Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Finally, a few words on All Your Yesterdays

The original All Yesterdays, with art by John Conway and the mighty Memo, caused enough of a stir last year to break free from its 'niche publishing' status and make it into the mainstream media - even into delightful tabloid newspapers normally filled with right-wing batshittery and celebrity boobs. Now - or rather, a month ago, but I've only just caught up - the dream team brings us the fruits of their All Yesterdays art contest, which inspired artists far and wide to produce fine works of palaeontological speculation. All Your Yesterdays might be choppier than the original - that's to be expected, given the number of artists involved - but it's free, damn it, free! And considerably chunkier, too.

John Conway's bubble-headed Allosaurus, as featured in All Your Yesterdays.

 Unfortunately for me, the inimitable Dr Mark Witton, palaeontologist and illustrator extraordinaire, has already produced a blog post that makes any effort from me largely redundant. Of course, that's not going to stop me pumping out a few words, but if you want the definitive verdict, head over to Mark's blog, if you haven't already (and you probably have). I'll be keeping it brief.

Essentially, I agree with Mark Witton (a statement that I plan on putting on a t-shirt - hopefully he won't betray us all, like that Clegg guy). All Your Yesterdays, like its predecessor, is bloody marvellous for the most part. The quality of the artwork may see-saw a bit, but the good stuff really is right up there - with the likes of Emily Willoughby and Raven Amos, you can't go far wrong.

If I am to have any beef with the book - and believe me, it would be so little beef that you couldn't squeeze it between a pair of strangely sugary buns and bundle it with a cheap toy - then it would be with the fact that not every entry meets the All Yesterdays remit. There are some reconstructions that, like McLoughlin's ceratopsians, might appear plausible at first (if outlandish), but are contradicted by fossil evidence. (Naturally, I don't wish to name names - it's hardly as if the artists were being paid for these pieces.) These are occasionally recognised as such and defended on the grounds that they stir up discussion, which indeed they do, but one can't help but think of more suitable entries that may have been excluded.

By the same token, while I did enjoy the inclusion of a number of 'retro speculative' pieces - imagined wrong reconstructions by hypothetical past palaeoartists - they could've done with being given a separate section, much like the 'All Todays' section of All Yesterdays. That's a real nitpick, mind you, and I can scarcely quibble with any format that sees room for the inclusion of Lew Lashmit's hilariously well-observed "Georgosaurus".

Commenting on the art more broadly, there were a few too many instances of prehistoric animals being dressed up as extant ones, a practice that has seemingly grown more prevalent in light of All Yesterdays. Of course, Kosemen and Conway's work featured nothing of the sort, and with good reason - such images are jarring, and often end up looking like dinosaurs wearing adorable California pampered pooch outfits.

Elsewhere, there were a few odd turns in the text - while Alvaro Rozalen's Epidexipteryx was a stunning piece, was the depiction of the animal as arboreal really that much of a break from the norm? While I admittedly have some difficulty putting Luis Rey's memorable depiction aside, it's nevertheless a struggle to remember a reconstruction of it "bimbling about on the forest floor".

Nevertheless, this is a sterling (and free!) collection of work, and may introduce the more ignorant reader (such as I) to a host of lesser-known artists that are just as worthy of attention as those appearing in the likes of Dinosaur Art. It's also heartening to know of the number of highly talented palaeoartists who are out there, and - what's more - willing to be imaginative and daring for a project such as this. In light of this book, and of the legions of dedicated, passionate dino-artists it represents, there really isn't any excuse for publishers to be churning out kids' books full of godawful CG clag. Call me naive, but I must nevertheless insist: COMMISSION THESE PEOPLE.

3 comments:

  1. Hey, thanks a lot for bringing this to my attention! I had never even heard of either of these books despite them being *exactly* my kind of thing (this speculative dinosaur thing sounds like it was cooked up by people of the same vintage as I, who grew up on the books of Dougal Dixon...). Just downloaded All Your Yesterdays and am impressed with the first couple of illustrations. It's also cool to see such a diverse group of artists converge on a common theme. It's a bit like a paleoartist mix tape.

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  2. Oh man, John Conway's Giraffatitan is a thing of goddamn beauty.

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  3. What a wonderful project! It just goes to remind us how little we really know about dinosaurs. Bones can only tell us so much, and palaeontologists can only go so far. But the artist! They bring them to life. Think outside of the box! Don't be limited by saurian political correctness. Why not a semi-aquatic sauropod? Why not a pink pterodactyl? Dinosaurs belong as much to the world of imagination as to science.

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