Unlike Giants of the Earth, illustrations in The Real Monsters are entirely supplied by Steve Kirk, and (given their age) they're mostly of a very high standard. The front cover is an excellent start, with an animal that, for all its toothiness, exerts a quiet, calculating menace (as opposed to roaring in your face and making a song and dance of things). Kirk clearly put the effort in to research what he was drawing. Perhaps most laudably, Kirk's work avoids blatant copycatting, particularly of John Sibbick, whose Normanpedia work provided the template du jour for many dinosaur illustrations in the early '90s. Where it's dated, it's mostly because the science has moved on - most obviously, there are those bothersome theropod forelimbs.
As it's one of the oldest known large carnivores, in addition to having a really cool-looking head that's loads of fun to illustrate, Dilophosaurus makes an appearance early on in the book. The animal is depicted lunging hungrily at The Coelophysid Formerly Known as Syntarsus (but now formally known as Megapnosaurus), which might be a little too old to have lived alongside it. Never mind - without the label, one can just imagine it's a generic coelophysoid, or maybe even a juvenile Dilophosaurus (the bastard!). The Dilophosaurus' tooth row seems to go a little too far back, and there's something a little off about its hind limbs that I can't quite put my finger on, but it's a decent illustration nevertheless - Kirk certainly has a flair for stylish colour schemes and patterns. It's also a relief to see a Dilophosaurus illustration from the early '90s in which it's engaging in a bit of actual Active Predation, given that many of the books I read back then claimed the animal's dainty lower jaw would have put it in peril during a fight.
The next theropod to appear is Allosaurus, and while the scene is less action-packed, it's clear from the animal's appearance that Kirk was paying close attention to the animal's skeleton. The trope is pretty much dead now, but for decades Allosaurus was popularly depicted without its characteristic head ornamentation, probably 'cos the artists found it easier to stick a lizardy bonce on and call it a day, and nobody cared that much. Here, at last, Allosaurus actually bloody well looks like Allosaurus in a children's book. Its skininess may be bordering on Kishian, but you've got to admire Kirk's effort.
Incidentally, the prey item here is Camptosaurus. Dougal Dixon is a little unkind about this popular allosaur-fodder (my emphasis):
"A 90-centimetre-long head, with jaws open wide and armed with saw-like teeth, bites into the thigh of a young Camptosaurus...Making no more than a panicking hiss sound, for its tiny brain cannot sense pain, the unfortunate animal collapses on its belly in the dust.""What's that mysterious crunching sound? Oh, whoops, I'm dead. What a pickle."
The book isn't all slavering carnivores, of course (much as my inner ten-year-old wishes it was), and here we have none other than Brachiosaurus, allowed to indulge in doing no more than standing around eating pine needles in a beautifully lit forest. I like the fleshiness of this sauropod, which seems to stay just on the right side of 'rotund megafatty', as well as the shading and clever use of gigantic trees that dwarf even the dinosaur, without diminishing its presence in the scene.
It's obvious why Brachiosaurus would make an appearance in a book dedicated to the biggest, most impressive dinosaurs, but not so much Iguanodon. While certainly massive when compared with most modern animals, there were a great many other ornithopods that rivalled and even exceeded it in size, and often threw crazy crests into the bargain - none of which appear here. I guess it's an obligatory inclusion in a Dougal Dixon book. In any case, this page is handy for demonstrating the layout of the book, with each animal receiving a boxout (often with a really ugly illustration, although not so much here) outlining key facts. We also see the legacy of the tongue lol-ol-olling Iguanodon trope from earlier decades in the okapi comparison. Fortunately, Kirk's lovely, mysterious, moonlit Iguanodon keep their tongues firmly inside their mouths, rather than go all Miley Cyrus on us.
On the face of it, Saltasaurus also seems a bit of a strange inclusion, being neither particularly large (by sauropod standards) or, presumably, fierce. It seems to have received a pass on the basis of being rather interesting-looking - after all, it's an armoured sauropod! Oh well - I'm cool with it if you are. This illustration is notable for the fact that it's from 1993 and the animal's not rearing (after Hallett/after Sibbick after Hallett), and also because the osteoderms are a bit spikier than usually depicted. I'd like to see more of Saltasaurus in palaeoart - after a peak period of popularity in the 1980s-90s, it seems to have fallen off illustrators' radars, replaced by more awesomebro titanosaurs TOTALLY BATTLING GIANT CARCHARODONTOSAURS TO THE DEATH!!!!1! Don't forget ol' Salty! I'll send a book (possibly this one) to the first person to illustrate Saltasaurus as a sailor and/or pirate. Now get to it.
As in any dinosaur book that's two decades old, some of the illustrations here have aged far more significantly than others, and none more obviously than this Spinosaurus. The vibrant red-and-black patterning is stunning, but oh boy, does it have problems (by modern standards). I posted this one on Facebook, and received the following comment from Adrian Wimmer (prompted by my dubbing it 'slightly retro', which I do maintain was stereotypically English understatement):
"Uncountable amount of small needlelike teeth, at least four fingers, pronated hands, squamata-like limb-orientation, apparently no pubis and ischium at all, as well as broken leg syndrome."Well, yes. But on the other hand, good luck finding a better Spinosaurus in a children's book from 1993 or earlier - at least this has the long, low snout, single midline crest, and notch in the toothrow. The incongruously weedy forelimbs are normal for restorations of the time, modelled as they were on less weird giant theropods, although the four fingers are a bit of mystery. Sticking four little piggies on Spinosaurus hands was something of a palaeoart meme back in the day, although no one seems to be quite sure where it came from. I'm inclined to think that it stems from Spinosaurus being seen as a quite 'basal' large theropod (they were all lumped together as 'carnosaurs' back then). Spinosaurs are today often regarded as megalosauroids, and Megalosaurus itself used to be depicted with four fingers on occasion, notably by Neave Parker. But I digress.
It might be a well-worn old beast, but there's no reason not to include Triceratops in a round-up of big, scary dinosaurs. For while Triceratops may have been herbivorous (or at least mostly herbivorous), an encounter with this elephant-sized reptilian m-m-m-monster buffalo would surely have been underwear-endangeringly terrifying. (Hey, any animal that could see off Tyrannosaurus must have been harder than a decades-old lump of Stilton hiding in a nuclear bunker.) This head-on view serves to emphasise the creature's mighty armament. Plaudits to Kirk for separating out the animal's toes when absolutely no-one else was yet doing so, even if the backdrop looks suspiciously like an agreeable stretch of countryside somewhere near Montpellier.
And finally...it's Tyrannosaurus. What else? In the book, as in reality, it is the ultimate huge, predatory dinosaur. Kirk's Sexy Rexy models a fetching stripy pattern; there's something particularly lovely about those facial stripes, which are something of a motif for tyrannosaurs in this book. While Kirk's Rexy has a muscular plumpness that I really like, in addition well-observed details around (for example) the feet, the Edmontosaurus appears to have been the victim of an unfortunate perspective-related smooshing accident. There do seem to be some perspective issues around the front of the Tyrannosaurus' torso, too. Nevertheless, it's tricky to make an animal as massive as Tyrannosaurus look agile, but not too agile, and I think Kirk pulls it off with some fanfare. It's certainly a striking image and an effective composition, with Rexy's head highlighted against the serene sky.
Next week: something else entirely! It's been brought to my attention again recently (by Niroot, of all people), that 20-year-old artwork is perhaps too recent to be regarded as 'vintage'. That's probably true, but 20 years is the cut-off point that has been set for this series, so I think I can get away with it - especially as the science of palaeontology has moved on so much. Next week, however, I plan on reviewing a book that's slightly more recent, and as such I will have to inaugurate the 'Vintageish Dinosaur Art' series. Hurrah!