Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaur World

Yet another early '80s dinosaur book written by David Lambert and aimed at a young audience, Dinosaur World is noteworthy for nabbing a load of artwork from all sorts of different sources, and then resolutely failing to credit any of the artists. It's a real shame, not only for reasons of basic publishing etiquette, but because it's always fun to track an artist's progress over time. But what can you do - it's an entertaining book all the same.

That it's entertaining will mostly be down to the glorious hodgepodge of pre- and post-Renaissance ideas about dinosaurs, as was common back in the late '70s and early '80s. At the time, artists still defaulted to drawing inspiration from the Old Masters (Knight, Zallinger, Burian and the rest), but updated certain very select aspects of their depictions of animals' anatomy and behaviour in order to move with the times.

Of course, the tyrannosaur on the cover is a terrible example of this, as its head's wrong in every detail, and its body appears to be a scaly balloon. Happily, the complete version of this illustration (featured inside the book) does back me up - somewhat - and that's the important thing.

The book's title may well be Dinosaur World but, as usual, the Palaeozoic support act feels fit to make an appearance. (If you've got a seating ticket, you'll probably want to grab a few beers in the foyer and come back later.) Before the Mesozoic - before, even, the title page - we're treated, apropos of nothing, to the above monstrosity. It's not labelled, but to the untrained eye (mine) it would appear to be the most foul and eeeevil gorgonopsid that ever lived on planet LV-426. They're coming outta the goddamn walls! And so on.

Delving into the book proper, we here have a piece that's unmistakably Bernard Robinson. Robinson (of Ladybird book fame) was a master of scaly skin textures, making excellent use of light and shade, as seen here. This illustration is also a rare depiction of Dimetrodon encountering another carnivorous Early Permian synapsid, in this case Ophiacodon (imagine a slightly rubbish Dimetrodon without the sail). I can't comment on the plausibility of it, but opting to depict the two wrestling like monitor lizards - rather than just sitting around, or perhaps lazily nibbling each other - was commendably inventive, and it's a really exciting image. [Late addition - James Appleby, in the comments, points out that this Ophiacodon's head looks nothing like the real thing. Which is true, and should be noted. I stop paying attention to that in a book like this after a while...]

Robinson also provides a few of the book's dinosaur illustrations, including a Jurassic panorama in which the puny twig-limbs of his earlier restorations meet the active poses of his latter work. Sure, the Allosaurus could have done with more attention to detail, particularly around the head area (where the animal's stubby, but noticeable horns are annoyingly absent). But it's still holding its tail and at least one foot clear of the ground, and the brachiosaurs in the background are sticking resolutely to terra firma.

Note the translation of 'Allosaurus' as 'leaping lizard'. Tee hee.

Mammals, eh? Who cares for them? Here, a dinosaur's glorious Robinson-scaly yellow belly completely dwarfs the smelly, furry little gits. Point well made. Say, those feet look familiar...

It's Iguanodon time! And oh boy, what a horrible mess. Back in the bad old days, artists frequently depicted Iguanodon with dainty, humanoid arms and tiny hands, not to mention elbows that were always, always flexed. This image, then, can be considered the nadir of a particular trend. There's not inconsiderable artistic skill at work here, so presumably the illustrator was just given very little to go on; whatever happened, the consequence is a catastrophic eyesore from top to bottom. All the way from Iguanodon's drooping lips and thunder thighs down to the megalosaur's (yes, megalosaur's) own withered and delicate appendage (ahem).

An excellent comment on this glorious work was provided by Matthew Inabinett over on Facebook. I'll reproduce it here in full.
A real goldmine of classic palaeoart tropes! Man in suit Iguanodon with PermaFlex™ arms? Check. Iguanodon and a megalosaur fighting? Check. The hunchback megalosaur? Check. Both of the dinosaurs having that scalloped back? Check. Iguanodon being mentioned to use its sharp thumbs to gouge its enemies' eyes out? Check.

Well, it looks as though all is in order here. Carry on.
 And carry on we shall.

Beautifully painted, but terribly outdated snake-necked plesiosaurs are a favourite trope of mine; they're so marvellously monstrous. Of course, while the scientific consensus is that they couldn't do this, due to a load of boring stuff about biomechanics, pioneering research by myself looks set to overturn this tiresome dogma. By manipulating fuzzy JPEG photographs of plesiosaur skeletons, I have discovered that they could arch their necks, pluck pterosaurs from the skies and drag hapless sailors to their doom. Look out for my book, The Plesiosaur Heresies, out next year.

Interestingly, the little fellow to the left appears to be a polycotylid. Don't see too many of them fellas 'round these parts. Also, Rhamphorynchus, for some reason.

If this, uh, light-fingered ornithomimosaur looks rather familiar to you, that's because it probably should; it's taken from Rourke's Tyrannosaurus, reviewed by David last year. The Parasaurolophus from said book also features, but is far too disturbing to be reproduced yet again here. Note also the illustration in the top right, which neatly fits in with the old trope of depicting ornithomimosaurs as rotund, but with limbs like a cranefly.

Rexy's back! And now that we've reached the complete illustration, I may make my point. Sure, the animal in the foreground is rather old-fashioned in appearance, if quite nicely painted. However, the background individual, taking a long stride and with one foot lifting off the ground, shows an energy not present in truly old-school palaeoart. So you see, it is a fitting example of old-meets-new, after all. I do like those insects, too.

Quite probably by the same artist (owing to the similar appearance of the bloater T. rex), this assemblage of Late Cretaceous creatures has mostly been included here because...the Euoplocephalus! Look at its cutey-pie face! It's like adorable Old Grampa Turtle. The others may demonstrate the perils of not having access to multi-angled reconstructions (or just drawing freehand and not giving a toss...whatever the case may be), but Grampa's sad face is far too distracting for anyone to notice. Superb.

Coming up next: I'm not sure! Can I borrow a book, anyone...?


  1. Oh dear. Given that the British Museum's Scolosaurus specimen was published a long time ago and the specimen has been on display for a long time also, I always find it weird that better reconstructions of Euoplocephalus didn't filter out into popsci books earlier. Everything about that dude is just so wrong.

  2. "This illustration is also a rare depiction of Dimetrodon encountering another carnivorous Early Permian synapsid, in this case Ophiacodon (imagine a slightly rubbish Dimetrodon without the sail)"

    The Ophiacodon head depicted looks unrecognizable as an Ophiacodon, it resembles a squashed plastic toy. That said, Dimetrodon's head looks pretty odd too.

    Also I await the release of the Plesiosaur Heresies, I hope you include the part about Liopleurodon having tentacles.

    1. Well, you might have a point there. But perspective is hard ;)

  3. "It's not labelled, but to the untrained eye (mine) it would appear to be the most foul and eeeevil gorgonopsid that ever lived on planet LV-426."

    It's in "The Humongous Book of Dinosaurs". When I was younger, I thought it was wrestling the lystrosaurus.

    "It's Iguanodon time!"

    I'm surprised no one has compared it to the Laelaps/Hadrosaurus drawing ( http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_LOpbWIPseDg/S0d72d-wb9I/AAAAAAAAAP4/VWfSUyRNy_Q/s400/441076537_47bc319d9b_o.jpg ), given their similarities.

    "Mammals, eh?"

    I can't help but wonder how a non-volant mammal could've caught what looks like a dragonfly?

  4. Your unique research technique is quite innovative Marc. Just imagine everything we could learn if scientists applied it to pterosaurs. It could help them discover hitherto unknown flamboyant soft tissues and maybe even teeny tiny pterosaur embryos!

    I can't wait to read The Plesiosaur Heresies.

  5. I'll be back in Canada in a few weeks, and will have access to my rather large retro Dino book collection... If I have a slow day I'll try to scan a few and send em your guy's way.

    As long as your Plesiosaur Heresies included evidence that large Pliosaurs grabbed Theropods right off the shore I'm cool with them :P

  6. Sometimes with these type of books, we can make fun of the inaccuracies and tropes whilst still appreciating the craftmanship that has gone into the artwork. It is somewhat more difficult to do the latter with this one.

    Some of the textures are nice but there are several illustrations with major perspective errors. Prob the worst of these is in the last pic where Triceratops' left horn appears to be growing out the side of its shield/frill.

    The Dimetrodon and Ophiacodon look *exactly* like the cheap plastic mouth-agape-and-monitor-lizard-legs dinos that seem to live in the $2 (and prob £1 - convert to your local currancy as needed) bins at cheap stores and misguided museum shops.

    1. The horn behind the eye seems to be a not uncommon pitfall (though one I hadn't noted until now). It happened here, too.

    2. I agree - I've noticed it in a lot of these jobbing illustrations altho' the one that you linked to is particularly bad.

      I also forgot to say that I would def buy Marc's book if it depicted Plesiosaurs hauling themselves onto the beach to lay their eggs.

  7. Coming up next: I'm not sure. Then I have four words for you. Land of the Lost!

  8. The readers are eager for your Plesiosaur Heresies, Marc. I hope you have an illustrator in mind...

  9. I love the Dimetrodon-Ophiacodon-monitor lizard picture. You don't usually see Dimetrodon being terribly active. It's a nice reminder, too, that while lizards may be cold-blooded, they can be active sometimes.

    But I swear I've seen that pose for those animals illustrated before. Any chance this picture was ripped off?

  10. Man! I still have this book! I didn't know there were other samples of it!


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