Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs - Living Monsters of the Past (Part 1)

Here's a book that I bought some months ago, only for it to disappear under a pile of quirkier, more remarkable tomes acquired from eBay. It's very typical early '90s fare (1993 specifically), authored by palaeontologist Michael Benton (who writes a popular book on dinosaurs aimed at a young audience every morning over breakfast) and illustrated by a number of artists, but mostly John Sibbick. However (and quite apart from the fantastic cover), I may have unfairly overlooked it. The Sibbick pieces on their own are worthy of a VDA post, and it's exactly those that I'll be looking at here.

...Which doesn't include the cover, I'm afraid. It's a lovely piece though, painted by Vladimir Krb to accompany an Albertosaurus skeletal mount at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada. It's here because I gots to include the cover, but I'll discuss it more next time. For now, there's Sibbick to be had.

The book is a fairly straightforward tour through the Mesozoic from start to finish, looking at which dinosaurs lived when, and also going into detail about the history behind some key palaeontological discoveries. Naturally, Plateosaurus pops up right at the start as an example of an Early Large Dinosaur. This reconstruction by Sibbick actually holds up better than many more recent ones, mainly because although the animals are depicted on all fours, they aren't moving anywhere in a hurry. (Or galloping.) Of course, many other aspects of the restoration are dated (the lack of meat at the base of the tail, for example), but for the early '90s it's not bad.

Although equally monochrome, Sibbick's Coelophysis is far more striking than his plateosaurs, decked out as it is in dashing spots-'n'-stripes. When compared with the Normanpedia Coelophysis (which was still being widely copied by other artists at the time), this is an altogether sleeker, more birdlike and less awkward-looking beast, and the fine details still impress; note the convincing flexion of the feet and toes as the animal strides forwards. Lovely vegetation, too.

In addition to the 'feature dinos', Sibbick also illustrated collections of closely-related animals. In this case, it's Now That's What I Call Stegosaurs, with the eponymous beastie standing proudly at the top. Moving clockwise around, we then have Tuojiangosaurus, Kentrosaurus, Lexovisaurus (middle) and Dacentrurus. For the most part these are rather nicely done - the Stegosaurus is reminiscent of the beautiful model made by Stephen Czerkas, only with a different plate arrangement. All of them have a very 'modern' look, with erect necks, tails and limbs. Only the Kentrosaurus seems a bit of a cop out - it's comparatively shapeless and non-descript, its legs hidden by generic-o-shrubs as if Sibbick couldn't be arsed finishing them. And the shoulder (or should that be hip?) spikes are missing. [EDIT: It may be that the caption in my copy has Dacentrurus and Kentrosaurus reversed - thanks to Vladimir Nikolov for pointing this out over on Facebook.] Still, lovely stuff overall.

Giant sauropods - now we're talking. Unlike those in some of Sibbick's '80s work, these are very much sauropods in the post-Dino Renaissance mould, tails held proudly aloft, striding purposefully forward and not taking no nonsense from nobody. Somehow, Sibbick pulls off the feat of making them look massive without much in the way of a point of reference (save the trees in the background); there's a firm impression of all that fleshy tonnage (and accurate feet to boot). That'll be Supersaurus (with snazzy stripes) at the back, perhaps slightly oversized in relation to Brachiosaurus, which here takes the middle ground. On the left we have...Brachiosaurus again. Sort of. As you've probably guessed, it's actually intended to represent the chimeratastic 'Ultrasauros', that long-forgotten mainstay of '90s dinosaur books - composed, fittingly enough, of parts from Brachiosaurus and Supersaurus.

Predictably, the book's theropods are far more dated than the sauropods, mainly thanks to all those pesky fluffy things that people keep turning up. Still, for the early '90s these dromaeosaurs (and extra) are all right - well proportioned and convincingly less lizardy-looking than the Normanpedia versions. The largest dromaeosaur is Deinonychus, of course, depicted with a retro-style allosauresque muzzle, while Dromaeosaurus and Velociraptor take the rear and front, respectively. Velociraptor's skull is especially well observered, as is that of Baryonyx. Which begs the question: what is Baryonyx doing here? Well, the title of the spread in which this illustration features is 'The Sickle Claws', and Benton notes in the text that
"It is still not clear whether Baryonyx is a deinonychid or not, and indeed it is not certain whether the claw went on its hand or foot!"
Which is curious, as I thought that everyone was quite certain by '93 that the heavy claws went on the hands, though my memories of the time largely consist of me watching a certain movie and then playing with my Command Compound Playset. Regardless, Sibbick's illustration depicts Baryonyx in its typical role of specialised fish eater, which is fine, but I do like that Dromaeosaurus is shown making off with a small lizard-like animal (as opposed to leaping at a giant hadrosaur much larger than itself, or something equally daft).

And speaking of giant hadrosaurs (seamless, I know) they are! Mostly in the form of cool haids. As usual, this lot appear to be modelling for a salon crest product catalogue; the crestless ones are Hadrosaurus (top) and Edmontosaurus (bottom), and you know the rest. Some lovely patterning again here, especially on Saurolophus' disembodied head, while poor old Tsintaosaurus' phallic appendage has never looked so upsettingly veiny. Noteworthy is the very Paulian appearance of the full-bodied hadrosaurs, now clearly depicted as being primarily quadrupedal. They're very well done for the time.

The other classical herbivores of the Cretaceous, the ceratopsians (titanosaurs? Who they?), are resplendent in all their monochromatic Sibbickian glory. They may look a little '90s-skinny these days (only Triceratops seems convincingly bulky), but these are still excellent illustrations. The Styracosaurus, with its slightly haggard, angular appearance and staring, beady eye is my favourite. It's just a shame that Sibbick didn't see fit to adorn these beasts with the same sort of beautiful patterning as seen elsewhere in the book - those frills are asking for it.

And finally...tyrannosaurs. It's normally quite easy to guess who's who, but some odd decisions have been made here that make it unclear. According to the caption, we have (from left to right) Daspletosaurus, Tyrannosaurus and Tarbosaurus. Whereas Daspletosaurus' head is alarmingly shrink-wrapped, the noggin on Rexy doesn't seem to fit a real T. rex skull very well at all, instead resembling that of a sort of generic giant carnivorous dinosaur. The arms are also far too long in the case of Tyrannosaurus and Tarbosaurus, and while this was very common at the time, it's especially jarring on the latter, which had stupid tiddly arms even for a tyrannosaur. I do like the perspective on the Tarbosaurus (unusual and effective), and Sibbick's produced plenty of brilliant tyrannosaur illustrations since, but it's a shame that Rexy couldn't have been more Sexy in this case.

Next time: more from Living Monsters, including Greg Paul (for it is he) and half a Tyrannosaurus. Right after I move house.


  1. I may be biased in several ways, but whilst I admire Sibbick's work in general in any case, I think I like his hadrosaurs best of all. Perhaps it's because they've aged most gracefully throughout his work compared with his other dinosaurs.

  2. I've always thought the Tarbosaurus in the final image was an Allosaurus. The skull looks absolutely nothing like a tyrannosaurid to me.

  3. The cover reminds me of Gerard Heilmann's delightful Gorgosaurus (now The origin of birds would make a good post).

  4. "but I'll discuss it more next time."

    Don't forget about the rest of Krb's paleoart in this book.

    "[EDIT: It may be that the caption in my copy has Dacentrurus and Kentrosaurus reversed - thanks to Vladimir Nikolov for pointing this out over on Facebook.]"

    I actually mentioned that in my review of this book ("It's also worth mentioning that, on page 29, Benton misidentifies Kentrosaurus as Dacentrurus & vice versa despite having correctly identified Kentrosaurus on page 28": ). In any case, I'm glad you finally got around to reviewing it too.

    "and Sibbick's produced plenty of brilliant tyrannosaur illustrations since, but it's a shame that Rexy couldn't have been more Sexy in this case."

    Have seen Sibbick's T.rex in Thimmesh's "Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How do we know what dinosaurs really looked like?" ( )? It's an especially Sexy Rexy IMO.

  5. I have this one, bought it especially for the wonderful artwork. I also recall it having lots of nice skeletal photos as well.


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