How would today’s animals fare if introduced to Mesozoic dinosaurs? It’s a scenario that’s been posited a number of times in print, sometimes with hilarious results. Fortunately, this title is completely free of atrocious Photoshop butchery and/or Dougal Dixon. Instead, this delightful 1992 book from Patricia Mullins features a series of charming illustrations produced using what is, for a kids’ dinosaur book, a very unusual technique. (I asked Natee about this, and they thought that Mullins likely utilised a printmaking technique, possibly monoprint, with collage and some painting on top.) It’s a gloriously brightly-coloured affair that manages to combine exciting and (for their time) pretty accurate illustrations of dinosaurs with equally well-observed depictions of living animals. A noteworthy feat…and not an orca-swallowing pliosaur in sight.
This was another one sent to me by Charles Leon. Thank you Charles!
The fact that it’s possible to name the dinosaurs depicted on the front and back covers is a good start. From left to right, we appear to have Ouranosaurus, Oviraptor, Ceratosaurus and Deinonychus. These reconstructions are up to contemporary standards, which does mean that both Oviraptor and Deinonychus are completely scaly, while the former sports that good old erroneous nose horn. Ceratosaurus looks unusually fearsome in black with Red Eyes of Evil; for some reason, there’s a tendency in art to depict it as Allosaurus‘ wimpy neighbour, so it’s pleasing to see it almost literally front and centre like this. The tiger stripes on Deinonychus became something of a cliché in the 1990s, but there’s no denying that they look fetching. What we really need to talk about, though, are those textures. These depictions are stylised as opposed to strictly realistic, of course, but the textures really pop from the page; I can almost feel those warm, dry scaly hides under my fingers. Great stuff.
Inside, and a group of ornithopods confront some of their modern relatives (with some lizards thrown in for good measure). The hind limbs on the iguanodontid are very elephantine (perhaps taking cues from 1980s Sibbick?), but at least the heads of the animals are well-observed. The various creatures on the right of the spread don’t appear to be too pleased about this confrontation, especially the frilled lizard and the mallard, which seems to be screaming furiously in the direction of the rather nonplussed Parasaurolophus. I really like the use of some of the largest birds alive today, along with a very familiar ‘everyday’ bird, to highlight the huge size of these ‘bird footed’ dinosaurs. And the lizards are a nice bonus. Look, a chameleon!
Parades of animals are a popular feature of children’s books, allowing direct comparisons between animals that would otherwise rather not be seen together in public. In this case, Mullins emphasises Diplodocus‘ huge length by featuring it alongside a surprising and quite delightful plethora of modern animals, including an okapi and what appears to be a wombat. I’m especially fond of the elephant’s wrinkly, creased-up skin. The dinosaur itself has a certain retro air, likely due to the overly humped back and drooping tail, although the tail at least doesn’t appear to be dragged and snaking. Still, that the illustration combines pre- and post-Dino Renaissance ideas and artistic tendencies is very typical for the era, when artists would still have had to use whatever reference material they could get hold of in print. (They were simpler times. Did you know that year was the first time I visited Blackgang Chine? Well, it was. Formative experience, that.)
And speaking of retro stylings, here’s Rexy, looking not entirely dissimilar to an old Burian painting. Chunky of leg and upright of posture, he’s shown here being nipped in the knee by a very, very stupid crocodile. One might imagine Rexy chomping down on this pest, but I like to imagine him giving it a hefty kick and punting it over the horizon like a rugby ball. I mean, look at those glowering red eyes – he’s PROPER MIFFED. Any reservations about the slightly retrograde nature of the reconstruction aside, the texturing here is, again, wondrous to behold. The clever mixture of different types of scales on Rexy’s body is simply superb. I’m quite fond of the rather abstract landscape, too, which reminds me of Charlie Chalk – which I was probably watching in 1992. I’m also sure that I’ve mentioned that particular cartoon at least once before. Don’t hit 30, kids.
Which dinosaur would run faster than an ostrich? The ostrich mimic. Even better than the real thing, but – as the artwork illustrates – still not as fast as a racehorse, and nothing like as absurdly rapid as a cheetah. Another lovely illustration, although it does lead me to wonder – has anyone seriously studied just how fast ornithomimosaurs could run? Go on LITC readership, do my homework for me.
On a similar theme, Mullins directly compares a stampeded of African mammals with a marauding group of Triceratops. I particularly like the parallel between the juvenile rhinoceros and tiny Triceratops, and quite apart from the lovingly illustrated mammals, the dinosaurs have a wonderful variety of scale patterns and textures across their bodies. There’s something quite familiar about the pose of the green Triceratops on the left – it reminds me of a Bakker illustration that I can’t find online just now, although it’s far from being an outright copy.
Surprisingly, Stegosaurus gets away without a mention of its tiny brain. Instead, its presumed prodigious appetite is spotlighted. This is perhaps the most old-fashioned reconstruction of all, featuring a Stegosaurus that could have walked out of a Zallingerian mural although, again, its tail is just about held clear of the ground. Nevertheless, this is another excellent application of the artistic technique used in this book, and I do like the unusual comparison with modern horses. Horses evolved in an environment that simply didn’t exist in Stegosaurus‘ time, but it would seem that, like horses, Stegosaurus would have spent a lot of its time with its head low down near the ground, munching away on plants. Admittedly, that’s probably where any similarities end, but the use of a very familiar modern animal is still effective in a kids’ book.
Comparing Brachiosaurus with a giraffe would seem much more obvious. I mean, one former Brachiosaurus species is now in the genus Giraffatitan, fercryinoutloud. Still, this is a great image. Placed next to a giraffe, this particular depiction of Brachiosaurus resembles the mountain of scaly flesh that it surely was in life. In fact, the more I look at this illustration, the more terrifying the idea of this beast even walking around seems. I mean, look at the size of that bloody thing; dimwitted it may have been, but enormously powerful too. A safe distance would definitely have been called for.
And finally…effective as the previous piece was, a comparison with a mere giraffe isn’t worthy of the mighty Brachiosaurus. So, why not lots of modern animals stacked on top of one another, instead? This image is not only utterly charming, beautifully made and rather funny, it’s a brilliantly effective and original way of underscoring the dinosaur’s sheer size. I love the variety of animals depicted in this stack, some seemingly apropos of nothing – modern heavyweights like the elephant and hippo seem obvious, but we also have a koala, cockatoo and even a humble mouse, perched right on the top. Wonderful, and the slightly Sibbickian super-smiley brachiosaur seems to agree.