Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs - a Picture Puffin Fact Book

Once again from the childhood library of LITC reader Jon Davies, Dinosaurs (a Picture Puffin Fact Book!) is aimed at small children and was quite obviously illustrated by an artist who was jobbing. Therefore, the text is rather perfunctory (of course) and many of the illustrations consist of pretty shameless Sibbick rip-offs, as was de rigueur back in the late '80s and early '90s, back before crappy CG came along and smeared its excreta-brown, low resolution skin textures over everything. It's a bit predictable, but it has its charms.

The cover definitely owes more than a little something to Sibbick's strange 1985 T. rex (although not as much as another piece I'll be getting to shortly), from the quirky look of its head, to the perspective, to the masses and masses of concentric wrinkles. For some reason, Colin Newman (for it was he) has opted to give his tyrant a hugely fat right leg. Maybe it's a swelling...or water retention. Whatever the case, it makes me long all the more for Niroot to finish that 'T. rex as Henry VIII' he's been promising. Pfff, anyone would think he had more important stuff to be doing...

The illustrations in this book are a slightly uneasy mix of the really quite cartoony, and at least semi-serious attempts at actually restoring the animal in question and making it appear lifelike. This warty Megalosaurus is definitely in the former camp, and I love it all the more for that. Look, it's giving you the eye. You devilish rake, Megalosaurus, you. In fairness, it's also praiseworthy in that it avoids copying Neave Parker yet again (no hunchbacks here!), and duly gives the animal three, reasonably robust fingers rather than four or five tiny little piggies.

Turning the dial back to 'serious' now, and it's another piece clearly inspired by Sibbick. However, Newman has seen fit to truly turn Heterodontosaurus over to the dark side, with the addition of extra fangs and vicious-looking hand claws. It looks ready to be installed in a ramshackle 'HAUNTED MESOZOIC' funfair ghost train, stuck on the end of a lever mechanism so that it can be shoved in the faces of unsuspecting suckers.

There's often one illustration in these books that's remarkably good given the context, and here it's this Archaeopteryx. It might not be perfect, but it avoids the tedious trope of sticking extra tiny fingers on the wings because, you know, 'Archaeopteryx had clawed hands on its wings'. It also looks lovely, with carefully painted feathers and a stunning, vibrant colour scheme. It's worth pointing out that there is an equally gorgeous perched individual to the left of this one, with the text noting that "When it was on the ground, Archaeopteryx tucked its wings into its sides and ran on two legs just like our birds do today". It makes a pleasant change from the prevalent image of this dinosaur up until that point, which tended to be with its arms flapping crazily, or extended out as it lunged for its prey. These portraits are...dignified. Look, it even has a closed mouth!

Unfortunately, the book can't keep up such a high standard for very long, and just has to go and bring in the boring bloody brontosaurs, toting their mismatched heads for all they're worth. Why this chimeric monstrosity was still being inserted into books as late as 1987, I have no idea; that the animal was properly classified as Apatosaurus excelsus and had a diplodocid head was common knowledge long before then. I guess we can blame cultural inertia and people's nostalgic fondness for that name (look out for my new essay, Bollocks to Brontosaurus, appearing on here in the near future. Maybe. Probably not). People also cling to things that they remember enjoying as a child, hence the inexplicable popularity of Cadbury's chocolate in my home country in spite of its slightly peculiar taste, and the occasional angry comments on this blog when I criticise an artist for drawing an anachronistic 'brontosaur' in the '80s.

Ah, there we go - the aforementioned, very straightforward rip-off of Sibbick's meat-slinging slightly strange upright T. rex. It's even propping itself up on the huge, meaty carcass it's just bumped into. Unfortunately, such a stance made the beast rather prone to...

...tyrannosaur tipping! Here, we see the unfortunate result of T. rex having been toppled by a cheeky nudge from Triceratops, who is seen snorting with laughter in the foreground. (Well, it's certainly not sunning itself...not in that weather.) Or maybe it's a depiction of the extinction of the dinosaurs, I dunno.

And finally...a palaeontologist at work. Those shiny, toned legs and cut-off jeans are scandalously sexy, you know. Not so sure about the beard or slightly shrunken head, but I'm sure we can work something out. Anyone want to place any bets as to who this might have been based on...?

5 comments:

  1. I like how by sheer luck the Archaeopteryx has black primary feathers!

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  2. So, judging by that T-rex in the apocalyptic scene there...dinosaurs died by being impaled by giant conifers?

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  3. I think that palaeontologist looks like Jack Horner.

    And that conifer does look like some sort of giant arrow.

    Have to give the artist one point for depicting the "Brontosauruses" walking aroun on land even tho' the text states that they spent most of their time in swamps. (Why is it always 'swamps' and not lakes or rivers?).

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  4. Looking at the trees in the picture: Just how big are those Brontos?

    The keeled over T. rex is probably the funniest thing I'll see all day. That said, there is something odd about its pose, probably the head. It looks kinda like Newman used a swimsuit catalog or something like that for reference, just leaving out the arms of the original model the head rested on in the reference picture.

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  5. Who knew Heterodontosaurus was an avepod?

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