Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs! The 1987 Childcraft Annual - Part 2

May the 1980s bonanza continue (please do check out part 1 for background, amusing spinosaurs etc.) Having exclusively featured theropods in the first post, let's turn now to their fellow saurischian dinosaurs - you know, the often staggeringly huge ones with the long necks, long tails, and tendency to appear far more loveable than a reptilian behemoth the size of a house probably should. But we haven't just got sauropods - we've got Gregory S Paul™ sauropods!

When placed in the context of a book like this, it's extremely easy to see why Paul's work was so influential. Nothing else here comes close to matching the accuracy and fidelity of his illustrations, many of which (that unfortunate Avimimus aside) have aged extraordinarily well. Back in the 1980s, his fat-necked apatosaurs must have been revelatory for many readers of this book, accustomed to lazy, stereotyped, tube-necked old things drawn with scant attention to the fossils. The above piece almost seems to be goading those used to the old Zallingerian depictions. Here is the real Apatosaurus, striding straight towards you, a beast incredible in overall size, width of neck, and minuteness of head. The animals might look a bit underfed by today's standards, but by those of the time, it's an absolutely stunning, confrontational piece.

Paul also provides an illustration of an Apatosaurus rearing up to defend itself from an attacking Allosaurus. Again, it's worth noting the dramatic differences between Paul's sleek, lean predator, and the stocky-limbed Sibbickesque creations that pass for theropods elsewhere in the book. Oh, and the sauropod's quite nice too. Note the concave columnar hands with a single claw, something that a great many artists still can't quite get right. Time to sharpen up, guys - 1980s Greg Paul is beating you. (As an aside, the poor old Field Museum mount looks more than a little anachronistic when juxtaposed with these very Renaissance illustrations.)

Next to the Paulsterpieces, other attempts at apatosaur illustrations end up looking a little inadequate. Roberta Polfus gives good monochrome shading, and the heads of the animals are up-to-date at least, but the short tails, thin necks and large heads are way off the mark.

Elsewhere, Polfus also provides an illustration of a very silly hypothesis. While sauropods likely had more going on than the classic 'nostrils right above the nares' look modelled elsewhere in this book, there's no ruddy way that any known species went a-sproutin' a proboscis of some sort from their often wide-muzzled noggins. Handily, Darren Naish wrote a comprehensive history/takedown of the idea a few years ago on his infamous Tetrapod Zoology blog. Which brings us neatly to...

...This Saltasaurus, illustrated by Edward Brooks. The rearing pose is either copied from Mark Hallett, or else Sibbick-after-Hallett, but there's something interesting going on with the animal's face. Although not quite trunky, Old Salty does seem to be showing off quite a bit of lip. In fact, it resembles a 'big lipped diplodocid' model produced by John Martin and Richard Neave (see Darren's article as linked to above), but I don't know whether or not this illustration predates it. In any case, it's another example of a sauropod depicted with curiously mammalian facial features. While he might get certain other details wrong, Brooks does an excellent job of portraying the animals' scaly hide - the minute detail makes it seem almost palpable.

Brooks also illustrates Camarasaurus, but sadly doesn't replicate the excellent technique used on Old Salty's skin. Instead, the Ugliest Li'l Sauropod seems to have been sculpted out of candle wax, and in imminent danger of melting in the heat. The animal's shape is pretty much there, and it has a nice muscular tail, but this is probably one of the most extreme examples of Sibbickish Michelin Man dino-skin that I've seen. The animal's right hand has also morphed into something else entirely, and has become rather shapeless and generic, like David Cameron's face.

This being an unusually far-ranging kids' dinopedia, we're even treated to a spread-spanning illustration of Mamenchisaurus, the sauropod known for its proportionately ridiculous neck. This scene was again illustrated by Roberta Polfus, and if nothing else just seems bizarrely devoid of vegetation, as if the animals were wandering around a neatly cultivated palace garden, or invading an arboretum, with a distraught man with a large fork and flat cap presumably just out of frame. The lack of foliage certainly adds to the strangeness of it all - as if the creatures weren't surreal enough. I do like the stripiness and countershading, but there's some unfortunate noodle neck going on here (and the beast toddling over the horizon just looks hilarious. "Ooh, petunias!").

And finally...I've talked about 'Ultrasauros' plenty of times before. While Jim Jensen's chimeric beastie might never have existed in reality, it will always be fondly remembered as a staple of '80s and '90s dinosaur books, where it was mostly depicted as a sort of Giraffatitan on steroids - as it is here (by Jean Helmer). It seems apt that, when compared with the solid brown brachiosaur up front, the ghostly white 'Ultra' takes on the quality of a phantasm or illusion; something that was never really there. Aficionados of '80s dinosauriana will be happy to hear that the book makes sure to include that famous photo of Jensen touching up his baby's reconstructed forelimb.

The Childcraft Annual series will continue...


  1. I never got why a sauropod with a long neck would need a trunk. Just seems like overkill to me.

  2. Love the apatosaurs enjoying the water. Part of the dino rennaissance was getting them as far away as possible from even the smell of water. But just as the idea of perpetually watery sauropods is unrealistic so is the concept of a hydrophobic bronto. Elephants enjoy frequent romps in cool waters.Why shouldn't apatosaurs?

  3. @Marc Vincent

    Remember what I said in your previous post? I received my copy in the mail just yesterday & can't thank you enough! As it turns out, this is a book from my childhood that I had been trying to remember & track down, but couldn't until now. I thought the Velociraptor/Protoceratops pic in your previous post looked familiar (It's 1 of my favorite stories in this book), & then received the book & thought, "Is this the same book?" I then flipped to the ceratopsian & pachycephalosaur pages & thought, "OMG this is the same book!" I'm specifically referring to GSPaul's Torosaurus & Pachycephalosaurus. Would you mind sharing them in your next post? I also think that the Iguanodon, Segnosaurus, & Therizinosaurus pics are worth including for obvious reasons.

    "Oh, and the sauropod's quite nice too."

    Are those scars along the length of its neck? If so, they're a nice touch.

    "Next to the Paulsterpieces, other attempts at apatosaur illustrations end up looking a little inadequate."

    Is it just me, or does that water look awfully viscous?

  4. Whenever I find myself wondering what the big deal was about Greg Paul, I'm going to return to this post. The difference between his apatosaurs and the others is night and day. I just love that he gets the fat neck so far -- something that most artists apparently still can't bring themselves to do.

    On noodle-neck: Mamenchisaurus is the one sauropod where this is probably appropriate. See these photos of a cast of the holotype of M. hochuanensis.

  5. A wonderfully entertaining post, as always! As Mike said, a great reminder that Greg Paul was/is, in fact, a big deal.

    Any chance you could include a full scan of the Field Museum Apatosaurus image in the next post? I've never been able to find a decent 70s/80s photo! Which head does she have?

    1. "Which head does she have?"

      The right 1.

  6. This is definitely one of my fave dino books from childhood.

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  8. "animal's right hand has also morphed into something else entirely, and has become rather shapeless and generic, like David Cameron's face."

    You have to remember tha both hands are cropped out of your picture..... D:

    1. You can see most of the one I'm referring to, but you'll just have to trust me that it terminates in a series of vaguely defined fingers.

    2. Excuse the horrid picture quality:


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