Thursday, November 27, 2014


With 1980s-style dinosaurs once again grabbing everyone's attention, thanks to the recent trailer for the long-delayed instalment of a certain cinematic franchise, it's only fitting that my latest book is a seminal specimen from the era. Hailing from around the same time as the Normanpedia,WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (which absolutely must be written in all-caps) sees Norman and Sibbick team up again, but this time the results are a little more fun (while avoiding anachronistic humans and dinosaurs made up by Ray Harryhausen). The cover says it all.

While Sibbick's artwork for the Normanpedia was very beautiful and hugely influential (to say the least), it was also a little retrograde in depicting rather static, shapeless flesh mountains, and fudging a lot of the finer anatomical details. This may well have been due to the constraints inherent in the need to produce 'spotter's guide'-type diagnostic illustrations, because the broadly similar-looking dinosaurs in WDTRE show a lot more dynamism. Just take a look at the cover - as if the brutal scene of predation (and tyrannosaur leering out at the viewer) weren't enough, everything's ON FREAKIN' FIRE thanks to a spot of obligatory Mesozoic volcanic activity. Note the tottering Corythosaurus in the background; the illustrations here continue to depict bipedal dinosaurs (or, those walking bipedally) in a largely upright posture. Still, at least Rexy is looking a lot more Sexy than in the Normanpedia, if a little sinister. As well he might.

Rexy's predatory exploits continue inside, where he's pictured standing like a big game hunter atop an unfortunate baby chasmosaur. One noteworthy aspect of the art in this book is the use of sloping and uneven ground, which isn't as common in palaeoart as you might think; in fact, Mark Witton specifically critiqued how illustrations often make the Mesozoic appear fit for Dalek conquest. While rocky mesas quickly become a bit of a trope, the scenes show a lot more variety than those in the Normanpedia, and the action quotient is ramped up considerably. Rexy is quite resplendent here, especially when compared with the weirdo, croc-headed Normanpedia version

Of course, the world's favourite theropod movie star can't have everything in his own way, and upon demanding a jacked-up salary and 30% of the proceeds from Jurassic World, he is promptly felled by an inaccurately rendered Euoplocephalus. Illustrations like this were quite common back in the day, but this is definitely one of my favourites - Sibbick's hyper-realistic style combines with the unfortunate perspective to make the puny-armed one look quite hilarious. One can almost picture the legs flailing around in the air while the creature screams like Wario.

Ankylosaurs spend a lot of time squatting around on the ground in WDRTE, as demonstrated by Scelidosaurus here. This piece is a particular favourite of mine for the depiction of Megalosaurus which, while a little on the chubby side, nevertheless has a convincingly mad, stupid look in its eyes. It's the piercing gaze of a slightly dim reptilian animal, and it's amazing how little palaeoart manages to nail that. The relatively 'modern' posture of the individual in the centre contrasts with the more upright posture of those in the foreground (which I've had to crop off, unfortunately) and background. Palaeoart was still going through that awkward transition, with the tail-dragging behemoths still persisting even as leaner, meaner tiresome clich├ęs were emerging...

...Like this one! Anyone's who's visited the Natural History Museum in London will probably remember how dark, cramped and scientifically outdated its dinosaur gallery was. They'll probably also remember the giant reproductions of spectacular John Sibbick artworks, one of which depicts a gang of Deinonychus athletically leaping onto an unfortunate Tenontosaurus. This similar piece can perhaps be considered a 'prototype'. While both works feature scaly Deinonychus (as was still considered acceptable at the time), the animals in the NHM piece appear more birdlike and sleek. Even so, the Deinonychus in the above painting are still a progression from the Normanpedia's disturbing, aye-aye fingered lizardy fellow, astonishingly convincing though it was at the time.

WDRTE clearly freed Sibbick to explore more unusual perspectives in his work, as demonstrated in the above piece, where the viewer takes on the perspective of an encroaching allosaur (note the shadow) and hence gains an idea of what it would be like to take on the spiky-tailed one. There are certainly problems here (not least the stegosaurs' drastically shortened tails), but this different approach is commendable, as is the unusual depiction of a rearing, tripod Stegosaurus. Note also the curling fingers of the Allosaurus - there is a tendency for artists to depict theropods with permanently extended digits, in spite of the fact that they often retained a lot of flexion in them.

Not every scene features a fight to the saurian death - herbivores are allowed to just do their own thing now and then. The pretty panorama above features a herd of Camptosaurus, without a hungry predator or scene-stealing sauropod in sight. The curling black tongue of the foreground individual might be a nod to old illustrations of Iguanodon, which often depicted it with a giraffe-like prehensile tongue for no good reason. There's a fair amount of awkwardly limp tail-dragging, but by and large it's aged better than...

...the book's depiction of Apatosaurus, a blunt-headed, Burianesque, proper brontosaur of a beast, decked out in drab Elephantine Grey and hanging around a generic Jurassic oasis. It might be 'cos I grew up in the 1990s (and was thus duly brainwashed with images of relatively spritely sauropods), but I really can't stand these things. At least Baby Bronto is quite the cutie. D'awwww.

I couldn't end on such a note, however, so here's another of my favourites - Plateosaurus in a thunderstorm. With Sibbick, it's all about the superfine details, and the way the rain palpably lashes against the plateosaur's skin in this illustration is simply marvellous. This illustration was one of many by Sibbick that really brought the Mesozoic alive for me as a kid, and fired my fascination with prehistory (that went away, and then came back again). I should mention that I know these illustrations from another source - namely, a promotional tie-in for PG Tips teabags. Sections of the illustrations were printed onto collectible cards, which could then be pasted onto the full illustration in an album, thus completing the picture. One could also buy a plush T. rex, and my mum's boss acquired one for me - I named him T. Tips (geddit?). Ah, thems were the days.

But enough shameless dino-nostalgia - there's enough of that being peddled by Hollywood these days. I'm off to eBay to try and find a new old dinosaur book. See you when!


  1. Thanks Marc. It's good to be able to compare Sibbick's dinosaurs from different times (when they were drawn/painted not when the dinos lived). Like a lot of people, I first became aware of his work when I bought the Normapedia, which was a relevation at the time and far in advance of any other dino books that I owned or had seen.

    Even tho' I thought that the legs of some of the dinos were too much like tree trunks, I loved how Sibbick had given them some real heft. The little clouds of dust around their feet was a bit of a trademark of his but also served to emphasise their mass. I like his skin textures too - he made his dinos look like real animals.

    Another recurring feature of his dino art is large theropods having one leg viewed from a front-on aspect with the three toes splayed out (also giving the appearance of bearing some weight).

    Regarding the tripod Stegosaurus, I'm sure I"ve seen this enough times with various stegosaurs (particularly Dacentrurus for some reason) that I would consider it a bit of a semi-trope. I'm unable to locate my copy of "Dinosaurs and more Dinosaurs" so pls correct me if I have misremembered, but I think that Solonevich depicted Dacentrurus leaning on a tree. CollectA also has a model of Dacentrurus rearing up.

    Lastly, the book may not say, or it may actually be an anachronistic T. rex harassing that Corythosaurus on the cover, but I was wondering whether the tyrannosaur was meant to be Daspletosaurus since that would be plausible both geographically and temporally.

    1. I'm sure I read that it was an anachronistic T. rex (which I let slide because I'm lovely really), but now I'm not so sure. It wouldn't be unprecedented (given that T. rex is too recent for Chasmosaurus, too).

  2. 80's? Did you see that phenomally scaly, crested mosasaur? That is 50's stuff galore!

  3. I just love the book reviews on this blog. That piece about Megalosaurus' stare is spot-on.

    Keep 'em coming.

  4. I remember these from the PG Tips promotion too. That Camptosaur herd is still one of my favourite pieces.

    For more old dinosaur books: I don't know if I've seen them here, but have you heard of the Dinosaur Fact File books? Published by Hamlyn in Canada, there were four fairly short softbacks in the series but I only have 'The End of the Dinosaurs' (found again when rummaging in my parent's attic recently. Well, actually my sister rummaging in said attic and screeching about 'clutter', 'rubbish' and 'hoarders', but I digress. Upshot is I managed to rescue this book...)
    Written by Mary O'Neill and published in 1989. The illustrator, John Bindon, seems to jump into the dinosaur renaissance with both feet. GSP-style accuracy but with a lively pen and ink drawing style reminiscent of William Stout - though entirely John's own thing, I would add - and no fear of colour in animals and environments. (the Stout connection might be especially strong in the book I have, which features a few sick, starving and dead dinosaurs with skin hanging off their bones...) It really holds up remarkably well today, naked pronated-hand maniraptorans nonwithstanding.

    1. Those sound fantastic! I haven't heard of them, unfortunately, but will go hunting on eBay now that you've mentioned them.

    2. There's a John Bindon illustration from one of the books in an old TetZoo post, though TBH I don't think it's a very good example of his work.

      That guy in the first comment doesn't think much of it either. ;D

      All the books seem to be on ebay and amazon for pretty good prices (almost as good as the original £1.99), so if you don't mind I'm off to snap up a few copies myself.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I'll 2nd what Warren JB said about O'Neill/Bindon's dino books. I especially like "A Family of Dinosaurs" ( ).

    "Just take a look at the cover - as if the brutal scene of predation (and tyrannosaur leering out at the viewer) weren't enough, everything's ON FREAKIN' FIRE thanks to a spot of obligatory Mesozoic volcanic activity."

    Titan Books may have the best quality dino book covers, but WDRTE definitely has the most awesomebro dino book cover. Symbion pandora put it best when she said ( ), "Great cover, or Greatest cover?? Fire, random volcanoes, the obligate pterosaur AND a T-rex viciously killing something-- what more could you ask from an '80's kids' dinosaur book?"

    "Of course, the world's favourite theropod movie star can't have everything in his own way, and upon demanding a jacked-up salary and 30% of the proceeds from Jurassic World, he is promptly felled by an inaccurately rendered Euoplocephalus"

    Looks more like the Pinacosaurus from the Normanpedia. In any case, it's 1 of more realistic ankylosaurid/tyrannosaurid pics I've seen (though obviously not as good as Sibbick's future work: ).

    "I couldn't end on such a note, however, so here's another of my favourites - Plateosaurus in a thunderstorm. With Sibbick, it's all about the superfine details, and the way the rain palpably lashes against the plateosaur's skin in this illustration is simply marvellous."

    Reminds me of the alternate cover for Gardom/Milner's "The Natural History Museum Book of Dinosaurs" in terms of atmosphere ( ).


  7. For more vintage dino books to review, may I mention Edwin Colbert's The Dinosaurs, or any of his works for that matter? He reproduces a number of artists for his books. The illustrations showing how Stegosaurus was restored in the early days (from The Dinosaurs) is particularly interesting, including the famous restoration covered in plates with spikes sprouting between them. Colbert devotes about four pages to describing and analysing these restorations.

    1. That commentary about the evolution of Stegosaurus restorations was one of the things that really stuck in my memory about the book, which was one of my favorites (it was the first time that I had seen illustrations by Parker). The only thing that I've seen that is similar is Donald Glut analysis of Tyrannosaurus restorations In Jurassic Classics and, more completely, The Complete T. rex. (Paul does some limited commentary for Allosaurus & a few others in Predatory Dinosaurs.)

      This post does give me a chance to inquire as to what is the best place to make a general inquiry or request. Responding in specific pages is rather confusing to find anything (which what I really dislike about blogs)

  8. This and Zallinger's "Dinosaurs and other Archosaurs" were my dino-art bibles back in the day. Scientific quibbles aside, Sibbick's rendering is completely mind-blowing.

  9. ZooBooks published a box set of magazines (in a fancy plastic case featuring Rex himself) about prehistoric life in the 80s, you could always track that down.


Trolls get baleted.