Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Album of Dinosaurs - Part 2

In our last look at the Album of Dinosaurs, we established that it was a beautifully illustrated book, thoroughly out-of-date scientifically for the most part, but lively and occasionally slightly silly enough to be very entertaining. It features its fair share of Daft Old PalaeoArt Tropes (or DOPATs, as they perhaps shouldn't be known), including any number of animals living an aquatic lifestyle that they don't appear eminently suited to.

As far as DOPATs go, everyone remembers the snorkelling sauropod as the poster boy of pre-Dino Renaissance wrongness. However, just as prevalent back in the day were web-fingered, amphibious hadrosaurs. Borne of a misinterpreted skin impression and a far too literal comparison with ducks, no dinosaur book was complete without a hadrosaur swimming party. It's not to say that hadrosaurs couldn't or didn't swim, of course, but the idea that they were adapted for an aquatic life and primarily fed (with their packed dental batteries) on soft water plants is pretty silly indeed.

Nevertheless, there's something quite lovely about Rod Ruth's illustration; I think it's again in the composition, and the graceful arc of the hadrosaur's body.

Let's not leave the sauropods out of it, though. This rather unusual brachiosaur would be none too happy about that.

There is an admirable attempt made in the Album to flesh the Mesozoic world out around its dinosaur stars. As such, we are treated to plenty of illustrations in which the landscape is packed with foliage, and small animals go about their own business (when they're not escaping the attentions of some goggling theropod). The Struthiomimus illustration stands alongside the Compsognathus piece (see part 1) in having some gorgeous greenery, even if it's not as interesting compositionally. Just as with the Compsognathus, the animals are notable for their Knightian weedy muscles, particularly on the thighs.

Although it can be considered something of a DOPAT now, the ever-nesting-Protoceratops did make sense at the time, even if it eventually became a very tiresome cliché. Ruth's take is unusual in that the Protoceratops adults, which are dotted at different levels around the landscape like they're posing for a moody album cover, don't appear to give a flying Zalambdalestes about their tiny, squishy offspring. Won't somebody think of the children?

Quite a few millions of years down the line we come to Triceratops, the rockingest ceratopsian of them all (and also the last). The scenery here is wonderful; Ruth evokes an unusually chilly atmosphere, and it's almost possible to feel that brisk wind on one's face. The animals themselves aren't too bad for the time, but are still weirdly inconsistent. The individual on the left appears to have a horn emerging from directly behind its eye, while the head of the middle animal seems to be turning into a potato crisp. There's also a niggling sense of the scale not being quite right - those must be some seriously bloody massive bushes back there. Did you notice T. rex sneaking around at the back, too? Do you think he'll get away with that? No chance.

So far, I've only mentioned this book's text (by Tom McGowen) in passing, but it deserves more attention. Each showcased dinosaur is the subject of a factual rundown, naturally, but also a wee narrative detailing its exploits on a typical day. So, Apatosaurus vacuums pondweed like a chump, while Allosaurus flashes its glinting teeth and twirls its moustache while cackling loudly to itself. It's all gloriously dramatic and rather breathless stuff, and like any good writer of children's factual books, McGowen is notably bloodthirsty.
"The horned dinosaur slams into the flesh eater, jerking its head upward savagely so that its two long horns rip deep into the tyrannosaur's belly! The impact lifts the flesh eater off its feet and hurls it backward to sprawl on the ground. Moving forward quickly, the triceratops [sic] jabs its horn again and again into the fallen tyrannosaur's body."
That's one stab-happy Triceratops. The text is further accompanied by smaller, monochrome illustrations that frequently continue the 'story' started in the main image. Naturally, Triceratops is depicted being fired out of a cannon towards a rather limber T. rex. At least it's not ambushing the tyrannosaur in the shower, I suppose.

Happily, T. rex is allowed to have his own way at least some of the time (for in the tradition of pre-1980s dinosaur books, he is surely male). Here, his yoga practice has paid off as he manages to flip over a no-neck ankylofreak like so many pointy pancakes, although that right leg still looks like it would take some work to pop back in. As McGowen explains, presumably while salivating, if an ankylosaur were ever to be inverted like this, then "in an instant the flesh eater's teeth would have been savagely tearing into the unprotected flesh!" He really had a thing for 'flesh'...so to speak.

One of my favourites of the monochrome illustrations is this one, depicting Stegosaurus toppling Ceratosaurus. As noted above, it's a charming continuation of the scenario depicted in the main illustration, as well as being a pleasing piece in itself.

Another of my favourites, but for quite a different reason, is this 'Iguanodon forefoot'. Quite where Ruth found the inspiration for this mutant aberration, I'm not quite sure; it's like a diseased lizard wielding a machete blade.

But I don't want to end on a downer, so here's a wonderful addition to the 'Ornitholestes catching a bird' DOPAT. Ruth's is unusual in that his Ornitholestes hasn't quite caught up with its prey, although it's still stretching out its adorable little arms in anticipation. Just brilliant.

Next week: something else entirely!


  1. As many DOPATs as there are, among the lovely things I've noticed about these illustrations is the varied terrain in them. These, I think, strike that balance in the 'landscapes ripe for Dalek conquest' point Mark Witton made in his recent post.

    1. Indeed. I hope I've made it quite clear that Ruth was fantastic on the landscape 'n' scenery front.

    2. You have! I was just supplementing with an observation. And ever so slightly pleased with myself that I had something pertinent to say for once...

  2. Agree, DOPATs aside, the artwork is lovely. I think the composition and use of colour is marvellous. Detail is good, too.

    And I learnt how to draw a Brachiosaurus in three easy steps -
    1. Draw a "Brontosaurus".
    2. Make the front legs a bit longer.
    3. Well done; make yourself a good cup of tea.

  3. Those hadrosaurs (Trachodon, I presume) are lovely, but somewhat odd - the hindfeet are more or less right, which is unusual for the time and also makes it quite obvious that this is a terrestrial animal drowning. I find it very weird Ruth didn't realize those aren't swimmer's feet while painting this at the very latest.

  4. One of the great things about this book's illustrations was detail like the frog jumping out of the way of the running Struthiomimus.

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  6. I had the book from 1977 to 1988 . Loved the painted illustrations as a kid & I'm looking for a cheap copy to show my young nephews . They are so lucky with mostly accurate modern Dino books .


  7. I had the book from 1977 to 1988 . Loved the painted illustrations as a kid & I'm looking for a cheap copy to show my young nephews . They are so lucky with mostly accurate modern Dino books .


  8. I had the book from 1977 to 1988 . Loved the painted illustrations as a kid & I'm looking for a cheap copy to show my young nephews . They are so lucky with mostly accurate modern Dino books .

  9. whole thing scanned here:


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