Monday, February 23, 2015

Vintage Dinosaur Art: LOOK at Dinosaurs

As I'm sure I've mentioned before (for how many years have I been writing these, again?), it's always a joy when a truly vintage dinosaur book finds its way into my clutches, as opposed to I Can't Believe It's Yet Another 1980s Dougal Dixon Dino Book or somesuch. Which isn't to say that the post-Dino Renaissance stuff can't be interesting - far from it - but there's an awful lot more of it about. The illustrations in LOOK at Dinosaurs (1962) aren't especially remarkable, but they're another glimpse into a long-lost scientific world - that of the bloated, lizardy, phylogerontic old swamp farts of Osborne-era palaeontology.



Just look at the fat tyrannosaur on the cover - that's a seriously chubtastic rexy, even making the sauropod below it appear svelte. This is the classic 'pear shaped' tripod T. rex, the victim of a lack of three-dimensional reference material. Apart from being blobby and toady, however, there isn't a great deal here that's unusual for the early 1960s - just another Zallingerian Kegosaurus rex to add to the pile.


Not all of the large theropods in LOOK at Dinosaurs are horribly overweight, mind you; the below Megalosaurus is actually rather wiry, with particularly skinny legs, and it appears to be inspired by both Neave Parker's classic hunchbacked take on the beast, and repetitive depictions of certain Morrison Formation theropods. Most of the illustrations (by Jo Acheson) are in a similar vein - monochrome, with a rather sketchy feel and mostly featuring isolated animals with little in the way of scenery. While not without their charm, they certainly aren't as memorable as others of the era.


Besides which, a great many of the illustrations induce palaeoart déjà vu - such as the below depiction of Ornitholestes chasing an Archaeopteryx-like dinosaur. The Charles Knight original was copied so often, it's very likely that this is a copy of a copy. David once collated a whole series of bird-robbing Ornitholestes - here's yet another one to add to the heap.


Neave Parker is another popular source of, uh, inspiration here - and it's hardly surprising, since his work was technically quite brilliant and published widely, not least in the Natural History Museum's own official dinosaur book. While perching Hypsilophodon were not Parker's idea - he merely illustrated them - it's notable that every subsequent depiction of them copied his peculiarly knobbly take on the animal. Acheson's illustration is itself notable for the individual on the left having an incongruously tiny head.

Of course, there's absolutely no evidence that Hypsilophodon was especially adapted to perch stiffly in an upright position while pining for the fjords, and this restoration has gone down in history along with 'rhinoceros Iguanodon' and 'sprawling Diplodocus' as one of those ever-so-hilarious wrong-headed early ideas about dinosaur life appearance and behaviour. That said, any modern depiction of this dinosaur doing anything other than running in terror from something is always very welcome. (This is where I should tip my hat to Collecta for that lovely toy they made.)


Further Parker-cribbing comes in the form of the below Cetiosaurus, a direct copy of Parker's massively rotund monochromatic monstrosity. Here, the blimp-like creature on the right contrasts markedly with the slimmer individual on the left (also featured on the cover), which more closely resembles a diplodocid; I can't help but wonder if Acheson intended them to be different species. Nothing much to write home about here if you're familiar with Parker's original, although this is one of the few proper spreads in the book, with a complete landscape (and a cool dark Sun) to complement the prehistoric megafauna action.


There are some neat illustrations to be had among the predictable Parker copies. Occasionally, Acheson illustrates fossil specimens alongside life restorations of the animals concerned. As such, a retro ankylosaur (below) is illustrated alongside material from 'Palaeoscincus', aka (in this case) Edmontonia. It's always a welcome treat when illustrators for children's books include quite well-observed depictions of fossil material - not only is it educational, it fires children's imaginations far more than I fear many publishers believe.


Similarly, Acheson illustrates Pacycephalosaurus' magnificent chromedome cranium alongside a life restoration of the animal. For whatever reason, the fleshed-out version features the type of terrifying cat/gecko eyes that artists were so fond of having bulge from the faces of troodonts back in the 1980s. All the same, it's one of the more precise and detailed pieces in the book, and for that the artist can only be commended.


And finally...there is indeed a Pteranodon in here. It just so happens to be in the middleground, lurking among several pterosaurs that clearly aren't Pteranodon. This may be the only case of the name 'Pteranodon' being misapplied as the generic term for all pterosaurs, rather than the poor winged-and-toothless one being lumped with the caption 'pterodactyl' (a trope that has now reached the stage of being turned into a sarcastic John Conway t-shirt). Noteworthy: a cliff-hanging pterosaur in a 1960s illustration that isn't upside down, and...is that a quad launching individual at bottom left? Probably not, but it won't stop me mentioning it in my new book, The Siege of Palaeontology's Glittering Ivory Tower, with foreword by Brian J Ford.


Oh yes. You read about it here first.

14 comments:

  1. Will a certain Mr Peters have a contribution to your upcoming book, Marc?

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    1. Who? It's all about fully aquatic terrestrially-adapted dinosaurs these days, baby!

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  2. That lower left pterosaur is, I strongly suspect, modeled on Dimorphodon from Seeley's 'Dragons of the Air'. He actually had them illustrated as bipeds and quadrupeds in different parts of the book but that one is both close in posture and head shape to D. so it looks like that's where it was taken from.

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  3. Is the T. rex being referred to as 'allosaur' in the accompanying text there?

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    1. It's actually not, in this case - the illustrations rarely match up exactly with the text in this book (often, the animal being referred to in the text will be illustrated two or three pages before or after)

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  4. That Megalosaurus illustration bears a close resemblance to Charles Knight's depiction of the AMNH Allosaurus...

    I want to do a Terrific Tetanurae post on ol' Meg, but the material is so junky and the genus is so
    dubious, which make it hard to write about the animal. Oh well.

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  5. The best part of this book is the title. I'm envisioning John Ostrom pointing to a mounted "Brontosaurus" skeleton and angrily shouting "Just LOOK at dinosaurs!" to some disinterested teenagers.

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  6. Agree with Dave re the Dimorphodon ID. There seems to have been four standard pterosaurs depicted in many dino books of around this vintage - D., Rhamphorhynchus, Pterodactyl(us), and Pteranodon.

    Also agree with thetetanuraeguy about the Megalosaurus being, er... inspired by Charles Knight's Allosaurus (except for the extra manal digit).

    Marc, I know you can't scan every page* but I'm disappointed that there is no representative from the ceratopsians. No suitably stoic Triceratops or gormless Monoclonius (Centrosaurus). Not even a disgruntled Protoceratops.

    *yes, yes you can

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    1. I can fix that. Just you wait. (I'll have to be very bitter about it, of course.)
      By the way, I normally limit myself to 8 or 9 scans, and seem to have a bias towards theropods. Well, they are the sexiest.

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  7. Thanks for posting this! I have fond childhood memories of looking through this book at the public library. It's possibly the first dinosaur book that made me think, "I could draw that..."

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  9. "Kegosaurus rex"?? I'm missing the reference.

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