Monday, March 11, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs: a Purnell Magic Pop-Up Book

There are a select number of popular dinosaur books in which it becomes apparent, quite quickly, that the author really didn't do an awful lot of research on the subject - and so it is with Dinosaurs, a book that could pass for a 'greatest hits' of palaeontological howlers (circa 1982). Of course, when a book is over 30 years old this has a tendency to add to its charms, rather than induce one to pen a deranged letter in green ink and mail it to the publisher; what's more, it also happens to be a delightfully executed pop-up book. If it's a rapid route straight to my heart that you're after (and why wouldn't you be?), you can't go far wrong with a pop-up book.

The cover of Dinosaurs provides a pretty good indication of what to expect inside - that is, all the stock clichés of dinosaur books from the '60s and '70s. A tottering Tyrannosaurus, resembling a rubbery costume from one of the more ropey kaiju films, confronts a rather podgy Triceratops, while an erupting volcano and pterosaur provide background filler. Of course, this is not to knock the illustrator, Borje Svensson, too much - he was probably given very little to work on, especially as the book apparently lacked a scientific consultant.

The opening spread features a couple of very neat ideas, courtesy of John Strejan (design), Tor Lokvig (paper engineering) and, of course, Svensson. Having the animals' vastness emphasised by exploiting the potential for verticality in a pop-up (or, having it pop out in your face like) is always an excellent idea, and it works particularly well here as the sauropod skeleton unfolds slowly when the page is opened, making the final reveal (and the way it dwarfs the puny humans) all the more impressive.

Down below, there's an excellent use of slats to transition from a fleshed-out sauropod to a behatted man excavating its ribcage, all those millions of years later (it having apparently been petrified where it stood, or perhaps hastily buried in the Great Deluge, an idea apparently now back in vogue among a certain group of delightfully nonsensical morons).

It's not until the second spread that we encounter the first of the book's bizarre anachronisms, as Pteranodon soars majestically through the skies of the, er, Late Jurassic. Author Larry Shapiro opts to stick to the tried-and-tested vision of amphibious sauropods, slurping up mushy aquatic greenery "like spaghetti" (apparently he'd been watching Fantasia). Still, the pop-up effect - with a three-dimensional Pteranodon spreading its wings as the pages are opened - is, once again, well executed...

...even if the Pteranodon does not appear best pleased with the whole silly situation. Being referred to as a "dinosaur of the air" will probably do little to alleviate its temper, either.

The plesiosaur in this illustration may be a little, uh, fanciful (at least it has retracted nostrils!), but I have a soft spot for the ichthyosaur. Svensson has done a lovely job in depicting the sea spray around the speeding animal, while the pull-tab feature is excellent - the animal rears up to grab the fish, and snaps its jaws with a scissor-like action. It's also possible to force the plesiosaur's head downwards, but doing so is ill-advised; clearly, it's had quite enough to eat already.

The book's spectacular centrepiece features - what else? - a clash of the saurian titans involving the 'King of the Dinosaurs', Tyrannosaurus rex (as tall as "two houses"), and its noble armour-plated adversary...Stegosaurus. It's an awesome multi-layered pop-up, with Stegosaurus employing its spiky distal end in an attempt to gouge some interesting pathological features into T. rex's precious face, but...come on now, really? As any kid with a healthy interest in extinct megafauna will tell you, the two combatants in this admittedly impressive piece were separated in time by something in the order of 85 million years, which is no trivial span. Perhaps this book really was inspired by the Rite of Spring section in Fantasia.

...I've said enough already.

This Triceratops represents another superb use of the pop-up format - with its horns protruding from the page in a suitably confrontational manner - even if the animal itself looks rather bizarre, with its squat body and double nose horn (which might be a misplaced beak). Meanwhile, cheeky Struthiomimus, having sprouted an extra digit, is making off with somebody's egg as per bloody usual. I am fond of the backdrop in this piece, and in particular the sky; there's a lovely, painterly quality to it that one couldn't help but feel would be missing in a typical kids' dinosaur book today.

And endearingly retro pop-up mountain featuring the stars of the hour; Brachiosaurus (on land!) is happy to take the limelight, while Tyrannosaurus appears unusually reserved. There's an accompanying map, too, detailing the locations where the various animals' fossils have been found...sort of.  It's the perfect way to finish this muddled, but beautifully produced little book.


  1. I love how Apatosaurus is so distinctive that you can recognise that they first horribly executed popup is meant to be it, based on cervical ribs alone.

  2. And charm it certainly has aplenty. More so than this one, which the opening pop-up skeleton is reminiscent of, in spite of the arguably more accomplished artwork in it. Perhaps it's because of the variety and number of the actual pop-ups themselves.

    (By the way, you neglected to include the 'pop-up' tag to that post. I am quite upset. ;))

  3. AHHHHH, you finally got it! I love it. It's horrible, but it's sooooo good too. I tried to share my photos of it with you a while back when I found it at a yard sale:

  4. "It's horrible, but it's sooooo good too." - My thoughts exactly! Sorry I missed your blog post about it, I will definitely check it out when I get back home.

    1. It's okay, it was really just me putting up quickly snapped photos to inform you of its awesome badness.

  5. I should add, I meant 'In spite of the arguably more accomplished artwork in the latter' in my earlier comment (meaning the one in the linked post). That must have sounded very muddled. I was fussing over not being to post a comment earlier and having to retype in haste.

  6. Yes, the popup mechanics are quite good but, oh my, the book pretty much includes every cliché and trope but not much point rehashing those here
    (where's the Ornitholestes trying to catch an Archaeopteryx?).

    However, the beaked *and* lipped Triceratops is... unusual, I don't think I've seen that before. And that "dinosaur from the sea" looks like it's hatching from an egg with legs.

    It would have been chronologically more accurate to have depicted the T. rex attacking a rhinoceros in stead of Stegosaurus.

  7. Wow, according to that map, Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus were actually discovered at the bottom of the ocean!

    You guys should review this one:

    I had it as a kid and loved it.

  8. Loved to find your info about this beautiful book. I cherished it throughout my childhood and strangely it became the source from which I discovered the awful and painful side of religious fundamentalism. My oldest brother took it from me, ripped it apart and threw it away. He did so because the preacher in his new Christian church at the time spoke about the evils and lies of evolution.
    Not need to mention I later read thousands of books and used them as tools to critize and literally counterattack religious nonsense.
    Once again thank you for bringing back beautiful memories of browsing through leaves.


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