Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Mighty Giants

Welcome back to the wonderful world of old-school dinosaur books - hey, it's been a while. The Mighty Giants - part of the Dinosaur World Pop-Up Books series (which ran to at least two books, apparently) - was published in 1988, but for all its scientific infidelity, it might as well have been published in 1978...or 1968. Yes, it's one of those. Hold on to your pear-shaped tyrannosaurs and oddly uniform teeth, everyone!

Long-term readers of the blog - who are so committed that we should probably all gather together for a cult-like mass marriage ceremony, before downing a fittingly toxic cocktail - may well remember that I am very fond of pop-up books. Sadly, there's nothing particularly inventive about the paper engineering in The Mighty Giants - some parts of the scene are raised up above others, and that's about it. In other words, it feels like an unnecessary gimmick, rather than genuinely adding to the enjoyment of turning the pages. This being so, it is left to the illustrations to entertain on their own merits. The cover, with its ever-so-shy tyrannosaur coyly sidestepping an extremely shiny-beaked Triceratops, is a good start, but there's much better inside.

The Mighty Giants doesn't waste any time in the rubbish Triassic, when dinosaurs were forced to elbow aside freakish psuedosuchians and the like for attention. Instead, we're immediately presented with a full-spread Apatosaurus - which, let's not forget, was also known as Brontosaurus (mostly thanks to books like this) - being accosted by four-toes-forward Allosaurus. I like the wartiness of Allosaurus, and at least there's a hint of a horn there. Still, this is seriously retro stuff for 1988, helped in no small part by the blatant Burian nod in the upper right.

Among the onlookers are this pair of rather man-in-suit Ceratosaurus, who as usual are loitering around on the sidelines while Allosaurus does all the hard work. Poor Ceratosaurus - its pop culture reputation has hardly improved since.

Then there's this thing. Good grief. I think this was intended to represent Ornitholestes, in which case it's still bloody odd-looking, if not so anachronistic. Its peculiar, no-neck appearance reminds me of the equally bizarre Coelophysis present in the first book I ever reviewed for this blog. Ah, those were the days.

Following this single Jurassic scene, The Mighty Giants moves on to the Late Cretaceous, by far the best part of the Mesozoic because, well, tyrannosaurs. In spite of this ostensibly being a scene of predatory chase, the animals here appear oddly static. The landscape is quite beautifully painted, but the dinosaurs are rather dreadfully retro, perhaps none more so than the foreground hadrosaurs.

While both follow the 'gangly dork' and toothy-beaked tropes, the "Trachodon" (read Edmontosaurus) gains an edge by further sporting webbed fingers. Both hadrosaurs look quite disgusted at the prospect of having to wade further into the water, which actually looks quite inviting, if I dare say so myself. Meanwhile, Polacanthus is just happy to be alive. Blimey, it's been hanging around for a while. I'm sure that suffering the indignity of being referred to as a 'giant lizard' was quite worth it.

The inevitable T. rex-and-foes spread is a little underwhelming, with assorted Hell Creek herbivores appearing understandably unconcerned by the presence of an ineffective, doddery, wrinkly, monarchical lurker, the dinosaur equivalent of Prince Charles. With a colour scheme that harkens back to (superior) Bernard Robinson illustrations and a misplaced earhole reminiscent of poorly-researched '70s crapness, Rexy is rather less than Sexy here. Still, I do enjoy the painterly foliage, moody sky and effective composition. The quality of the painting adds to my overall impression that illustrator Mike Peterkin probably produced some much better work, and that this dinosaur thing was just a job. Sorry for dragging it up again, Mike.

What Pachycephalosaurus thinks it's doing is anyone's guess. Perhaps it's trying to attack Rexy, in which case it's fatally misjudged just how far into the background it is. That's what you get for closing your eyes when you aim at people.

The background of the scene is occupied by a gaggle of Parasaurolophus in curiously John McLoughlin mode; check out the pins on the running individual to the right.

And to cap off what has, admittedly, been a rather brief post...marine reptiles. Meh. These ain't no dinosaurs! Still, there are plenty of memes to be had here, from the crested mosasaur to the craning, pterosaur-grabbing elasmosaur. Kronosaurus resembles a hollow plastic toy crocodile, while there's a fish for every Pteranodon in this utopian vision. Wonderful stuff.

Coming up next time: something far more substantial!


  1. Ornithosuchus was a real animal, but is was more closely related to Crocodiles than dinosaurs. That said, it was from Late Triassic Scotland, so what it is doing in Jurassic USA is beyond me.

  2. Sweet, except Polacanthus was about in the Early Cretaceous rather than the Late.

  3. The Coelophysis in your old post is based on Knight's Saltoposuchus. Did he ever paint Ornithosuchus?

    1. I don't know, but now you've got me wondering...

    2. Not that I've ever seen, but N. Parker DID.

    3. I don't recall CRK ever doing any Psudosuchian/Thecodont, or much Triassic work at all (just checked- the only Triassic work that I can find by Knight is a beautiful piece of a pack of Cynognathus confronting a Kammemeyeria; too bad, I would have loved to see how he handled the phytosaur/raiasuchian group)

  4. Tangential, but a curious thing is that in English-language popular stuff on Mesozoic marine reptiles I've seen, mosasaurs take a far more prominent role than I can remember them doing in Swedish-language childlhood stuff, despite much or most of the latter being translated works. I tended to think of Mesozoic marine reptiles as a largely ichthyosaur and plesiosaur affair, with the odd nothosaur or placodont bit player, marine crocs not getting much attention in childhood books either.

  5. "What Pachycephalosaurus thinks it's doing is anyone's guess. Perhaps it's trying to attack Rexy,"

    Looks more like it's trying to attack the cycad (Why IDK).


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