Monday, August 12, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs and more Dinosaurs - Part 1

This week's book was lent to me by none other than Dave Hone - he of Archosaur Musings and Guardian fame (he's also written a few scientific papers, or something). Not only that, it was once owned by a certain Darren Tanke, if the inscription inside the cover is to be believed. Of course, what's far more important than any of that is the starkly obvious fact that many of the illustrations in Dinosaurs and more Dinosaurs are quite deranged - with more slavering, fanged, gnarled faces and over-the-top caricatures than a half hour of Fox News.

Of course, this isn't to deny that the artwork has a certain beauty. Far from it - there's plainly a skilled artist at work here, with George Solonevich's superb (not to mention unusual, for a dinosaur book) use of a painting style that could be described as impasto; thick layers of paint built up to give an almost three-dimensional texture. [Late update: David has looked at his work before - see his post for more biographical info.] Dating from 1965, the book is also fairly typical of the period in depicting dinosaurs as being rather podgy, slothful and monstrous. All the same, it's hard to ignore the fact that, damn, they're freaky.

The book moves chronologically through the Mesozoic (no Dimetrodon this time!), starting with the Triassic likes of this suspiciously anthropomorphic Plateosaurus. Actually, this is one of the more humdrum entries in this compendium of stupendobeasts; the anatomy's certainly weird, but you can see what Solonevich is getting at. With some other animals, it's considerably more difficult to determine.

Take this slithering dragonoid, for example - it's either a particularly nightmarish vision of Nessie, come a-crawlin' from the murky depths of that infamous loch, or it's the Early Jurassic sauropodomorph Anchisaurus. Take your pick. In the book, this prickly-mawed monstrosity is identified as Yaleosaurus, one of several peculiar uses of synonymous names.

Taking a brief sojourn into the world of Jurassic theropods, this image of Ornitholestes (naturally, depicted chasing a flying animal) is one of my favourites, just for being particularly spindly and spidery, with jaws packed with teeth that go all the way back (something of a visual motif in this book). It also has toes like the crooked fingers of a wizened old fairy-tale crone. The voluminous throat pouch is a nice touch, I feel.

This one's quite easy to guess - it's a fat (ie. large) theropod with three fingers, so it must be Allosaurus (here identified as Antrodemus, one of those dodgy genera from the taxonomic anarchy of the 19th Century). The body is rather conventional by contemporary standards, and boasts some wonderfully executed texturing and careful use of tone. Atop this sits a pair of jaws, seemingly bereft of eyes, with a zipper-like mouth and the snaking tongue of an heraldic dragon. Grown large in its dotage on the fatty limbs of disobedient children, Antrodemus has succumbed to blindness, but nevertheless can smell the sticky fingers of boys and girls who eat too many sweets, and emerges from their wardrobes as they sleep.

But never mind all that - let's return to the far more friendly world of sauropodomorphs! Here we see Cetiosaurus, always a smiley fellow, and quite clever too - in fact, it wore its brains on the outside. It may have had "dull little teeth", but the life aquatic was anything but banal for our plumbing-necked friend.

Meanwhile, this here beast is enjoying a snorkelling safari better than our puny human money can buy. With its giraffe-like neck, hippo-like face and dugong-like body, Dicraeosaurus was a bizarre creature indeed. Still, this is a good opportunity to admire the artistic skill of the illustrator; in depicting such tangible textures (I could make a drinking game out of this post), masterful shading and adorable fishies.

Diplodocus also makes an appearance, and is in more dire need of moisturiser than a thoroughly modern gentleman in a cosmetics advertisement. The geezer clearly needs to get back to his deep lake, where he could "still breathe very nicely without poking his whole head out of the water". And you wouldn't want to do that - your bonce might get mashed up in the jaws of the every-hungry allosaurs lurking on the shoreline.

Finally - for now - here is Brachiosaurus, a beautifully textured (take a shot!) mound of misshapen stucco flesh. Behold its sad gaze and edge-of-the-pie-dish crest. There is something peculiar in this collision of artistic prowess and complete lack of scientific reference. This is where decades-old dinosaur books differ from the modern day - even when the dinosaurs were grotesquely unscientific, the skill of the artist could still render them beautiful in their own peculiar way, as opposed to looking like rejects from a foggy N64 shoot-'em-up. And that's why I'm still plugging away on this blog! That, and the plaudits.

Coming next time: a whole lot more. Sorry to say, we've hardly even started.


  1. i had this title as well. great commentary!

  2. This was featured here before, as well.

    1. Oops, sorry. I'd completely forgotten.

    2. I've updated my post accordingly.

  3. I had this book, and wrote about it in an issue of "The Prehistoric Times" a couple years ago. I didn't much like it as a kid, due to the unusual artwork. I appreciate it more now, and really love the name "antrodemus" even if it's not a "true" dinosaur name. Looking forward to more posts about it.

  4. Ah, I remember this book! I'd love to see what the skull of that Antrodemus looks like. I imagine it has a little hinge at the back and probably functions the same way as the lid on a beer stein.

  5. Loved this book as a kid due to its sheer weirdness and the strange textures and lighting. If the artist had taken some time to do some actual research he might well have produced some art that was impressive for reasons other than its utter strangeness. I'll be looking forward to the next entry. This blog has fast become one of my favorites.

  6. I had this book too. The illustrations were weird and alien and monstrous, but that was cool, because that's exactly how I thought of dinosaurs back then. The Ceratosaurus on the front cover was especially nifty.

  7. Thanks Marc! I loved this book as a kid. Partly because of the weird creepiness of the dinos, partly the monochromatic heavily-textured look, but mainly because it introduced me to a heap of dinosaurs that I didn't know existed (and a couple that actually didn't - Teratosaurus, I'm looking at you).

    This was the book where I learnt that IPC Magazines hadn't just made up a bunch of dinosaurs for the card game based on the "Flesh" series in its "2000 AD" comic. I learnt that Stegosaurus wasn't the only Stegosaur, Ankylosaurus wasn't the only Ankylosaur, and that there were more Sauropods than just what the Morrison had to offer.

    I hope you're planning on assailing, er... delighting us with more from this book so I won't spoil any surprises altho' I think I recall that the Megaolsaurus was pretty Parkeresque in its stance.

  8. I loved this book. I knew every illustration was just utterly oh so wrong - but I didn't care! I wanted to believe those bizarre creatures were true. I treasured that book above all my other dino books. Seeing rainbow coloured raptor-chickens and T-rexes that look like they spend eight hours in the gym every day freaks me out. Gimme a scaly beast trippin over its own skin any day. Sorry, it's just my generation.

    I love your vintage art posts, especially this one. I look forward to Part 2 (3, 4, 5 and 6?).and have you done John Man's 'The Day of the Dinosaur' yet? Cheers!

  9. This book was one of my favorites, but he destroyed the allosaurus. Whenever I looked at this book and wanted to see a decent meat eater, it was the ceratosaurus or gorgosaurus.

    I have since found an old hard bound copy from a library, and the smaller softback.


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