Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Vintage Dinosaur Art: 100 Questions and Answers - Dinosaurs

Picture yourself back in the early '90s - specifically, 1993. Double denim is still acceptable, Jurassic Park is proving to be a boon for the manufacturers of hollow, gawping dinosaur toys, and endless, near-identical children's books on prehistoric animals line the still plentiful bookshops. What a wonderful time to be alive. 100 Questions and Answers: Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals is a very typical book of the age, which is to say that it's filled with shameless John Sibbick rip-offs. But hey, there's still some entertainment to be had along the way. Unless you're John Sibbick.

The cover was painted by a different illustrator to the rest of the illustrations - namely, John Butler. The scaly textures are actually rather nice, and reminiscent of our old favourite Bernard Robinson's work. The creature itself leaves a little to be desired - it's one of those peculiar, late '80s style 'diddy allosaur' dromaeosaurs, illustrated for whatever mad reason in a squatting position, like it's about to...lay an egg. Although there's no nest. Judging by the expression on its face, that's a particular large and painful...egg that it's trying to pass. Poor thing. Note the once obligatory 'Deinonychus dewlap', invented by Bakker and perpetuated by many others, including, yes, Sibbick in the Normanpedia. As I've said countless times, I'd still rather have carefully painted, but thoroughly inaccurate stuff like this than the CG eyesores that clog cheapo dinosaur books these days (see David's recent post).

All of the inside illustrations are supplied by Peter Bull. If he lived in the East Grinstead area at the time, he was presumably the sole reason why I could never find the Normanpedia in my local library. The title page, admittedly, appears to be quite Sibbick-free; here, we have an allosaur threatening a small sauropod, while in the distance another (quite Bakker Barosaurus-esque) beast is distracted by passing pterosaurs. Delve a little further, however, and things start to become a whole lot more tiresomely predictable.

Oh boy. Every single one of these creatures is a Normanpedia copy - even the oddball upright poses of the Tyrannosaurus and Pachycephalosaurus are reproduced faithfully, and it's pretty clear that Bull didn't really know how large these animals were relative to one another. Furthermore, there are some seriously iffy perspective fudges going on. A number of the animals, including Rexy, have legs that seem to be cut off at the knee, while Stegosaurus' head pokes out in front of Pachycephalosaurus in spite of the fact that it's clearly standing behind it. The Diplodocus, meanwhile, is just...horrible. And probably a mislabelled Apatosaurus.

Thankfully, there's a full-length illustration of the adorably goofy-looking, googly-eyed Rexy later on in the book, chowing down on some unfortunate green thingamabob. Rexy's malformed feet are a Sibbick feature, but his fantastically gormless expression and popping orange eyes are new. But where do the legs end and the feet begin?

Perhaps the most revealing spread in the book is on dinosaur intelligence. Naturally, troodonts are showcased as being especially brainy dinosaurs, perhaps capable of later evolving into shiny, dome-headed, tool-using green fellows. The individual on the left is obviously a direct copy of Sibbick's Troodon, and appears fairly respectable for the time. Meanwhile, the one on the right shows all the evidence of the artist having only the one reference to go on, what with its stumpy tail (foreshortened in the original) and spindly, atrophied calf muscles (hidden in the original). As if to accentuate its sheer derpiness, it even has the more vacant-looking face of the two. Still, if it's lucky, maybe Sibbick-Troodon will give it a smooch.

Equally brazen are these Tuojuiangosaurus. Again, the individual on the left (foreground) is simply a direct copy, while the one on the right is a deformed mirror-image. It's as if Sibbick's creations stumbled upon the land of their ugly, evil doppelgangers - the Lost Valley of the Shambles-o-saurs (which I'm quite sure is actually the title of the 23rd straight-to-video Land Before Time sequel).

Care to guess what the title of this spread is?

Of course they weren't - among animals, 'stupid' is rather relative. On the other hand, the Dinosauroid was pretty bloody stupid, and this one has a face like an adorable little octopus (or perhaps an Octorok). Say, has anyone drawn a feathered Dinosauroid yet? With cockerel-like tail feathers protruding from its pygostyle/coccyx. A Dinosauroid-rooster! Make it happen, as an amusing commentary on advances in palaeontology!

Thankfully, it's not just Sibbick who gets ripped off in this book - there's room for a little Greg Paul plagiarism, too. Note that the Paul copies immediately look more 'modern'; this Brachiosaurus, based on Paul's oft-updated Giraffatitan piece, appears incongruously lithe and muscular when compared with other sauropods in the book. By virtue of the magnificence of the original, this is one of the better illustrations in this book.

Other Paul copies are, shall we say, less successful. One has to feel a little sorry for these Allosaurus, apparently ignorant of the fact that their quarry sports the same very toothy head as they do. It'll be a bit of a shock when they get down to the good ol' fashioned neck bitin' later. (And yes, that's Nessie. And yes, it's mentioned that if it were ever found, it would probably be a marine reptile, and not a dinosaur. What's wrong with it being a freakishly gigantic temnospondyl? Or the twisted result of genetic experimentation by a hitherto unseen relict race of chrome-domed scaly green men living in a bubble base deep beneath the loch? Come on, use your imagination.)

And finally...Archaeopteryx, here painted as the Rainbow Chicken of Doom. Because birds are colourful, right? 'Cos they have feathers, yeah, and feathers are for showing off and that, right? Don't you remember that outbreak of mass hysteria in London in the 1960s, when a bunch of tripping hippies attempted to follow a flock of day-glo acid sparrows into the sky? Crazy times, man. Anyway, this Archaeopteryx at least doesn't have a scaly face or wing-hands (at least, the main illustration doesn't), but it's also lost its tail along the way. I blame the hungry, hungry hippies.


  1. "But where do the legs end and the feet begin?"

    A question that has baffled philosophers through the ages.

  2. "Sibbick's Troodon"

    It feels weird to me to call it that, since the animal was known as Stenonychosaurus until the late 1980s. It was my favorite dinosaur as a kid, and the synonymy took a while to get used to.

  3. Interesting to note that the Troodon on the right has significantly longer tibiae and far shorter tarsi than the direct copy, notwithstanding the likelihood of its being a 'rotated replication' of the one Sibbick reference. The ones in the background show a similar discrepancy -- the left looks particularly uncomfortable.

  4. As if I could resist drawing a feathery Dinosauroid!

    And here's the link!

  5. Thanks Marc, this one is a classic. It has it all - blatant copies, reconstructions that were even out-dated when they were done, bizarre anatomical anomalies, and major perspective howlers.

    You said that you prefer carefully painted stuff to the CG eyesores that we are inundated with but when I looked at the mouth of that weird Deinonychus on the cover, I briefly wondered if it was copied from a 3D model. Just look at those teeth.

    I think I've figured out what's going on with the Tyrannosaurus' right leg behind the Stegosaurus. What you interpret as the ground is actually a large yellow-ochre dewlap hanging down from the Stegosaurus' jaw and extending between its forelegs. Yes, that must be it.

    One thing that I don't understand with the Tuojiangosauruses is why Bull appears to have been incapable of accurately producing the mirror image. Did he trace the original and draw the mirror free-hand? Couldn't he have simply turned his tracing paper over and repeated the process? It's just weird how the skull of the one on the right is so different. And derpy. And weird.

    Those Archaeopteryx feet in the lower-right pic look like they belong on an owl.

  6. An Apatosaurus with a Baryonyx' head referred to as both an Apatosaurus and a Brontosaurus on the same page. That's gotta be some kind of record.
    BTW, Happiest. Archaeopteryx. EVER! Look at its happy face, chasing excitedly after that dragonfly-wasp-thingy with legs where no insect legs are supposed to go.

  7. I have to say... Enough bullying against the poor old dinosauroid, isn't it? I really liked that poor fellow. It cheered up my dinosaur-loving childhood.

  8. CG eyesores... CGIsores?

    You gotta wonder how guys like Peter Bull got work. He was cheap. I'll bet he was cheap.

  9. "Say, has anyone drawn a feathered Dinosauroid yet?"

    Yes ( http://kronosaurus82.deviantart.com/art/Dinosauroid-165479614 ) (See the 2nd pic down: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/2012/10/27/dinosauroids-revisited-revisited/ ).

    "And finally...Archaeopteryx, here painted as the Rainbow Chicken of Doom."

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned that Bull's Archaeopteryx illustrations are shameless rip-offs of Michael Coates' (which appear in Chapter 6 of Norman's "Dinosaur!").


    1. I'm aware of Memo's 'revised Dinosauroid' concept, but I just meant literally the original, with feathers. (Sorry if that's what the other one is...I can't check it right now.) Happily, some readers have already stepped up to the plate...

    2. Actually, neither link was meant to be in reference to Memo's concept. The 1st was for Bacchin's Dinosauroid ( http://www.darksidefactory.com/Disegni/Dinosauri/dinosauroide.jpg ) & the 2nd was for Eno from "Dinosapien" ( http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/files/2012/10/Dinosapien-IMDB-Oct-2012-tiny.jpg ).

  10. I haven't much time at the moment, so here's a quick sketch.

    I don't think I can reconcile myself to it, but if 'does not compute and ridiculous' is what we're after rather than 'plausible speculative zoology/evolution', then I think it qualifies fairly well.


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