Monday, January 28, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs: Giants of the Earth (a Pop-Up Book)

An obscure 1980s children's book - it feels like it's been a while. Dinosaurs: Giants of the Earth was published in 1988, and is illustrated by Richard Courtney, with paper engineering by Keith Moseley. The author is unknown, but it's interesting to note that Paul Sereno apparently 'cooperated' in the making of this charming, chunky little book. Of course, I always love a pop-up.

This is definitely one of those books for which the illustrator threw together some stuff based on his general experience of palaeoart over the years. There's no outright copying going on, but the animals have clearly been painted freehand, and veer between the semi-serious and the rather cartoonish. In the tradition of many kids' dinosaur books to this day (and even some godawful coffee table fare aimed at a more general audience), the look of the animals is also a good decade out of date - the tripod tyrannosaur being an excellent start.

All that said, this prancing Coelophysis isn't such a bad start (you know, for 1988). It's a nice active pose if nothing else, and the pop-up leg-swinging action is quite hilarious - like it's performing high kicks in a saurian chorus line (although it's missing a frilly skirt and feathered headdress, and of course you need the right music). The look of this one is a little early-1980s Sibbickian, which probably isn't a coincidence. As can be seen here, a lot of the foliage in this book is actually quite carefully observed and pleasingly painted, even if it's a little generic - as is so often the case, the illustrator was talented, but dinosaurs were outside of his area of expertise.

Veering towards the more cartoonish end of the scale, this piece ingeniously takes the classic 'neck-chomping theropod' meme and applies it to the pop-up format in the most wacky way possible. The Ceratosaurus, with its great big googly eye wedged firmly into the wrong hole in its skull, is seen applying its mouth like a giant pair of shears to the neck of the unfortunate sauropod, which itself sports a head that looks nothing like that of a Diplodocus, or of any other sauropod for that matter. In other respects, the Diplodocus definitely resembles any number that appeared in dinosaur books prior to 1980, which were normally riffing on art produced by one of the greats, like Burian.

I posted this on Facebook, and may I present an excellent caption subsequently provided by the quite dazzlingly witty Natasha Sizzy Hansen.

Tubby as this pair may be, you've got to love the audacity of those dazzling colour schemes - and the horizontal, ungulate-esque pupils are a nice touch. The pop-up mechanism works well here too, with the Parasaurolophus rearing up to feed from a conifer. It's just unfortunate that it doesn't seem to have any shoulders. You can tell that the Ouranosaurus is a little perturbed.

Saltasaurus rearing: definite shades of Mark Hallett. Still, again the use of the pop-up format is excellent here - the crazy necks and tails of sauropods are just begging to be turned into sprawling pop-up spreads, and it always feels like a wasted opportunity when they're not (er, in a pop-up book that is). It's a superb way to given an impression of the animals' sheer size. Bizarrely, while the underside of the tail of this Saltasaurus boasts large,flat, crocodilian 'belly scales', the underside of its neck is, er, the same as the top. Consequently, no doubt, it has sprouted the head of some angry armadillo-like beast. It's purple with rage!

Remember the shoulderless Parasaurolophus? Look at this attempted Albertosaurus skeleton, and it suddenly makes a lot more sense - it has uniform ribs that appear to continue, snake-like, all the way up to its head.

Meanwhile, tangerine Tyrannosaurus appears to be mischievously wiggling its little arms about while clutching its hapless, brightly-coloured nondescript victim, in front of the awe-inspiring Mt Ubiquitous Primordial Volcano. The Albertosaurus skeleton gnashes its teeth when the page is opened and closed, which is pretty well constructed and amusing enough.

Yes, we might be worlds away from the splendour of highly accomplished pop-up Sibbick, but I needed a break from all the high-end palaeoart - I'm starting to run dangerously low on hyperbole and slavish, doting praise (in particular, my stocks of 'intricately detailed' and 'masterful' have hit rock bottom). Nevertheless, it's a return to Kish for next week!


  1. That's no Ceratosaurus, it's a holstein cow!

  2. Hey, the artist correctly predicted the anterior placement of sauropod nostrils, per Witmer!

    "You can tell that the Ouranosaurus is a little perturbed."

    You'd be perturbed, too, if someone whisked you away from your home to another continent 30 million years in the future!

  3. The color scheme of the Tyrannosaurus reminds a bit of the Aurora "Prehistoric Scenes" model that originally came out in 1974.

  4. I like this one a lot! I'm gonna have to find a copy.


Trolls get baleted.

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