Monday, January 13, 2014

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs and How They Lived

Like so many books of its time, Dinosaurs and How They Lived is an intriguing hodge-podge of the old, the new, and the flagrantly copied. By 1988, the texts of books like these reflected (by and large) post-Dino Renaissance ideas of highly active and evolutionarily successful animals. Outside of top-flight palaeoartist circles, however, the art often leaned on the accomplished, but badly outdated work of '50s-'70s illustrators. And John Sibbick.


Two illustrators are credited for this book - Giuliano Fornari and 'Sergio'. Fornari has illustrated quite a number of dinosaur books aimed at children, and his animals have a very solid, stoic, reptilian look reminiscent of earlier Sibbick (sometimes rather, shall we say, uncannily so...but more on that later). Sergio's approach and style are rather different, and I'd love to know which of the many illustrators named 'Sergio' out there he happens to be. The cover appears to be a Sergio piece (although the book sadly doesn't credit individual works), and depicts some odd-looking dromaeosaurs (tiny hands, lizardy heads and all) hassling what appears to be a Maiasaura. There's much better stuff inside, but at least it's getting the 'dinosaurs were exciting' message across. I guess.


Perhaps the best example of old palaeoart memes meeting new discoveries is this Wealden panorama by Sergio, in which Baryonyx - still the hot new kid on the block at that time - encounters tail-dragging, upright Iguanodon and our old friend, the Tottering Anachronistic Megalosaur (TAM). Happily, the TAM is not only identified as Megalosaurus itself - a legacy of the use of the genus as a taxonomic dumping ground - it also boasts the weird, hunched posture that was obligatory for megalosaurs until the '90s, and probably has its origins in Neave Parker's work. The Iguanodon, for all their outdated tripodal posing, do at least look to be quite normal by contemporary standards. Or...do they?


There's something afoot with these loveable ornithopods. One individual, otherwise quite reminiscent of Sibbick's work in the Normanpedia, seems to have turned to a life of corpse-plundering carnivory. It's all worryingly reminiscent of the cover of Dinosaur Mysteries. Quite what inspired this strange turn isn't clear; there's no mention in the text of possible omnivory, and there are no other instances in the book of herbivores-gone-bad. Perhaps Sergio was just having a bit of fun...


Other Sergio panoramas include this one, showcasing that eternal rivalry. While evidently a proficient artist and illustrator - the fine line work on show is quite lovely - it seems that Sergio didn't really 'do' dinosaurs. The Triceratops look suspiciously Sibbickian, while the T. rex is cribbed from another source entirely. Although I can't for the life of me remember where/whom the original was from, those faithfully reproduced four forward-facing toes are very familiar.


A downside of having multiple illustrators work on a book like this is that the same species can end up looking quite radically different each time it's featured. Here we have Fornari's (I presume) take on T. rex, which is beautifully painted and not too bad for the time, save the rather odd skull, which we can probably put down to a lack of decent 3D references.


Rexy pops up again in a Sergio illustration depicting the groovy psychedelic lightshow of certain death at the end of the Mesozoic. Here, the animal takes on multiple different appearances in the same picture. While perspective problems are afoot, this does seem to be in part due to the different sources used - those in the middleground are based on illustrations by other artists, while the foreground individual is Sergio's take on a Dinamation robot.


What's there left to say about scenes like this? I mean, really. You open up any '80s or '90s kids' dinosaur book, and there's Tenontosaurus shrugging its shoulders as it's shredded to a bloody pulp by a ravening gang of Deinonychus land-piranha. This one (seemingly by Sergio) is quite reminiscent of William Stout's work, with plenty of blood and gore for the kids. Perhaps most striking about this illustration is the depiction of Tenontosaurus, which seems to marry Ely Kish's hauntingly skeletal head with Sibbick's tubbs-o-saurus body. I do appreciate the superb shading on the Deinonychus' meme-tastic neck wattles, though; someone should bring them back (although I guess Luis Rey sorta already did).


Trust 1980s sauropods to show up an illustrator's outdated reference material. Perhaps the worst offender here is the 'Apatosaurus' at right, a true 'brontosaur' complete with mismatched head, blimp-like body and paper-thin neck. (The brachiosaur, meanwhile, reminds me very much of Giovanni Caselli's work.) At the same time, this piece allows us to see the illustrator's true strengths. The background buildings are stunningly, intricately detailed (more than this scan would suggest), while the accompanying birds and pedestrians are invested in plenty of charm and tiny, individual touches - it's a shame I've had to cut most of them out (tiny scanner, see). There ain't no gettin' away from those ugly lardopods, though. Pity.


While the sauropod scene was handled by Sergio, most 'group shots' are illustrated by Fornari. They're quite gorgeous, but to anyone remotely familiar with the Normanpedia, most of them look exceedingly familiar. The Centrosaurus (with its peculiar nose-bulge) and Styracosaurus are near-direct Sibbick copies, while the Chasmosaurus sports an identical colour scheme, even if it's not quite a clone. Skin textures are often quite Sibbickian too, with the occasional sojourn to a finer level of pebbliness. Even if Fornari includes the notable enhancement of a partly-concealed gentleman in dapper costume, such copying deserves a dose of stern finger-wagging.


That said, some of Fornari's Sibbick-tracing can still be appreciated for its unintentionally amusing results. These hadrosaur heads are wonderfully painted, but their resemblance to those placed atop Sibbick's full body versions gives this illustration the air of a grim Mesozoic hunter's lodge. It's as if someone went out a-shootin' those three tonne conifer-munchin' varmints. It's duckbill season!

Next time: more of this sort of thing! There are a few fondly remembered illustrations in this book, mostly of skeletons, that I'd never be forgiven for not featuring. And so I will. Don't say I don't do you any favours.

15 comments:

  1. The figure on the lower right of the apocalypse scene looks so outrageous! But it doesn't really look like a Tyrannosaurus to me if its supposed to be one. It actually reminds me of an Allosaurus.

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    1. Thanks to the lights going on there, I would even go so far as to say it look truly outrageous, truly, truly, truly outrageous!
      Sorry.

      The Apatosaurus look s a lot like that standard dinosaur set plastic Brontosaurus you can still find all over the place in cheap dinosaur toy sets. I wonder if he used that toy for reference.

      I do like the Tenontosaurus. Yeah, it's getting ripped apart, but at least it's got one pinned down. That is one step forward from the usual.

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  2. It looks to me like the iguanodon is doing an All Yesterdays impression

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  3. I have this book! I liked it when I was a young kid, but I didn't remember just how weird and sometimes awful it was. I haven't looked at it for at least 15 years by now. I remember the *Baryonyx* plate also included rather striking blue-and-white *Enaliornis* of unusual size. By the way, that *Polacanthus* is a rather obvious Sibbick rip-off, isn't it? I remember even noting this when I was a kid and had both this book and the Normanpedia around and found them looking very much the same.

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    1. 'Tis, and the Baryonyx is pilfered from somewhere too (more obvious if you can see the whole body, which you can't here), although I can't remember the illustrator. John Sibbick's creations became what Mark Witton has dubbed 'franchiseosaurs', in a similar way to the JP creatures in the '90s.

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    2. "'Tis, and the Baryonyx is pilfered from somewhere too (more obvious if you can see the whole body, which you can't here), although I can't remember the illustrator."

      Maybe Steve Kirk ( http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v624/fenchurch/blargh/olddinobooks4/snsdinoguide3.jpg )?

      -Hadiaz

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    3. Possibly, although I thought it was a bit older than that.

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  4. "while the T. rex is cribbed from another source entirely. Although I can't for the life of me remember where/whom the original was from, those faithfully reproduced four forward-facing toes are very familiar."

    I'm thinking Robinson's T.rex ( http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-rdv3DMgmUaQ/Toodv7szrhI/AAAAAAAAASw/Z1mccpPWHBo/s1600/Tyranno.jpg ), but I could be wrong.

    "while the T. rex is cribbed from another source entirely. Although I can't for the life of me remember where/whom the original was from, those faithfully reproduced four forward-facing toes are very familiar."

    I know this is newer, but this is what I thought of when I saw that T.rex: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v624/fenchurch/blargh/humongousbookofdinosaurs/hbod47.jpg

    -Hadiaz

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    1. Re the Robinson T. rex: the posture is certainly similar, but there's definitely another illustration out there in which the animal has rather therizinosaur-like feet. I think it appears in The Ultimate Dinosaur Book as an example of a 'wrong' illustration - I might have to dig it out.

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  5. Thanks again for another interesting review, Marc. I must say that I just assumed that the cover depicted the standard Tenontosaurus being mugged by Deinonychus trope, altho' Tenontosaurus is a bit more svelte than usually depicted in this scenario.

    The second pic (with the Sibbickian Polacanthus and the Parkeresque Megalosaurus) certainly is a bit of old-meets-new, perhaps depicted most sharply by the Iguanodons in the mid-distance. On the left we've got a couple of half-way modern, near-horizontal, cantilever-tail guys and they're being looked upon disapprovedly by three old-school, tail-dragging, lard-kangaroos on the right.

    At least we now know what Iguanodon probably used its thumb-spikes for — plucking delicacies such as kidneys and eyeballs from carcasses and saying "What a good boy am I" before scarfing them down.

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  6. That book's got some pretty damn good illustrations,even if a handful are Sibbick ripoffs

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  7. I'm confused how they got everything in the Tyrannosaurus skeletal outline almost exactly right, from the tiny notch of an anterior trochanter to the anterodorsal preacetabular concavity, EXCEPT that the pubis ends in a squared minimal expansion just like Carpenter et al.'s (2005) Ornitholestes figure, instead of a tyrannosaurid's real giant boot.

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  8. Pretty remarkable post. I simply came across your blog and desired to say that I have really enjoyed searching your blog posts.
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  9. I believe I still have this book!

    Fornari also did a beautiful book called the Great Dinosaur Atlas which we should both review someday.

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