Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaur Skeletons

Regular readers will know that I can't get enough of dinosaur pop-up books, having reviewed several over the years, and 1991's Dinosaur Skeletons is a worthy addition to the canon. Intriguingly, the book's concept is remarkably similar to that of 1984's Dinosaurs - a Lost World in Three Dimensions, only with considerably more up-to-date artwork - the titular skeletons are the pop-ups, while fleshed-out dinos are confined to the 2D illustrations. Not to worry - even a skeleton can threaten to take your eye out, especially when there's a mouth full of pointy teeth thrust in one's general direction.

The cover features a quite Sibbickian Torosaurus alongside a slightly iffy rendition of its skull (orbit's too big), which still works to get our attention. Note the fetching borders and decoration, which will be put to good use inside. All of the illustrations are by Bob Cremins.

The first animal to feature is Apatosaurus, and while hardly looking all thrusting and Paulian, it's nevertheless notable for holding its tail straight out behind it (except where curled to fit the page) - and that's without mentioning that glorious colour scheme. It's refreshing to see a sauropod of any era, never mind the early '90s, decked out in such a striking striped-and-spotted livery. While the animal is depicted simply standing around eating (rather than engaged in Brontosmash or whatever is fashionable among the kids these days), the single partially raised foot adds a subtle sense of motion that was always lacking in older kids' book palaeoart. (Mostly 'cos sauropods' legs were normally hidden by a good ten feet of water, but still.)

Unlike its fleshy counterpart, the skeletal Apatosaurus is still dragging its tail along - although it was probably based on an old skeletal mount. For the most part the pop-up skeletons in this book, while being necessarily simplified, are really rather good - just check out Apatosaurus' wacky-looking cervical vertebrae, there. (The 'creation and design' credit goes to Keith Moseley.) The background, with its evocative stony texture and lovely borders (which help emphasise the skeleton without distracting from it), features a number of pleasing touches. Chief among these is the remarkably creepy human skeleton, which looks as if it was walled into the backdrop and recently exhumed. If you're going to have a scale bar, make it a good 'un.

Of course, you can't have Apatosaurus in your book without introducing its erstwhile nemesis, Allosaurus. Or in this case, ALLOSAURUS!!! Having been quite classily understated so far, bringing in a giant theropod allows the book to introduce lightning, blood, leering shiny-toothed grins and jaws that go all the way, baby (you want more teeth? Well, I'm sure we could afford to lose some muscles, no biggy). It's only missing a sound recording of maniacal laughter. 

Captain Evilsaurus is accompanied by a well-observed pop-up torso of, er, T. rex. It's especially baffling precisely because it is so well made - any dinosaur fan will instantly recognise that skull, sagittal crest and all. Still, neat mechanism (the whole thing appears to lunge forward and the jaws open as the pages are opened).

Parasaurolophus is next and, thankfully, the skeleton matches the illustration. The pop-up here is similar to that in Dinosaurs - a Lost World in Three Dimensions, only rather more detailed, and was likely based on the Parasaurolophus walkeri type specimen. It's a nice piece (and there's that human skeleton again).

The illustration's quite pretty too, and appears to show animals of different growth stages (or else sexual dimorphism, although that isn't mentioned in the text). We're certainly a long way from the retrosaurs depicted in Lost World in 3D. Interestingly, the foreground animal appears to be a better match for the skeleton, while the one in the background has a touch of the John McLoughlin 'leggy hadrosaur' look about it (although only a touch). Again, the colour schemes are very attractive (mmm, stripy) and the background birds are a welcome addition.

The backs of some of the flaps are occupied by animals that, sadly, don't get their own pop-up (I'd love to see an attempt at a Stegosaurus skeleton!). Cremins' Stego is something of a victim of a perspective fudge, although it is at least interestingly coloured and 'modern' in overall aspect. Great border, too (look! Amber! Before Jurassic Park!). Meanwhile, some sort of feathered maniraptor (presumably Archaeopteryx) scampers along the bottom. It's yet another victim of an artist taking 'clawed fingers' rather the wrong way (and it's always amusing given how hugely long the animal's fingers really were), although at least having the upper toothrow extend below the eye is keeping things consistent.

Remember Torosaurus? It's back, and this time, it wants to stick its horns in your face! And the orbit's shrunk.

The accompanying illustration is much better than the one on the cover, certainly in terms of getting the perspective right and keeping the eyes, horns etc. in their correct places. I also like the tunnel effect created by the trees in the background - there's a strong sense that the animal's rushing inexorably towards us. I'm sure it's also reminiscent of a Bakker piece, but I can't quit put my finger on it...

Much like Stegosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus appears as a 'supplementary dinosaur'. Disappointingly, this seems to be the one instance where Cremins just cribbed from the Normanpedia. Boo! We're also given the customary illustration of two pachycephalosaurs clashing heads, although in this case they look more like they're bowing. Polite pachycephalosaurs.

Thankfully, Sibbick's faintly terrifying probe-fingered, saggy-necked monstrosity of a Deinonychus from the Normanpedia does not put it an appearance here. Instead, we are treated to these none-more-'80s curly-armed fellows, mouths agog, no doubt ready to start tearing apart a doe-eyed ornithopod with a long tail. A little predictable, but that's OK, because the pop-up is awesome!

No, I don't know what's going on with that foot. Shut up. It all looks really cool when you have the page spread out in front of you, believe me.

What an excellent impression of a lean, fleet-footed predator. I'm especially fond of the way the neck and jaws protrude from the page - it's ready to snap your clammy fingers off. Great stuff.


  1. Wow, thanks.
    "Vintage Dinosaur Art" are my favourite posts.

  2. Well, had they put an Allosaurus skeleton there, people would realize Allo is not, in fact, a South Park Canadian with pointy teeth. Eh, giant theropods, you seen one, you seen 'em all, isn't that right, 1991?

  3. I was going to say it was like Allosaurus by way of the Venom symbiote, but...

    "a South Park Canadian with pointy teeth"

    I can't unsee it.

    The book looks good overall, though. Like that Torosaurus.

  4. I had this book as a kid, and was LITERALLY just looking at this book an hour ago in my childhood bedroom in my parents house, thinking that it was pretty cool! So weird to see it here, and happy!


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