Monday, March 12, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Pocket Book of Dinosaurs

First published in 1984 (with this edition appearing in 1987), the Pocket Book of Dinosaurs from Kingfisher (and Michael Benton) is one of those A-Z 'dino dictionaries' that were seemingly so commonplace back in the day - so much so that, when Thomas Holtz sat down to write a dinosaur encyclopaedia back in 2001, he declared (or so we're told) that "THE WORLD DOESN'T NEED ANOTHER A-TO-Z LIST OF DINOSAURS!" Equally typically, it is awash with bland, samey illustrations of dinosaurs standing around, not doing much. As always, though, the 1980s can be relied upon to provide at least some interesting material, especially when one considers how the artwork fits into the long timeline of palaeoart.

By far the best artwork in this book is provided by Bernard Robinson, whose work I've looked at before. The cover is another fine example that plays to Robinson's greatest strength - creating touchably real scaly skin textures. Robinson's dinosaurs may be scientifically obsolete now, but it's hard not to admire him as an animal artist.






















Inside, Robinson provides some Mesozoic panoramas that perfectly capture the often awkward collision of old and new ideas that occurred in palaeoart at the time. The first one, depicting the late Triassic, is actually very modern-looking in many respects - check out the elevated tails of the Plateosaurus and the active running posture of the Procompsognathus.


















It's in the mid-Jurassic where things start getting a bit more recognisably Dino Dark Ages. Of course, both the megalosaur and stegosaur look very active. However, the Megalosaurus - in a typical, Neave Parker-esque skulking mode - looks rather strange, with very thin legs and adorable, humanoid arms and hands. The Dacentrurus shouldn't even be there, being as it was a Late Jurassic dinosaur. Still, for the early 1980s it's not bad at all, and at least the dinosaurs - even the tail-dragging Cetiosaurus tramping merrily by in the background - look like very mobile, exciting animals.















Weirdly, it seems like the further forward in time one goes in these illustrations, the more the dinosaurs devolve into 1950s-looking fatties. The slug-like Stegosaurus is particularly awkward, as is the round, thin-necked thunderthighs Apatosaurus. The Ornitholestes skipping merrily along on the beach provides an amusing contrast, though - like it's on holiday from a Bakker book. "Hey guys, just passing through! Enjoy your swamps, losers!"


















Man-in-suit Iguanodon alert! Actually, this one's completely overshadowed by the very distractingly hilarious peek-a-boo Anachronistic Cretaceous Megalosaurid™ (with five cute widdle fingers) sticking out from behind. It didn't scan particularly well but trust me - it looks like a cheap glove puppet. Come on Bernard, you're better than that! He could've at least given it a string of sausages or a truncheon.































I'm being mean, though. Nobody's perfect, and the vast majority of Robinson's work remains very beautiful. Although most of the dinosaurs in the Late Cretaceous scene below look very odd by today's standards (webbed hadrosaur hands...yee-ikes), at least some of them - the little pied fellas up there at the top of the page - are absolutely stunning. The composition of this scene is also very effective, giving a good impression of the vast size of some of the animals, especially Triceratops. Unless you see it in a museum on a regular basis it's easy to forget just how big Triceratops really was, and this illustration provides an excellent perspective.


















What of the non-Robinson stuff, then? Well, it's mostly pretty boring, and I'm not aware of who the illustrators were for each piece. However, there are some real gems. It seems that no 1980s dinosaur book is complete without a strange, strange ankylosaur, and here's one in the finest no-neck, stumpy-legged, short-tailed tradition. Love that head.











Then of course we have the bald Velociraptor with tiny hands:

















The Oviraptor with, uh, mane (and nose horn):






















And...Galli-what-in-holy-hell-is-this-o-mimus. The pencil-thin legs! The very deep, laterally compressed tail! That BEAK! Amazing.






















And finally: here's a very interesting photo of the Natural History Museum (London)'s dinosaur gallery, from a time before the Diplodocus was moved to the main hall (long, looong ago - but do let me know if you remember it that way. I'd be very interested, although I might refer to you as 'grandad' from now on). The Triceratops, stage right, has subsequently been moved into the main hall and then back into the dinosaur gallery. Meanwhile, the half-a-Tyrannosaurus in the background has been dismantled and is presumably in storage, except for its mandible; Darren Naish blogged about it once, and a very fascinating read that was. It seems like the Natural History Museum went for a cool, moody atmosphere when they opened their 'new' dino gallery in the early '90s and, as such, it's really bloody dark in there. I kinda wish it was a bit more like it used to be, for the ease of photography and examination. But then, I'm just never happy. 'Til next time!


11 comments:

  1. 'The Ornitholestes skipping merrily along on the beach provides an amusing contrast...'

    Made me laugh.

    I wonder how many of our non-British readers are familiar with the Punch and Judy references about the string of sausages and truncheon (a comment not designed to patronise, but made in genuine curiosity!).

    Also, why ever would you presume that a reader who may have known the dinosaur gallery as it was back then is necessarily male? *Folds arms* ;)

    And yes, I wish there was more light in there now, too.

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    1. It doesn't matter if they're male or female - they'll be 'grandad'. In my mind, grandads are always more likely to regale you with tales of the past - one of mine in particular was very prone to it...

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    2. Oh yes, and regarding Punch and Judy, I always like to see if I can get away with very anglocentric references in my posts ;)

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  2. Oh wow, I had this book as a child and browsed is frequently. Ah, nostalgia.

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  3. "I'm being mean, though. Nobody's perfect, and the vast majority of Robinson's work remains very beautiful. Although most of the dinosaurs in the Late Cretaceous scene below look very odd by today's standards (webbed hadrosaur hands...yee-ikes), at least some of them - the little pied fellas up there at the top of the page - are absolutely stunning. The composition of this scene is also very effective, giving a good impression of the vast size of some of the animals, especially Triceratops. Unless you see it in a museum on a regular basis it's easy to forget just how big Triceratops really was, and this illustration provides an excellent perspective."

    Where have I seen that Troodon? Oh yeah, here: http://babbletrish.blogspot.com/2011/04/maybe-greg-paul-has-point-lets-read.html

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  4. I love that the sexy rexy on the front cover seems to be shooing away a photographer.

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    1. Pity his hand is scarcely large enough to cover the lens...

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  5. I remember this! I bought it in the mid-eighties solely because it had listings for many dinos that were rarely included in other books, from Acanthopholis to Zephyrosaurus. Thus, it could have quite accurately been called "The A to Z Book of Dinosaurs". This would have been an improvement on the one that they went with since, at the time, it didn't actually fit into any pockets of mine other than those in my dressing gown. I don't have a dressing gown any more, so the book now resides on a shelf. I guess the "Shelf Book of Dinosaurs" doesn't have the same zing.

    Ha ha, just had a flick thru it again - you should've included the 'roid Iguanodon that's on the same page as the unicorn-headed Oviraptor. That neck, omg.

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    1. I want to see this "'roid Iguanodon". I entreat you to post it, please, Marc. Or even you, Mark R, if you can!

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  6. @Mark & Niroot - I will scan & add said Schwarzenneguanodon when I get home later.

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  7. The first time my parents took me to the Natural History Museum ( which must have been in 1977, I think) the dino's were all in that gallery.

    I remember how, on my next visit a few years later, I was pretty suprised to see the diplodocus the moment I walked in. Not only that, but the building itself had changed colour! In London in the 1970's, every builing was covered in a black layer of smog deposits; some time in the early 80's, that had all been sand-blasted away!

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