional rendering of the mother's head, is the more striking overall, Kish's take is still delightful. The protruding arms are a nice touch.

My favourite scene in Dinosaur Babies is definitely this one, featuring cryptically camouflaged young Corythosaurus attempting to evade the eyes of prowling Albertosaurus. Cryptic camouflage remains a surprisingly underexplored theme in palaeoart (with recent notable examples popping up in All Yesterdays), and Kish has a particular talent for it. Of course, this is also an effective showcase for Kish's skill in creating highly detailed, believable and lush forested landscapes for her dinosaurs to dwell in. More than any other spread in the book, this one is bursting with tiny details and charming interactive features.

Pulling this tab, for example, will conceal two young hadrosaurs in the foliage as they cower from their toothy aggressor.

 The tyrannosaur's head, leering out over the top of the page, helps set the scene very effectively - the very motion of it popping up akin to what the hadrosaurlings would see as the predator scanned over the undergrowth. Lifting a flap to the right reveals a Corythosaurus staring up at the carnivore, looking utterly terrified to be suddenly exposed. Just brilliant stuff.

While the Corythosaurus scene remains superb, this baby Deinonychus tug-of-war hasn't aged so well - if it weren't for the feet, these creatures would be unrecognisable as dromaeosaurs (the purple colouring is also, in retrospect, rather unfortunate). They seem to have cheeks, not to mention what appears to be luscious lipstick. Oh dear. It's always good to see Deinonychus doing something other than reducing an implausibly large adversary to juicy meaty chunks - look, there's one scratching! - but this one is perhaps best skipped over. Except...

...this is a nifty feature - the terrified Gobiconodon are just getting an eyeful at first, but pulling a tab sends forth a probing claw. Again, Deinonychus predating animals smaller than itself is a pleasant change.

Ah, the good old paddlin' sauropod. The animal ("Pleurocoelus", one of those dodgy genera with complicated histories) appears to be an adult but, strangely, is described as a 'thousand pound baby' in the text. Never mind - the scene is rendered pleasantly enough and the sauropod is decent for the '80s (remember, some people were still illustrating toddling 'brontosaurs' at this time), while the pop-up element is put to good effect in creating the tangled plant life dragged along by the giant animal.

Pulling the tabs here results in one animal swimming across the lake, while another (in the cameo image) pops its head up to say hello. Unfortunately, its face rather resembles that of the highly phylotarded sauropods in the brilliant documentary Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend.

And finally, as previewed on Facebook, here it is - the adorable Styracosaurus tot, bounding out of the page toward the reader, with a mischievous glint in his eye! A beautiful illustration. This spread also sees an airing of the now-discarded 'ceratopsian wagon circle' meme (below), with a deft pull of the tab making the facing animals flick their heads into the air. Unfortunately, Daspletosaurus seems to have fallen foul of the Curse of the Dodgy Perspective, but seeing a herd of ceratopsians acting like frontiersmen is sweetly nostalgic in a way that only peculiarly prevalent stereotyped notions of dinosaur behaviour as depicted in art can be.

There'll be more Vintage Dinosaur Art in the new year, when I embark on the futile task of attempting to scan pages from the gigantic De Oerwereld van de Dinosauriƫrs (Czerkas & Czerkas) using my pathetic all-in-one printer. Keep it Chasmosaurs!


  1. Another treasure. Beautiful book. I think the Corythosaurus spread is probably my favourite too, just going by your post.

  2. Pleurocoelus vs Giant Squid. Now there's something that should've become a meme. Too bad it's only some algae upon closer inspection.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. The Corythosaurus camouflage illustration reminds me of one by Bill Stout from his famous "Dinosaurs" book.

  5. is there a reason the "ceratopsian wagon circle" meme has been discarded?


Trolls get baleted.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.