Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Vintage Dinosaur Art: I Can Read About Dinosaurs

Late update: David covered this one before! Be sure to read his take. I try not to go over the same ground, but mistakes happen.

The 1970s are a particularly rich source of popular/children's dinosaur books, fuelled no doubt by the Dinosaur Renaissance, the fantastically cheesy B-movies of the time (the seminal example When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth appeared in 1970), or some combination thereupon. I Can Read About Dinosaurs (1972, illustrated by Judith Fringuello) is very typical of kids' books of the era; although the restorations are still old-fashioned in outlook, they're a lot more lively than they might have been back in the Zallinger days. It also features a very cool, nicely composed cover. Just check out those heroically posed Sexy Rexies, nonplussed by angry mountains and demonic, wraith-like pterosaurs. Aw yeah.

Sauropods are still depicted as being water-borne, albeit to various degrees. Diplodocus opts merely to wade in up to its knees in order to eat the mushy water plants that it surely had to feed on (just ignore all the hard evidence to the contrary, please), although it looks particularly smug about it. It's probably having a good laugh at some hydrophobic theropods on the shore, waving their arms around in frustration, thrashing their tails about on the ground and curling their lips (because it distracts from any mistakes in the animation, see).

Meanwhile, other sauropods - like these presumed brachiosaurs (below) - would rather go a little further, and have presumably swallowed huge quantities of rocks (or Brian J Ford manuscripts) before completely submerging themselves in the nearest deep lake with a sheer drop for a shoreline. As Matt Martyniuk noted over on our Facebook page,
"As a kid reading books like this, I was always impressed by how there were so many lakes that were basically steep 40ft vertical pits in the ground...lots of flooded mining operations back then I guess."
 So little about this idea makes any sense, it's a wonder that it persisted as long as it did, even as other completely silly notions were consigned to the dustbin of hilarious palaeoart retrospectives. But persist it did. Particularly enjoyable in this scene - quite apart from the sheer convenience of that 'mining pit' - is the depiction of a rubbish pig-nosed allosaur squatting on the bank, cursing his luck that he doesn't have a pair of strong legs and some kind of organ that could be used for sculling. "Isn't it about time Greg Paul showed up!?!"

Speaking of allosaurs...the name never suited them more than here. Allosaurus pops up twice, but looks completely different on each occasion. First time around, it's in a pot-bellied, spiky-crested Zallingerian guise, having somehow caught up with an unfortunate (but probably very careless) ornithopod. While clearly taking inspiration from the Peabody mural, this restoration has ended up more of a Godzilla-like fantasy creature than a theropod dinosaur. There's a nice sense of chaos and panic created by the use of harsh parallel lines around the animals, but it's definitely an illustration on the weirdo end of the scale; it's completely out of proportion, with all the horrifying rotundity of an oblivious middle-aged male tourist from northern Europe sunning himself on a Spanish beach.

Then, directly afterwards, we have this - an entirely different-looking, still very old school but notably better-proportioned beastie, depicted threatening Stegosaurus with a lascivious stare and toothy grin worthy of a sinister drunken aristocrat (so that's where Darwin came from). Steggy, of course, is having none of it, and offers the leering old git a face full of spikes by return. There's a bit of a perspective fudge going on here, where Stegosaurus is somehow both level with and in front of Allosaurus at the same time. Either that, or Steggy's tail tip is growing out if its knee. It could do with one on the other side, in which case it could spin them both around at the same time and take on two enemies at once, like some kind of walking war chariot. (Come to think of it, some stegosaurs - with their shoulder- or hip-mounted spiky bits - actually came quite close to that.)

While Allosaurus gets in on plenty of predatory action, he is - as ever - merely the warm-up act for the Greatest Predator the World has Ever Known (except those other ones we don't talk about), Sexy McRexy. Happily, Rexy's depiction in this book is rather more consistent and better researched - why, he even has distinct shoulders and a muscular neck. First on Rexy's menu is a hadrosaur gaily dancing the cancan. Crashing through the wall of the Parisian club in which La Troupe de Trachodon is performing, Rexy makes for the nearest web-footed dancer, who sadly has nowhere to run...and thus, the inevitable happens.

Quelle horreur! Alas, hadrosaurs have always been easy meat. Although this is a rather bloodless encounter, the text makes it clear that 'a terrible battle' is about to ensue, which at least implies that the herbivore won't go down without a fight (no matter how futile).

As ever, things don't always go Rexy's way. The below illustration is Fringuello's take on the classic Tyrannosaurus v Triceratops encounter. The latter's frill looks a bit odd, but I love the stylised billowing dust clouds being kicked up by its feet. Rexy, while looking a little unimpressed, has sensibly chosen not to try and nibble the raging ceratopsian...

...Unfortunately, he isn't so wise in his approach to tackling ankylosaurs, incurring an eye-watering dentist's bill by trying to chew on the armoured carapace of an adorably dinky '70s-style Ankylosaurus. Which, by the way, is pronounced An-KILL-o-sawr-us. KILL. KILL. KILL. Like many contemporary depictions of Ankylosaurus, which were based on scanty remains, misinterpreted fossils from other ankylosaurs, and older palaeoart, this one resembles some sort of angry, mutant exotic fruit. A kind of Killer Pineapple from the Kretaceous.

And finally...because you've probably had enough of theropod dinosaurs doing what Internet folk would probably describe as 'nomming' things, here's a marine sauropsid. Specifically, it's the elasmosaurid plesiosauroid plesiosaur, Elasmosaurus platyurus. Sadly, the work of utter killjoy plesiosaur researchers* now means that we know that animals such as this could not adopt the snaking neck positions that the artists of yesteryear were so fond of. It means that, except in the cases where books are extremely sloppily researched (as if that ever happens), we'll no longer see cocky-looking oceangoing reptiles adopting heraldic poses and poking their heads out of the waves just 'cos they can. Even though they can't. Alas, alas.

Oh, there is one more thing - many thanks to Niroot for letting me borrow this very precious book, and for braving the potential beer stains, torn pages and laboured jokes that would result. Au revoir!

*I'm joking, of course. It's just 'cos I happen to know one.


  1. Hey, That's the copy I sent Niroot a couple years ago! I still have a bunch of those that were part of a classroom set for a Greeland Arkansas school.

    1. Yeah, David just pointed out his previous post to me on Twitter, so I've updated my post. We do show some different stuff, so hopefully it's not a complete waste of time.

    2. Terry, for whatever bizarre reason, it had completely escaped me that you'd sent me this. And there I was, puzzling over how I came by it. I usually have a keen memory for such things. Further proof that there's not much left in my skull. I do apologise!

  2. awesome Dinosaur Art is never a waste of time ;)

  3. "Meanwhile, other sauropods - like these presumed brachiosaurs (below) - would rather go a little further, and have presumably swallowed huge quantities of rocks (or Brian J Ford manuscripts) before completely submerging themselves in the nearest deep lake with a sheer drop for a shoreline."

    What's really weird about these brachiosaurs is that their front legs are shorter than their back legs.


  4. Is this book suggesting Trachodon are female tyrannosaurs? Because that's no battle, that's a mating. Just look at the way Rexy sensibly nibbles at Trachodon's neck. Has anybody informed Jack Horner of this idea?

  5. Welp, now I need to draw a Killer Pineapple ankylosaur. (Ananapelta?)

  6. "An-KILL-o-sawr-us". Geez, were they trying to create child murderers?

  7. The Allosaurus vs Stegosaurus is a rip-off of another illustration. I can see it but I don't remember where it comes from.

  8. Replies
    1. No idea I'm afraid, not my book and I had to return it.


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