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 clichés 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!