A Disarray of Palaeoart: Marc’s review

Book Review Illustration

Some palaeoart books – many palaeoart books – are monumental hardback affairs, printed on the very sheeniest of glossy paper, sufficiently large that casually reading them on the train to work is quite impossible without drawing attention to yourself. (Not that I speak from personal experience, or anything.) Their pages burst with colour, as awe-inspiringly rendered, hyper-realistic vanished beasts of the past threaten to burst forth from their papery confines. They are, in short, Worthy. They are Art Books dealing with weighty things.

This isn’t one of those books. This book’s just really fun.

Photo of A Disarray of Palaeoart (cover)

A wee caveat: I’ve met Gareth Monger once or twice before, David’s met him, and we all agree he’s a lovely bloke. In fact, David even wrote the foreword to this book. Nevertheless, I hope we can all agree that this is the sort of book we all want to see; experimental, independently made, original and intriguing with it. When asked exactly why he decided to produce this thing, Gareth responded:

It’s no less than the good people in Internetland deserve. Also, it’s a good way to get your stuff out there. I had enough illustrations for a book, and I like to write. I figured my bloggy style might suit the book I had in mind, and being published can be a good way to get noticed!

Magnificent.

Velociraptor v Protoceratops by Gareth Monger

The book’s title is humorously self-deprecating, but also serves as a fair indication of what to expect. In A Disarray of Palaeoart, the lines between cartoonish fun and serious scientifically-minded speculation are frequently blurred; the book runs the gamut from more naturalistic depictions of prehistoric life to satirical cartoons, and there’s an array of stylised artwork in between.

This is a natural result of the book’s genesis in social media. Essentially, these are Gareth’s efforts for Inktober and DrawDinovember last year, committed to print, with some very engaging commentary on the side. It’s a concept that I find very interesting – an effort to take something that seems so impermanent and make it tangible and lasting. In a decade’s time, I’ll have no chance of remembering what went on in the social media palaeoart-o-sphere in 2017, but Gareth’s book will still be in my collection; just like the fossilised remains that his various doodles are based on, it’ll be one peculiar view back in time. And I think that’s rather valuable. As for Gareth’s motivation? He just loves printed books.

Archaeopteryx running from Pterodactylus, by Gareth Monger

It all reminds me rather a lot of All Yesterdays, especially in the musings on behaviours seen in animals today that are rarely depicted in palaeoart, but the provenance of Gareth’s book does mean that the artwork is frequently sketchier and more stylised. Many pieces are reproduced complete with the pencil lines that guided the finished (inked) work. This may put some people off, but it’s fine by me. I’m always keen to learn more about an artist’s process, technique, and the thinking behind the various decisions they make, and there’s plenty of that here. Gareth also wanted to remain true to the pieces as they were originally published.

Those not familiar with Gareth’s work might not realise that he’s produced plenty of detailed, ‘realistic’ palaeoart in the past, which tends to appear in quite unexpected places (that Neovenator on the title page of Barrett ‘n’ Naish’s Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved? Totally Gareth’s); some may find the lack of ‘polish’ off-putting. But that’s the point – this is a book with a rare spontaneity, a genuine attempt to do something a bit different. As Gareth points out,

“We see a lot of in-prog work online, whether its Steve White’s bait ball, or posts from Joschua Knuppe or Julian Kiely or Mark Witton. It just doesn’t often make it to print. Which makes sense if it’s for a palaeontology book, but those unfinished images can be as illustrative as the finished pieces.

Rhamphorynchus swallowing large fish by Gareth Monger

It’s funny, too. Gareth’s prose is amusing. There’s still more admirably self-deprecating humour regarding his own work. There are entirely invented tales from ancient folklore regarding the marabou stork. There are entire pages dedicated to imagined motion picture regulations in the United States. And there are funny rhymes, which I very dearly love.

Any criticisms? Of course not, he’s my mate. Well, OK – I’m not too fond of the way the lines of text are spaced so far apart, which annoys me because I’m, ahem, a very detail-orientated person. But did I mention that it’s only £10, plus VAT, from Lulu.com? Come on now, mustn’t grumble.

Oh, and if you were wondering (as many were last year) why he’s so fond of depicting death, it’s because he’s a “lapsed goth”. But he does also draw things like the below…

Retro Iguanodon by Gareth Monger

…Alongside ichthyosaurs giving birth to plesiosaurs. (Gareth’s personal favourite, which has already once been censored.) “Just because.”

Check out Gareth’s Pteroformer blog for more. Gareth is also one half of Beware! The Zine, which recently published a spoof review of a book about aquatic dinosaurs. Pure coincidence, I’m sure.

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