"Dearest Marc,Or he might have just sent me an e-mail. But check it out - Russian vintageish dinosaur art! Hurrah.
I do hope this letter finds you well. On a recent field trip to the badlands of somewhere-or-other, one of my students mentioned a glorious 1990s dinosaur book filled with brightly coloured, haphazardly proportioned and occasionally obviously plagiarised dinosaurs, and I had to think of you. Please find a series of photographs enclosed.
Dr David Hone."
Dating from 1999, B MNP ANHO3ABPOB is partly a straightforward, factual book about dinosaurs, and partly a puzzle/activity book with wordsearches, colouring pages, and amusing/disturbing chimeric animals (but more on that later). The illustrations draw obvious inspiration from the classics (Burian, mostly), but also from other sources. That jolly Triceratops, for example, is somewhere in between a Mark Hallett painting and a Dinamation robot. Like many dinosaur books from the '90s, it has a curious mix of the old and the new...but errs towards the old.
The fun begins on the title page, as a lo-o-ong Stegosaurus (how many plates?) faces off against a Generic Theropod (we may presume Allosaurus), while Pteranodon circle overhead because, well, you've got to have Pteranodon.
The book features the typical tour back in time, with a charming chart illustrating the changing fauna through the ages - complete with what appears to be a phytosaur, Paraceratherium, and a suitably sparkleraptor-style Archaeopteryx. On the right of the spread we have that Triceratops again, this time accompanied by a baby. D'awww.
The sauropods in this book have some seriously strange stuff going on, mostly pertaining to stumpy, sprawling limbs and snake-like bodies. In particular, the apatosaur on the right appears to be slithering about the place in an especially serpentine fashion. I do quite like the rather lairy orange on that Diplodocus, mind you, even if it doesn't really suit the conventionally Burianesque plain, wrinkly body. Stick some spines, dewlaps and all-round disc brakes on there, and we'd be onto a winner.
Further Burian-derivatives appear in the form of Sexy Rexy (above), reminiscent of the great man's Tarbosaurus. There's a definite perspective fudge going on here - as if the artist drew in Rexy and the top half of the hadrosaur, then realised they'd made the hadrosaur a little too diminutive. Either that, or Rexy's picking up the poor ornithopod with just one of his supposedly puny arms (although that shadow suggests otherwise). Either way, things aren't looking good for the blue guy - there are ribs on show and the Dino Damage piece has been lost down the back of the sofa. Rexy, on the other hand, is thoroughly enjoying himself.
And on the right...there's an Ankylosaurus. Love those backward-sweeping head horns.
While the book does feature those Mesozoic 'others' (token ichthyosaur, token plesiosaur, and bloody Pteranodon), they share a spread with an ornithomimosaur for reasons that elude me. Mostly because I don't speak Russian, in spite of the fact that I drank an awful lot of a stereotypically Russian beverage while at university. Noteworthy: the Pteranodon is again rather Burianesque, but with stunted wings, while a charming ammonite is illustrated alongside the ichthyosaur. You know, there's a giant concrete ammonite stuck on a roundabout in a town not too far from me. I should take a photo sometime.
As I've previously mentioned, the book features fun games and things to do, in addition to the educational bits. The above spread appears to be a board game of some sort, and is rather reminiscent of a game that I had as a child. Based on the positioning of the arrows, it appears that friendly dinosaurs (such as the amused-looking hadrosaur, the sauropod, and the Dachshund-stegosaur) help you on your way, while pointy-faced carnivores send you scurrying back towards the CTAPT.
You know, that plesiosaur's clearly outgrown his pond. Should've moved to Scotland, waited for a certain glacial lake to form millions of years later, and then jumped on in there.
All this, and I haven't yet mentioned the name of Dave's student, the one who actually owns the book! For shame. Thank you, Anastasia Doronina. Your dot-to-dot and colouring skills (as seen above) are without par.
There's something quite wonderful about the way children inevitably give carnivorous dinosaurs (and sabre-toothed stinky mammals!) blood-stained teeth. I mean, it's a bit of a shame that Anastasia didn't manage to complete this page, but I do appreciate the pretty flower, speculative ceratopsian frill patterning and allusions to horrible, bloody violence.
And finally...while these creatures wouldn't look too out of place in some of the more bargain basement dinosaur books out there, I'm quite certain this is a puzzle exercise with the aim being to identify which animals have been combined to produce these...things. So yes, they're deliberately wrong, which always takes away some of the fun. Nevertheless, I think they're brilliant, especially the Godzilla-like stegotheropod, the plesiosaur with sauropod legs, and the Pteranodon/bird. A lot of them resemble some of the more hideous cheapy dinosaur toys out there, especially the Pteranodon, which I'm pretty sure I owned as a child. Wonderful.
Many thanks again to Anastasia and Dave for sharing this one!
LATE UPDATE: Meanwhile, somewhere in Dinosaur Provincial Park...
While the 'letter' from Dave was an obvious joke, it is true that the matter of this book came up while Dave and his students (including Anastasia) were out in the field. Dave's sent me a photo from the trip, depicting a lovely stretch of Dinosaur Provincial Park.