Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaur Encyclopaedia for Children (Gollancz) – Part 2 – The Catalogue

Vintage Dinosaur Art

By popular demand (a whole two comments – hey, that’s good going these days!), here’s a small selection of Steve Kirk’s ‘catalogue’ illustrations, as featured in the Dinosaur Encyclopaedia for Children from Gollancz. As I mentioned previously, most of these are rather bland by Kirk’s standards, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of them were rather older than the typically lively panoramas featured last time. Still, for connoisseurs of 1980s and ’90s ‘spotters guide’-type dinosaur books, I’m sure there’s still plenty of interest here. (Naturally, I count myself as a connoisseur. I’m languidly reclining in a grandiose leather armchair and clutching a glass of brandy in a claw-like grip even as I type this.)

Acrocanthosaurus by Steve Kirk

I’ll apologise in advance for this post mostly containing theropods, although being the louche lounge lizard that I am (see previous paragraph) the excuses I offer for my murderbird-favouring behaviour are somewhat insincere. Anyway, here’s Acrocanthosaurus, an animal rather poorly known back in 1992. Given that, this reconstruction really isn’t all that bad – you’ll note that the tall neural spines form more of a ridge than a ‘sail’, as in some contemporary reconstructions, and the head is surprisingly on the money. The arms are, of course, too long, but they’re also weirdly thin – which is something of a recurring trope in the catalogue artwork. It’s probably down to the more old-school approach to dinosaur musculature that’s evident here – very 1980s John Sibbick, and another reason for me to suspect that these illustrations are a bit older than the panoramas. The animal’s skin is also rather Sibbickian, and the drab olive green skin colour is shared with any number of other illustrations, although not all of them…

Deinonychus by Steve Kirk

…This Deinonychus, for example – found directly underneath – sports a far more interesting and visually appealing stripy hide. Many artists plumped for such skin patterning on their dromaeosaurs back in the ’90s – the trope even made it into the Jurassic Park movies (in the second film) – but I’ll never get tired of it. Them stripes look dead natty. While the limbs are, again, a little weedy-looking, you certainly couldn’t say that this isn’t a dynamic-looking reconstruction, even if that right foot looks a little strange. (Is it stabbing the underside of its own toes?)

Equally nifty-looking is this Coelurus with its leopard-like spots. A charming little illustration of an animal simply taking a step, its head cocked curiously to one side. Not a lot more to say here, I fear, other than: I like it. Moving on…

Dilophosaurus by Steve Kirk

Here’s Dilophosaurus, in its 1980s-style chunky ‘carnosaur’ guise. It’s rather reminiscent of Peter Snowball’s reconstruction, as featured in some editions of Alan Charig’s book, A New Look at the Dinosaurs. Note the ‘scavenger Dilophosaurus‘ idea in the text, based on the idea that the animals’ teeth were too thin and jaws too weak for it to bite things to death. I’m not sure where that line of thinking originated, but it popped up again in Dinosaurs! magazine, a publication that I treated with complete reverence during my childhood. As such, I still can’t look at a Dilophosaurus skull without thinking that its jaws are a bit flimsy-looking, which, well, they aren’t really.

Baryonyx by Steve Kirk

Baryonyx is one of the most recently-discovered dinosaurs to feature, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s depicted as a quadruped! Hooray. While that dates the illustration from a modern point of view, it wasn’t that unreasonable an assumption for at least a resting posture at the time. Kirk also pays notably close attention to the animal’s unusual head, although quite why it appears to have four fingers on its right hand, I don’t know.

Tarbosaurus by Steve Kirk

You may have noticed that, in classic ‘spotters guide’ style, each illustration is accompanied by a silhouetted comparison with a male toilet symbol, the better for us to gauge the animal’s size. (Look, it’s either that, the Pioneer Dork, or that little palaeontologist fellow in a hat). Most of these tally with what you’d expect, but an exception to this rule is Tarbosaurus, which is implied to have been absolutely enormous. Assuming Toilet Man is the standard 1.8m tall, Tarbosaurus must be a good 6+ metres (20 feet, for Americans and old people) tall at the hips. Apart from that, this reconstruction is quite decent by the standards of the time – a little upright and retro, but not tail-dragging and still quite recognisably a large tyrannosaur.

There is also a Protoceratops. Yes.

Apatosaurus by Steve Kirk

Most of the catalogue sauropods look more-or-less the same – they’re thinner at one end, fatter in the middle, and thinner again at the other end. They’re also grey and lumpy and wrinkly. Having said that, they mostly do have at least a few distinguishing features, such as the humped back and diplodocine head and whip-tail of Apatosaurus here. There’s little indication of the animal’s enormously fat neck, but then that’s very normal for the time; somehow, artists (Ely Kish aside) only started to notice that relatively recently, although a scarcity of good 3D references could be to blame.

Parasaurolophus by Steve Kirk

And finally…I wanted to include this Parasaurolophus because it’s considerably less drab than a great many of the other featured herbivorous dinosaurs. In fact, it’s exceedingly pretty in an understated sort of way, with deceptively complex camouflage patterning and a delightful splash of red on its hips and tail to liven things up. Why does it have red there? Well, one could have fun speculating on how such a (perfectly plausible) feature might have evolved, which is surely a good sign when it comes to quality palaeoart. (It’s for species recognition, obvs.) You’ll note also that this illustration is apparently based on the P. walkeri type specimen, as it has the famous notch in the vertebrae behind the shoulders (believed to be a pathology). Overall, it’s excellent for the time and definitely one of my favourite non-panorama Kirkworks to appear in this book.

Next time – something else, I imagine! Unless you’d like to see more from this book, of course, in which case let me know. Don’t forget to hit like, hit subscribe, hit that bell icon…wait, where am I?

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  • Reply
    September 28, 2020 at 3:27 pm

    Of course we (well, I) want more! How about some non-dinosaurian archosaurs and synapsids?

  • Reply
    Niels Hazeborg
    September 28, 2020 at 4:15 pm

    About that Parasaurolophus tail: I’ve seen that exact arrangement on hadrosaurs elsewhere… I guess Bogdanov didn’t invent the wheel either.

  • Reply
    George Starr
    September 30, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    Yikes, that is a truly kaiju-sized Tarbosaur. It’s as tall (or taller) than the bipedal Apatosaur.
    Thank you for continuing to feature more of this Kirkwork btw.

  • Reply
    September 30, 2020 at 9:18 pm

    The oversized Tarbosaurus is never fixed in later editions. In editions where Tyrannosaurus gets a size comparison its dwarfed by Tarbosaurus. It really weirded me out as a kid.

  • Reply
    October 1, 2020 at 10:25 pm

    I have another, broadly similar children’s dino book featuring Kirk’s art that came out around 2000. It showed some of his more recent (late ’90s) dinosaurs alongside the old ones seen in this book. The changes in his artwork were pretty evident, the newer reconstructions were vibrant and full of wild patterns and crazy colors, with sharper shading and often more lively poses and varied angles.
    Regardless, I still have a fondness for these older images no matter how drab most of them are, they solidified my ideas of many ancient critters for my childhood years. Mono-colored sauropods and ceratopsians, tiger-striped Deinonychus, and when I think of Tarbosaurus, I still think of the color brown. When Walking with Dinosaurs came about, seeing a Diplodocus that was not colored blue or grey was like a watershed moment for me.

  • Reply
    October 6, 2020 at 1:45 pm

    Please post more from this book!

  • Reply
    June 16, 2023 at 7:09 pm

    Just as an Info, these very same illustrations by Kirk, appeared already in the older “The Macmillan Illustrated
    Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals” from 1988.

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