Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: more from The How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs

Yes, it's back! After the rapturous reception it received last time, a return to the glorious How & Why Wonder world seemed absolutely necessary - vital, even. This was, after all, the "terrible, terrible book" that proved to be a key source of childhood inspiration for a number of celebrated palaeontologists. Also, how could I have left out this disturbingly anthropomorphic creature last time...?

Why, "Trachodon", if it weren't for your alarmingly flattened facial features, you would be quite outrageously sexy. The forelimbs in particular here are absurdly, comically/distressingly humanoid and dainty; this is a creature best imagined seated at a piano in a cavernous mansion, playing hauntingly beautiful piano pieces to itself while staring blankly from within its dark, bovine eyes, its beaked face utterly expressionless. I should probably also mention that illustration rather obviously, er, references Burian. The shading is still wonderful, too, although here it has the disconcerting effect of making the animal look rather...smooth. Shudder.

Ankylosaurus, that perennial tyrannosaur-clobbering lumberjack, is shown - typically for the time - as an extremely squat, short-legged, neckless and permanently grumpy creature, although the tail here is not as truncated as was frequently depicted. The shoulder spines would appear to owe something to Edmontonia, suggesting that this illustration may be inspired by the chimeric "Palaeoscincus" that often popped up in pre-Renaissance palaeoart. The texture work on the animal's back, and in particular its scutes, is actually remarkably well done; it's possible to imagine running a hand over their tough, bony surface. These monochrome illustrations are by far the most accomplished in the book.

Protoceratops, the nesting lizard - a palaeoart canard that took decades to die and was adopted by absolutely everyone, from Neave Parker to Zallinger (if anyone can enlighten me as to the origin of the whole 'sprawling limbs' trope, I'd love to know). For me, this one resembles Parker's in particular, and, well, it's a bit dull. Really, Protoceratops just serves as the warmup act in popular dinosaur books for everyone's favourite...

...Triceratops! Here, 'old three horns' (or whichever corny, affectionate nickname you're most fond of) appears suitably stoic and battle-weary - probably because it's a dead ringer for the animal in Charles Knight's famous Triceratops v T. rex painting, right down to the perspective and alarmingly chunky limbs (knees? Where we're going, we won't need knees!). Still, drink in that highly skilled texturing and marvel at that tangible fleshiness, for we are about to return to the book's colour illustrations, where things really do go downhill somewhat.

I should point out that the anachronisms in the above picture are deliberate (and the title relates more to the text than the illustration), but these are still some seriously goofy-looking beasties. Charles Knight's painting of a misidentified Dimetrodon/Edaphosaurus chimera seems to have inspired the cutesy-pie Dimetrodon in this image, but while Knight's had a Dimetrodon head, this one appears to have the skull of a loveable frog. I'm also very fond of the crudely drawn 'ornithopod', complete with tiny arms sprouting from its neck. Bless.

The book's pterosaurs fare little better, boasting as they do some seriously bizarre and grotesque heads - I mean, more so than in reality. The googly-eyed, lumpen-headed Dimorphodon is a particular highlight here. Note also the inclusion of Archaeopteryx on the pterosaur page because, well, it lived alongside the dinosaurs and it flew, right? It made good sense at the time, of course, but it's heartening to look back and reflect upon how far the science has come, and all the hard work it took to get us to where we are today - much of it inspired, in the first instance, by this very book.

I've come over all sentimental. Quick, another silly illustration!

One lazy trope that absolutely, positively refuses to die - even after literally generations of writers have used it - is the direct comparison between extinct marine reptiles and mythological sea monsters. It gets right on my nerves, so it does. While THWWBD doesn't quite sink to mentioning Nessie, it sets the trend for many, many books and articles since in which plesiosaurs are referred to as 'monsters', complete with a little sojourn into the realms of cryptozoology - since after all, they could be alive today, hanging around in the abyssal depths with Godzilla and that giant killer newt thing from Cloverfield, and we'd never know, wooooo! The illustration plays up the 'serpentine' aspect of the ludicrously long-necked Elasmosaurus by giving it an equally long tail, when of course it had a rather stumpy one in reality; however, this would again appear to have been inspired by Knight, specifically his late 19th century painting of the animal (the snaking neck of which would also inspire a meme that lasted a good century).

I'd like to end on a monochrome illustration, however, for they represent THWWBD at its best. The Styracosaurus here is actually rather good for the time (I await the first reader to point me toward the much earlier illustration it's a copy of), while the Allosaurus - with its relatively short arms - is a far cry from the bizarre-looking creature that features in one of the book's colour plates. It's enough to make one wonder if they really were by the same artist...

Whatever the case may be, and at the risk of repeating myself (see previous post), this is a charming book, and it's no accident that it got so many people hooked on dinosaurs. We have an awful lot to thank it for, and it remains an entertaining read!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dreaming of Dinosaurs

Have you ever dreamt of dinosaurs? John Rice surely did, and was thus inspired to write a fine book of poetry about them. Fortunately, his poems tend to be either jolly whimsies or meditations on the meaning and significance of dinosaurs in a temporal context - as opposed to being incomprehensibly surreal and containing psychosexual themes that, on waking reflection, have terrifying implications for one's mental wellbeing (or is that just me?). In line with the mix of tone in the poems, Charles Fuge's illustrations vary between being 'serious' and cartoonish and amusing, while always remaining bold and characterful.

While not ostensibly an educational book on dinosaurs (although there are factual snippets here and there), the reconstructions are bang up to date (for 1992), in that they depict post-Renaissance dinosaurs - highly active, often brightly coloured and with nary a dragging tail to be seen. The cover depicts just such a creature - a garishly coloured dromaeosaur chasing a dragonfly through the Primordial Mists. It's a suitably, uh, dreamlike image, and the eye is immediately drawn to the looming, toothy maw of the animal. The dromaeosaur also resembles the Velociraptor-things in Jurassic Park, which it of course predates, although it does lead one to imagine the movie monsters decked out in a similarly flamboyant, stripy, bright yellow colour scheme. Maybe an idea for the next film, if they insist on them being all nekkid...?

Now, you might regard the inclusion of the pliosaur Kronosaurus in a poem entitled Dinosaur Songs as being cheating, but I'm quite sure it was entirely justified in the name of that wonderful illustration, in which it gargles out a ditty while dressed as an orca. The head, in particular, is remarkably well observed - the rather stretched body can probably be attributed to the use of Plastersaurus as a reference. The distant brachiosaurs, too, are quite lovely. It's just a shame about Archaeopteryx, showing off boringly familiar wrist-fingers and appearing to have been pasted onto the page at the last minute. As for the poem - well, I don't review poetry. Not since I finished my English Literature A-level back in 2006, at any rate. It's quite nice, I suppose. I like the repeated and pointed use of the word 'perhaps', a pertinent reminder of the uncertainties inherent in reconstructing prehistoric creatures, and arguably also a caution against 'typecasting' them. That's all you're getting.

At the more cartoonish end of the scale we have this Diplodocus, an illustration for a delightfully rollicking and silly poem about the animal rocking and rolling all over the Late Jurassic. Here, the elongate fatso has entirely outgrown his collapsed bed, but doesn't appear too concerned about it (tiny brain, see). The more 'cartoony' aspect manifests not just in the fact that, well, it's a dinosaur sleeping with a pillow and sheets, but also in its elephantine feet and overtly rotund body (not to mention that contented smile). Unfortunately, I had to chop off the little Leptoceratops-like creature on the right hand side, trying to prod our dozy hero awake...

It's a scientific fact that tyrannosaurs didn't like the rain very much. Close analysis of the structure of the animals' brains, based on cranial endocasts, has revealed that, due to an expansion of the centre devoted to an innate dislike of getting their tootsies all wet, tyrannosaurs would have dashed for cover like big, ugly, soggy cowards. Here, we see a Tyrannosaurus in a girly panic at the thought of being caught in a shower without its umbrella (equipped with super-telescopic handle). Actually, given the general tendency of this book to be very contemporary, there's something curiously 1970s about this T. rex - the big old osteoderms and crocodilian belly scales were a feature of a number of models produced in that decade, including the much chewed (by kids and pets) Invicta toy. Also, that first toe is bizarre. That aside, I absolutely adore the colour scheme - without looking too outrageous, it still manages to pop from the page.

Speaking of toothy, ugly things, the illustration for Limerickosaurus might just be my favourite in the book. Yes, ceratosaurs and pareiasaurs didn't live at anything like the same time, and yes, giving a hatchling reasonably well-developed horns and the colouration of a northern cassowary is a bit silly. But on the other hand, that colouration doesn't half look fantastic, and hey, duh, it's supposed to be silly.  Furthermore, very few illustrators have managed to make pareiasaurs (like Scutosaurus) look remotely cute - but just look at the winning smile on that little fellow. Here's hoping that meanie Cerato-cassowary will splinter his teeth on that pavement of scutes.

There's very little violence in Dreaming of Dinosaurs, so it's a bit disconcerting to come across this bloody scene, in which a pack of stripy Velociraptor (a 'smart adaptor', rather like that handy thing you attach to your phone charger to use it in Europe) rather optimistically take on a much larger, and quite cross-looking, Styracosaurus. While the predators scratch and nibble rather ineffectively, the Styracosaurus has used its horn to impale one of them straight through the effing guts. Dromaeosaurs had a habit of leaping like land-piranha onto much larger prey back in the '90s, but it's a trend that's definitely lost momentum; in fact, these days the prey are just as likely to be seen turning the tables...which can only be a positive development.

We haven't heard of Saltopus for a while, have we? That's probably because it's known from fragmentary material (and might not even be a dinosaur at all), but nevertheless it was an animal that featured in a number of popular books back in the '80s and '90s, before disappearing from view. Here, there is even a poem dedicated to it. The illustration would appear to owe much to the model photographed in The Age of Dinosaurs: A Photographic Record, and envisages a delicate, nocturnal creature, "Tall as a baby learning to walk/quick as a gymnast over the rock".

Out of the somewhat more 'serious' illustrations, I'm particularly taken by this depiction of a Maiasaura mother with her brood, set against a beautiful backdrop of horsetails and an inky night sky. It's a wonderful, dreamy (sorry), serene picture...except for those glowing eyes in the undergrowth. It's pleasing to see splashes of bright colour on a female hadrosaur, as artists have often had a tendency to deck them out only in a thousand indistinct shades of brown (ranging from 'mud puddle' to 'deep', uh, 'chocolate'). In addition, it's wonderful to see hadrosaur babies doing something other than cower under their parents or be dragged away by hungry theropods/lizards/pterosaurs/centipedes/killer snails. Play behaviour in hadrosaurs - why not?

In a similar vein, this beautifully painted moody Triceratops accompanies a poem that is a meditation on the passage of time on a geological, or even cosmic scale:

"Look up! A comet flashes past.
Another wanderer who'll return again
when Triceratops is no more,
and again
when the river is no more
and again
when the mountain is no more
and again
when we are no more."
It's a stanza moving in its simplicity, and is haunting in invoking the fleeting nature of life on Earth, and indeed the impermanence even of the geology that we take for granted. The time will come, sooner than we like to imagine, when we will be just as completely and utterly gone as Triceratops, the mammoth, Steller's sea cow, and the twenty species of amphibian that were wiped out so that a forest could be cut down to make way for the mine to extract the precious metals for your mobile phone. You MONSTER.

Sorry, I said I wouldn't do it again. Look, it's a dinosaur playing guitar!

Forget Doug Henderson - this is my favourite depiction of a swimming Dimetrodon. Just fantastic. And who doesn't want to send their post by pterosaur-mail? Polka-dot hadrosaurs, dancing to Strauss! Just marvellous stuff. There's a lot to be said for this book - while often daft (as here), it's clear that Rice nevertheless takes dinosaurs very seriously as a subject, and their treatment is surprisingly, commendably mature - as are the illustrations. Stripy yellow trebles all round, I think.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

All Yesterdays Contest Winners!

The time has come, friends. Some months ago, we asked for submissions for our very own All Yesterdays Contest. Since then, we've gotten a veritable tsunami of entries, and have had to winnow down a flood of excellent entries to a mere three. It's been an incredibly difficult task, fraught with hair pulling, gnashing of teeth, and quiet weeping in the night. But finally, the white smoke has lifted from the roof, the decisions are made, and out we come, bearing our choices for the winners of the LITC All Yesterdays Contest. We're very sorry to have kept y'all waiting, but we think you'll like the results.

So what were we looking for? We judged the entries based on whether or not they delivered an interesting artistic style alongside that All Yesterdays inspired speculation we all love. The submissions below represent, to us, the best mixtures of style and imagination.

And so, without further ado.... the winners!


Here at LITC, we're all suckers for a bit of collage, and Jessica Pilhede's sparring troodonts deliver in spades. The simplicity of the image is charming, calling to mind a child's storybook while expressing an artistic style not often used in dinosaurs. While this submission is not quite as speculative as others, the uniqueness of the medium makes it stand out. 

Jessica explains her reasoning thusly. 
The idea for this is basically looking at the vast number of theropods with their enlarged toes and thinking, did ALL of them really use them for the same purpose (usually listed as hunting)? Especially when they vary so much otherwise? They always reminded me of the spurs and spikes of birds like roosters and pheasants and I wonder if some species didn't use them for interspecies conflict, like fighting over a female or territory or what have you. Not saying they would be used ONLY for that, but perhaps as an additional usage? I mean, many unique body parts in the animal kingdom can have multiple uses, just look at giraffe necks. 
As for the dinosaurs themselves, they are meant to be troodonts in a cold climate - much of my references came from looking at photos of capercaillies and black grouses fighting over females in cold environments.
Jessica will get a signed sketch from Asher, depicting any prehistoric creature she so desires.


Mike Keesey's Pop Art Dimetrodon presents a radically different vision of everybody's favorite mammal-like reptile (or, perhaps, reptile-like mammal.) Taking inspiration from Andy Warhol and, apparently, Gary Larsen, this piece is grotesque in all the best ways, suggesting an animal that looks believably ridiculous and strange. The negative space of the background and the subdued coloration really make the art pop.

Mike's thoughts on his piece follow. 
Dimetrodon and its kin have often been described as "mammal-like reptiles", but in fact they are just as closely related to modern reptiles as we are (in terms of shared descent). Creatures like Dimetrodon, Moschops, Lystrosaurus, Cynognathus, Morganucodon, etc. are more properly termed "stem-mammals", meaning that they are not mammals, but are more closely related to mammals than to any other living organisms. 
We can infer, in the absence of direct evidence, that all stem-mammals probably possessed any characteristics shared by us mammals and our closest living non-mammalian relatives, the sauropsids (turtles, tuataras, lizards [including snakes], crocodylians, and birds). But mammalian characteristics not shared by sauropsids are trickier. When did hair evolve? When did lactation evolve? We have a few clues but no definite answers. 
In this piece, I have pushed fur back to an extremely early time – Dimetrodon is one of the furthest stem-mammals from Mammalia proper. While we know that a later stem-mammal, Estemmenosuchus, had glandular skin without any sign of fur, it is possible that fur evolved earlier and was simply lost or reduced in some lineages, as it has been in many mammalian lineages. 
I have also posited parental feeding, but not, strictly speaking, lactation. Other lineages of tetrapod, including caecilians and pigeons, have evolved ways of feeding the young from foodstuffs produced by the mother. The mother Dimetrodon's sides are swollen with nutritious substances which seep out as her pups gobble it up. Is it milk? Sort of and sort of not.  
Finally, I have scrupulously avoided any suggestion that these are in any way reptilian. They do retain some plesiomorphies evidenced in some reptiles and amphibians, such as a sprawling gait, belly scales, and acute color vision, but they lack the dry skin and derived scales of true reptiles. These are moist, glandular creatures, like amphibians and ourselves.
Mike will be receiving a hand selected book of vintage dinosaur art from David Orr, our dread lord and master, himself.


Andrew Dutt's illustration of a bone dropping Dsungaripterus is a thing of beauty. It oozes with style and a simple, yet arresting composition. The graphic design pops beautifully, and the illustration rewards close examination. Not only that, the behavior posited seems not only reasonable, but obvious. It all adds up to an illustration that effortlessly communicates a bit of speculation, with very little explanation necessary. 

Andrew has this to say about his work. 
Dsungaripterus is usually thought of as a “shell-crusher”: its upturned beak tip would have been used to remove shellfish from sandy, muddy beaches and its knobbly, flat teeth at the back end of its jaws would have been ideal for crushing the shells and exoskeletons of its prey. However, Dsungaripterus remains are found in locations that were many kilometers inland at the time it lived, and carbon & oxygen isotope analysis of bones and teeth confirm that Dsungaripterus inhabited terrestrial environments as opposed to marine. 
So what does a flying reptile with crushing jaws living in a terrestrial environment sustain itself with? Surely Dsungaripterus wouldn’t pass on small terrestrial vertebrates if it came across them, but it probably put those knobbly teeth and strong jaws (for a pterosaur) to good use. Its beak could have probed into carcasses and with its jaws it could have crushed bones to obtain nutritious bone marrow. If its bite wasn’t strong enough to shatter larger bones, it could have engaged in a behavior similar to the one practiced by today’s Bearded Vulture: fly high up over cliffs and rocky outcrops and drop the bone in order to smash it against the rocks below. 
As for appearance, I depicted Dungaripterus with an erect mane of pycnofibers along its neck, yellow facial skin, and dark facial bristles forming a “beard”, all of which were inspired on Bearded and Egyptian Vultures. I also expanded the bony crest with keratinous tissue featuring black and white bands for intraspecific display and red gular skin for some extra pizzazz.

Andrew will receive a beautiful copy of Dinosaur Art from Marc, with sketches from both Marc and Niroot themselves!

Lets have a big hand to all of our entrants, and thank you so much for making this contest such a success! Keep drawing, folks, and may all your yesterdays be amazing.

Monday, April 8, 2013

All Yesterdays Contest Gallery

A few months ago, the folks here at LITC announced a contest. It was not your ordinary All Yesterdays Contest, though it had those words in the title. Rather, we wanted our contest to reflect the length and breadth of artistic style, as well as offering up new ideas about prehistoric organisms.

Well, the wait is mostly over. Our three winners will be announced in a few days. The following is a gallery filled with the fantastic runners up. Below are pieces that draw from all kinds of different artistic traditions, and many of them present intriguing speculations about the long extinct denizens of Earth's past. It is arranged in no particular order (except in the places where it is) and is presented with commentary and explanations courtesy of the artists themselves.

Awesome art below the jump!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Meditations on the Urvogel

Between is a state of being for Archaeopteryx. No mere transitory stage, this; even at maturity, with greying feathers and dulled claws, the Archaeopteryx is always between, with attributes that may serve some future incarnation but now are more hindrance then help.

No matter. When between is your birthright, you learn to live with it. Predators on the ground, predators in the air, and between them is Archaeopteryx, sometimes falling prey to one, sometimes to another, destined to outpace them all. Daylight sees it beginning its everlasting quest for food, a quest that has it, as always, traversing every element, before night falls languorously over the lagoon and it retires to the tree branches to sleep.

Archaeopteryx is a jack of all trades, and a master of none. Battening on the insects that swarm over warm Jurassic waters, pursuing lizards up trees, plunging wildly into the shallow sea in search of fish, Archaeopteryx yearns for it all. Earthworms, dragonflies, beetles, lizards, small mammals, the fish of the lakes and seas, seeds, flowers, fruits, and the harvests of the mightiest trees. Straining its imperfect wings, Archaeopteryx jumps high, falls slowly, and glides long, but can never come out from between, and is always stopped at the threshold of great success.

Urvogel. Not just the old bird, but the original bird. The platonic ideal of transition. Noble, clumsy, ravening, starving, living, slipping from birth to death in a wild tumble of claws and feathers and new, new wings. Half one thing, half another, and yet, somehow, entirely its own.

Archaeopteryx offspring will be between as well. But in the long coming years, as the family splits and splits and splits again under the inexorable hand of chance, its descendants will finally step out and find a state of being to call their own, and no longer be forced careen through all of them.

(An old peace of writing I found and polished up. Probably heavily inspired by William Service, who's narration in The New Dinosaurs made a heavy impression on me as a kid.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs

Very, very occasionally, when the planets in the Solar System arrange themselves in an apparently haphazard, but in fact entirely co-ordinated and precise pattern, a truly superb and genuinely vintage dinosaur book appears, like a distant, glittering jewel, over the eBay horizon. (The rest of the time, I buy any old rubbish from the '80s and you get lousy filler posts.) The How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs is just such a book. It's also no less than the first dinosaur book owned by a certain Thomas Holtz, apparently. So there you go!

The How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs (Or THWWBD for, er, short) is just one among a huge number of How and Why Wonder books; other titles in the series included Seashore, Castles, Chemistry, Fish, Primitive Man, Winning of The West, The Old Testament, and The Tower of London. Back in the 1970s, if there wasn't a How and Why Wonder Book on a certain topic, it probably wasn't worth knowing about (or so it would seem). THWWBD was first published in 1965, with my edition arriving in 1974. Happily, it is completely of its time; there isn't the merest hint of a horizontal theropod, an animal with even one foot off the ground (except when clawing another dinosaur's hide), or a sauropod that isn't a charmingly tubby kebab for allosaurs who've been out on the lash. The cover says it all - this is a primeval world in which 'brontosaurs' hang around in swamps, keeping a wary eye on skulking, Nosferatu-esque theropods while volcanoes continually erupt and cheeky pterosaurs zoom nimbly by. It's absolutely marvellous.

It's easy to see why so many people have fond memories of this book. Quite apart from the fact that it's a quintessentially 'pre-Renaissance' work, the text is lively and entertaining. The author - Darlene Geis - received scientific supervision and knew what she was talking about, for although this repeats many of the now-discarded silly tropes of the era (aquatic sauropods etc. etc.), you will not find any errors as outrageous as featuring Tyrannosaurus and Stegosaurus in the same scene. In fact, it complies completely with the orthodoxy of the time. The illustrations, by Kenyon Shannon, follow in the fine pre-Renaissance tradition of glancing briefly at the real animal's skeleton, shrugging one's shoulders and drawing whatever the hell one likes, with the 'cheap monster movie costume' Allosaurus above being a prime example. You've got to love his dancer's legs.

This beloved Bronto has featured over at SV-POW!, where Mike Taylor notes that "this is the Brontosaurus I grew up with", adding that while it's very easy to point out its multitude of anatomical flaws, "the part that’s most shocking...is just how darned fat it is" - a 'lardy bloater', no less. Indeed, while Apatosaurus was a notoriously robust animal, old-school illustrators tended to exaggerate this to the point at which they started resembling the sort of gelatinous blob that would be at home threatening Steve McQueen. Of course, none of this is to deny the artist's skill in shading this illustration - like all of the others in the book it has, for all its inaccuracies, a pleasing organic fluidity about it.

Although obvious references to the work of other palaeoartists are quite rare, it's easy to detect shades of Burian in this illustration of an underwater Brachiosaurus pair - the most obvious difference being that the foreground sauropod has its back turned to the viewer. While the text describes a "dome with nostrils in it" on the top of the sauropod's head, this seems to have collapsed on the animals in the illustration (maybe it was the water pressure). That said, it's noteworthy that - unlike the Bronto - the brachiosaurs are not grotesquely fat, which may well be a result of the Burian influence. Nevertheless, we're told that "[Brachiosaurus] couldn't move around much on land. He couldn't swim in the water. It must have been a dull way to live - even for a dinosaur." Poor old Brachiosaurus...

When it comes to Stegosaurus, Shannon takes the route of exaggerating its key attributes, resulting in a truly bizarre-looking beast indeed; it also appears to be lacking any shoulders to speak of (a fate that also befell many a Burian-style Bronto over the years). Of course, the excessively low position of the head was inherited from the work of Charles Knight and, ultimately, Marsh's skeletal reconstruction - however, the huge plates on Shannon's hump-backed creature look like petals radiating out from a flower. In spite of this, it's still possible to appreciate (again) the artist's flair for shading, creating beautifully blended fleshy contours. The strong, monochromatic style works perfectly to compensate for the book's rather low print quality.

One of the best examples of the effectiveness of this unfussy style in this context is the Iguanodon. The restoration of the animal is typical for its time, with a highly upright posture reliant on an impossibly bent tail. However, it has a wonderful statuesque quality achieved with very precise and careful shading, and the page is effectively laid out to maximise the impression of this creature's awesome size. Also noteworthy are the apparently massive muscles in the animal's legs and arms - especially the latter, as Iguanodon was commonly depicted with curiously weedy forelimbs prior to resuming quadrupedalism in the '80s.

Towards the back of the book, the quality of the illustrations takes something of a nosedive (maybe the deadline was looming), resulting in some rather demented, cartoonish beasties. My favourite is undoubtedly the crested creature here identified as Mosasaurus (although it's likely that the labels for Mosasaurus and Tylosaurus were swapped), which looks like it would probably squeak like a dog's chew toy if you squeezed it. The pupil with the centre missing, reminiscent of Wario, adds a wonderful touch of the deranged. On the other hand, this might be the only kids' dinosaur book to ever feature not only the little-heard-of pliosaur Brachauchenius, shown here as the pointy-faced bright green fellow being laughed at by Plesiosaurus, but also the fish Hoplopteryx. Why, Hoplopteryx is so obscure, its Wikipedia entry consists of a single sentence declaring it to be a fish from the Cretaceous. Definitely the generic name to drop at cool parties; just remember, you heard about it before it became famous.

Inevitably, everyone's favourite Maastrichtian macropredator and movie star features in not one, but three separate illustrations, and even receives a double-page spread all to itself. This is definitely your father's T. rex, which means that although it's diagonal-spined and tail dragging, it's happily still an up-for-anything cold-blooded killer (rather than the slowly ambulating carcass disposal unit it became in popular books for a while in the '70s and '80s). The illustration is, obviously, Very Wrong but nevertheless is wonderfully evocative; here is the ultimate giant killer of the Cretaceous, its talons poised and with a wicked glint in its beady eye.

Tyrannosaurus also receives the honour of being the only carnivorous dinosaur to be depicted battling with its prey, as described in a rollicking narrative style typical of the kids' dino books of the time (but better than average). Artists have long struggled to depict tyrannosaurs and ankylosaurs engaged in a convincing fight, especially back when the former were depicted as upright 'tripods'. Shannon's attempt is fairly typical, with T. rex struggling to stoop down while receiving a stern reprimand from its grumpy, turtle-like prey. The T. rex v Triceratops illustration is just fantastic, with Rexy feebly scraping its opponent's frill while Triceratops, standing firm, prepares to administer a very pointy horn to the privates. Meanwhile, Geis seems to take great pleasure in the thought of these two mighty animals having at it:
"[Triceratops] charges like a rhinoceros at the much bigger Tyrannosaurus rex. The earth shakes as these two monsters come together. Every other sound is hushed as the two giants fight it out. Tyrannosaurus rex swings his great jaws open and drops down to slash at his foe's back...

...But Tyrannosaurus rex has been stabbed, and his breath comes in gasps. He cannot turn and run for his life. He must obey his hunger which tells him to get meat in his jaws...again Triceratops charges with his sharp horns..."
This narrative adds immensely to the appeal of the book, and must have been very captivating for child readers back in the day. In spite of the prevailing scientific attitude of the time (i.e. that they were dull, listless evolutionary failures), here dinosaurs are brought to life in an immediate, exciting way - we are encouraged to imagine them going about their lives, rather than as a series of staid facts and figures. Silly as it all seems to modern eyes, it's easy to appreciate why this book is so fondly remembered, and I'm very happy to have it in my collection.