Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Vintage-ish Dinosaur Art: Travels with Dinosaurs

After a long break from the series, I'm back with my first Vintage Dinosaur Art post in almost two years. Inspired by the cartoony style of Marc's post on Dinosaurs! A Spot-the-Difference Puzzle Book, I scanned a recent acquisition of my own, Travels with Dinosaurs. The book itself has scant information about the publication, but searching the web leads me to a publication date of 1997, making this not-quite-vintage, but it certainly is in spirit, so off we go.

The book was written by children's author Vezio Melgari and illustrated by Giovanni Giannini and Violayne Hulné. There's sadly no indication how Giannini and Hulné collaborated on the illustrations, which strongly resemble the work of Richard Scarry. Melgari's story is about a group of young animals - mainly of the canine persuasion, with a cat or two thrown in the mix - who are taken on a virtual reality trip through time by the Professor Alfred S. Wolfsbane, "specialist in several sciences and wizard of the computer world." It was the nineties! Of course, for our purposes, we're more concerned with how the dinosaurs are presented than we are in the story.

The first trip is to visit the "floating giants," AKA sauropods. Though Apatosaurus is depicted in its classic mid-century habit of standing half-submerged in water, it is referred to by the correct name, and the text even makes reference to the obsolescence of "Brontosaurus". The spread is a good introduction to the book's primary color aesthetic and odd mix of outmoded and contemporary ideas, as well as its admirable dedication to including smaller fauna in the mix, generally well labeled, as in the fish swimming around the sauropods' legs here.

The sauropods of Travels with Dinosaurs: Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, and Brachiosaurus.

Next up are various hadrosaurs, singled out for their "strange heads", since the variety of hadrosaur headgear has always been a popular focal point of picture books. Most interesting here is "Anatosaurus", which by the late nineties had been officially folded into Edmontosaurus for about a decade. It's standing in a familiar Knightian bipedal position (and creeping up on a tree fern in an unsavory way). The landscape combines the old and new again, repeating the old trope of barren, volcano-populated landscapes but also nodding to the Cretaceous flourishing of angiosperms.

The strange heads: Edmontosaurus FKA Anatosaurus, Corythosaurus, and Parasaurolophus

Thyreophorans get their spotlight next. Stegosaurus is featured front and center, as expected, rearing on two legs and munching on foliage, an old tradition. Velociraptor makes an appearance, menaced by Ankylosaurus and high-tailing it back to Asia (and presumably its own time, a couple million years previous). At least it's recognizable as a velociraptor-ish animal, rather than a generic post-JP raptor. Kentrosaurus is stripped of its teeth, which was never the case; though its original description only included a single tooth, and only fragments of teeth or emerging teeth thereafter, I'm not sure that toothless Kentrosaurus was ever a big theory - gladly corrected if it was.

Ankylosaurus, Kentrosaurus, and Stegosaurus represent Thyreophora

Appropriately enough, Triceratops takes center stage for the ceratopsians, with fellow old standby horn-faces Monoclonius and Styracosaurus playing back up. Check out the pretty-well-rendered noggin morphology of the baby Triceratops, huddled in the lower right-hand corner.

Styracosaurus, Triceratops, and Monoclonius, natch

The carnivores, appropriately enough, are represented by those twin titans of terror, Tyrannosaurus and... Iguanodon. Yeah, Iguanodon, tearing into Mosasaurus. Prof. Wolfsbane calls it "one of the largest carnivores... among the land dinosaurs," only bested by Tyrannosaurus. I don't know where this came from, other than Louis Figuier's famous, anachronistic Megalosaurus v. Iguanodon battle, in which it can safely be presumed that Iguanodon is merely fighting for its life, not trying to nom on its opponent. If anyone knows of any other depictions of a predatory Iguanodon, please let me know what I've missed. It's almost as if Melgari smooshed Megalosaurus and Iguanodon into a single wuzzlesaur, with the stereotypical skulking gait and predatory nature of the former and the thumb-spike of the latter. I love the glee on the face of Rexy, as if he's just thrilled that Iguanodon has changed teams and wants in on the action.

The terrible predators, Tyrannosaurus and Iguanodon.

The book's pterosaurs were cast in the old-school, leathery-demon mold, with little attention paid to scale or temporal accuracy. And hey, since we're at the seaside, Ichthyornis prepares for a water landing, and there's a typical Hesperornis. Look at it dive.

"Hey, big bats!"

Archaeopteryx, in classic sparkleraptor garb, is relegated to a spread dedicated to various birds (and a couple tapirs). It's presumably the Cenozoic now, therefore we're green and fresh and inviting rather than volcanic and barren. Palaelodus stands in the background, pink and misspelled. Prof. Wolfsbane's son Walt has gone missing, and some of his supposed friends choose to imagine him chased down by a ravenous Tyrannosaurus, menaced by Mastodonosaurus, or best of all, fed by Brachiosaurus to Mosasaurus. Poor Prof. Wolfsbane, I can only imagine his reaction.

Birds, tapirs, and dark fantasies

The last spread I'll share is the "record breakers," in which dubious facts and stale old canards are transmitted to a willing and impressionable junior readership. Here, we learn that Allosaurus was the "fiercest and most voracious" dinosaur, because science, and it certainly does seem excited by those jammie dodgers. Ouranosaurus gets to have the longest crest, Tanystropheus is lumped in with dinosaurs because why not, and golly: Composognathus is the size of a chicken.


So to sum up: whimsical illustrations that combine old views, somewhat contemporary knowledge, and head-scratching inaccuracies. Had Melgari gone with a lighter adventure narrative that didn't purport to be an encyclopedia-lite, poetic license would have been understandable, but instead we have a book that is mostly memorable for its bizarre un-facts.


  1. First of all, thanks for the use of 'wuzzlesaur'. I had a stuffed Bumblelion myself as a kid.

    I love how the sauropod page has the Paleozoic fish (including highly misspelled Dinichthys) with Jurassic dinosaurs. Ditto for the misspelled Ambypterus being caught by Hesperornis. Also, the 'Stegocephalus' there has been renamed, as that genus is an amphipod. What's the "Porteo fish" by the Iguanodon supposed to be?!

    Also amusing is how etymologies are only given when they're simple. "Parasaurolophus- near to Saurolophus, no then we'd have to explain what Saurolophus is... uh... 'a crested duckbill dinosaur'- Perfect!" Not that the etymologies of Monoclonius or Stegosaurus are correct anyway.

    And no, Kentrosaurus was never thought to be toothless. Note they even switched its label with Stegosaurus.

    1. Ah, excellent. Thanks for the notes, Mickey, especially the fish clarifications. It's an odd book, for sure, and I wonder if it was translated from Italian, accounting for some of the weird choices in wording.

    2. The "Porteo fish" is supposed to be Xiphactinus, historically known as Portheus (again, Italian mistranslation seems to be at work). Looks like a telephone-game-type recreation of a recreation of the Zallinger Life magazine Portheus.

      Interesting assortment of sources for the art: the pterosaurs are direct rips from the old MacMillan encyclopedia. The microsaur (labeled "Stegocephalus") mimicking the Coppertone dog below the pterosaurs is straight out of Burian, it should be Microbrachis (presumably they meant "stegocephalian" not the amphipod) Damn big microsaur, but the scale is all over the place anyway--look at the size of that Rhamphorhynchus above Iguanodon!

    3. Ah, I didn't know Portheus was a synonym of Xiphactinus. Stegocephalus was a genus of tetrapod referred to in some early 1900s references (e.g. listed as an archegosaurid in Camp, 1940), but I haven't been able to determine what it was eventually renamed to or synonymized with, presumably due to the amphipod preoccupying the name.

    4. I really don't think Stegocephalus was ever an amphibian genus, at least no one has formally proposed a new taxon Stegocephalus in Amphibia. All of those early 1900s mentions are either misspellings or misinterpretations of previous misspellings, usually errors for "stegocephalous" (e.g., Cox, 1876, Annual Report of the Geological Survey of Indiana: which features the line "the character observed in Archegosaurus and other Stegocephaus Batrachia", but even has a corrigendum on pg. 600 stating that "Stegocephalous" was meant). These typos, which look like a generic name, are the sort of thing that are easily absorbed into subsequent big taxon lists like Camp's.

    5. That would be interesting, much like the case of "Carnosaurus" and "Coelurosaurus" (Huene, 1929) for dinosaurs. If only we had a copy of "Lehman, J-P., 1955, Les fusions d'os exosqueleettiaues (dermiques) chez les Stegocephalus. Compte rendu hebdomadaire des seances de l’Academie des Sciences Paris, v.241, p. 1154-1157." to see what the issue was there.

    6. At least there wasn't "Ornithopus" or "Theropus". The worst of that trend (of applying the name of a group retroactively to a particular type) was probably Dinosaurus Rutimeyer, 1856, which turned out to be preoccupied by a titanosuchian (Woldheim, 1847)! (And the specimen was a Plateosaurus, anyway.)

  2. I recognize this art style. I've got a little book which I adored as a child, called 366 Animal Fables, all about well little folktales collected from around the world, and excerpts from larger stories from all corners of the world.

  3. I was pursuing this site the other day when I came across this entry and the request for other images of carnivorous Iguanodons. After think about it I realized today where I had previously encountered such a depiction: Marvel Comic's Devil Dinosaur #2 (Pub. May 1978). Here Iguanodon is depicted and described as "a beast to be reckoned with" as well as "a living engine of destruction and eager to prove it" with his "snapping jaws" that "answer to the call of his age - attack and destroy!" This "savage" Iguanodon attacks the titular Devil Dinosaur - a red T-Rex - unprovoked but is, of course, soundly defeated by the series' saurian hero.

    1. I remember Devil Dinosaur- it was by the Great Jack Kirby and was the first comic that I bought more than one copy, for "investment purposes". As I recall, "Devil" was red because he fell in lava.

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