If you’ve been reading the blog for some time now (and we have been going for a few years), you’ll know that our Vintage Dinosaur Art series often really stretches the definition of the word ‘vintage’, and hopefully you’ll have got over that fact. It’s a name that’s stuck. We do still have one rule, however; in order to be considered Vintage Dinosaur Art, a work must be at least 20 years old. What to do, then, when a reader submits a book that doesn’t quite fit the definition, but is still clearly retro and on top of that, Dutch? (I love Dutch.) Time to resort to a label I haven’t used in a few years: VintageISH Dinosaur Art. And a hearty proost to Niels Hazeborg for sending this one over. It may have been published in the year 2000, but it’s very ’90s.
The cover isn’t much to write home about. It’s a tyrannosaur, with a very ’90s look, in that it looks somewhat modern but for the bunny hands and peculiar skull/neck arrangement. The word ‘Investigate’ hints that this was originally part of an English-language series, and a cursory Google search reveals that that would indeed appear to be the case, making this Nederlands edition a translation. Illustration duties were handled by Kevin Stead; another quick Google reveals an Australian artist who may well be the same bloke, but I don’t know. There were also free stickers, which sounds awesome. Everyone loves stickers, especially when they’re gratis.
Enough of all that – let’s delve into the book proper, which I will explore in what is not necessarily the correct order. As is tradition, Stead illustrates a series of scenes depicting life in different geological periods, starting with the Late Triassic; the dawn of the dinosaurs. It’s a rather bare, brown world, with only pines, ferns and palms providing a smattering of green. Into this somewhat sparse landscape stride an array of rather blobby-looking Triassic dinosaurs, including Plateosaurus, Coelophysis, and Herrerasaurus. Padding out the fauna are a dicynodont and suspiciously modern-looking crocodiles, tortoises, frogs and ‘hairy mammals’. The caption in the top right reads something like:
“Look closely! Which animals in this picture are not dinosaurs? Some still exist today.”
Of course they do.
Continuing the series, Stead presents us with a Late Jurassic scene, depicting North America in particular. It’s a rather bare, brown world, with only pines, ferns and palms providing a smattering of green. Into this somewhat sparse landscape stride an array of rather blobby-looking Jurassic dinosaurs, including Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, and Apatosaurus. Padding out the fauna are pterosaurs and suspiciously modern-looking crocodiles, tortoises, frogs and ‘hairy mammals’. The Allosaurus reminds me a great deal of the old Schleich toy, which means it’s surely cribbing from some other source I’m not aware of (bonus AMNH mount/Chazza Knight callback, too). The Stego, meanwhile, is highly reminiscent of Sibbick’s Normanpedia version, as is the middle apatosaur in particular. Archaeopteryx is, of course, on holiday.
Lastly, we have Stead’s Late Cretaceous scene. It’s a rather bare, brown world, with only mixed conifers and flowering plants providing a smattering of green. Into this somewhat sparse landscape stride an array of rather blobby-looking Cretaceous dinosaurs, including Edmontosaurus, Parasaurolophus, and Ankylosaurus. Padding out the fauna are pterosaurs and suspiciously modern-looking crocodiles, tortoises, frogs and ‘hairy mammals’.
Seriously, we have to talk about them. There are minor differences between the incarnations we see in each scene, of course, but they are all the same colour, posed in the same way and, above all, suspiciously modern. It’s no doubt borne of the mistaken belief that these groups of animals are ‘prehistoric’, barely changed across tens of millions of years of evolution. Even given that faulty premise, posing the animals in the same way in each image seems like overkill. Yeah, they didn’t change much. We get it. I’m pretty sure the point wouldn’t be lost even on young children if, say, some of said creatures were shown swimming in one scene, or the kikker was jumping, or something. I did enjoy Brian Choo’s comment over on the Fezbooks:
“They say that those same krokodil, schildpad and kikker remain in position to this very day, as unmoving and immortal sentinels of the waterhole.“
As for the dinosaurs, the edmontosaurs (here going under the moniker ‘Anatosaurus‘) are a bit shapeless and rubbish, but the others aren’t so bad for their time. The Ankylosaurus‘ colouration reminds me a great deal of illustrations that appeared in Dinosaurs! magazine in the ’90s, while its pose is reminiscent of old-school ‘sprawling’ scolosaurs, except that here the animal is simply taking a drink. Parasaurolophus‘ big red horn looks very attractive.
Hang on, though…no T. rex? Not even lurking in the distance, or a foreground shadow? Well, he’s too busy fighting Triceratops over on page 7.
Here they are – the ‘hunter and prey’, inevitably engaged in bloody battle. For whatever reason, the foliage is actually rather lush in this illusration – attractive, even. I’ll also commend the work on Triceratops‘ head, where Stead has made some interesting decisions in seemingly giving the frill a keratinous covering and exposing its teeth. Rare choices for the ’90s (sorry, early 2000s). Rexy doesn’t fare quite as well, likely owing to that tricky perspective; his legs are very far apart (reminiscent of the Dino Riders toy) and there are some odd things going on around the shoulder area. Still, all in all, this is streets ahead of what we’ve seen so far, and I like that there’s some continuity with the cover (by no means a given).
The theropod often seen as Rexy’s precusor in older dinosaur books, Allosaurus, gets to revel in the spotlight as well. Unusually, it’s depicted tearing a smaller animal apart (in surprisingly gory fashion) rather than attempting to take on a sauropod or Stegosaurus. This is a striking, attractive illustration, with the animal looking convincingly muscular, hefty, and yet agile – all while only lifting a foot off the ground. It does also have its problems, of course. Stead must have had access to some reference material, as the proportions are mostly there, and the pelvic bones are evident. However, the head has been reduced to a ‘generic theropod’ affair without the characteristic horns or ridges, and I’m not sure how many toes the feet are meant to have. Maybe it’s just polydactyly.
Other animals given the double-page treatment include Saltasaurus, which I just had to include here because, well, everyone loves a good Saltasaurus. It’s rather shapeless and brown, in a Normanpedia type of fashion, although there’s something about the head I really like. It’s almost adorable in a square-muzzled, demurely tilting sort of way. Or maybe I’ve just lost it. Nurse!
Note the classic trick of curving the tail and neck to fit them onto the page. I see what you’re doing there, illustrators.
Are you ready for some Saurischian Facts? For whatever reason, the quality of the illustrations takes a bit of a nosedive on both this and the corresponding ornthischian spread, although this one’s by far the worse of the two. What is Ceratosaurus without the very horns that give it its name? It’d be like a rhinoceros without a horn. And without its horn, a rhinoceros is nothing more than…a steroidal tapir. Equally, it seems very cruel that, while some of the sauropods here have a Hallett-inspired leanness about them, Diplodocus has been painted as hugely obese. Where did its legs go? It’s as if the illustration was based on a photo of a skeletal mount that was cropped off below knee level.
I do love Deinonychus‘ pose, though. “I’ll…I’ll just be leaving now.”
And finally…’80s-looking dinosaurs as pets. You know it’ll be in the next Jurassic World movie. The text here talks about the huge resources that large dinosaurs would consume, goes on to mention that some of them were small (suitable pet material after all?), and then mentions that perhaps some of the brainier ones could even be taught ‘parrot tricks’. ‘A speaking dinosaur? That would attract a lot of interest!’ And we all know what to say in response to that.