While old dinosaur books are a finite resource, as this blog grinds inexorably on – as years become decades, as countless sentient beings live, die and are consigned to oblivion by the unfeeling laws of an immeasurably vast universe, as my bones weary and ache and my teeth develop irritating, expensive faults – so we are able to increase the scope of our Vintage Dinosaur Art posts. Our sole criterion has always been that the books we cover should be 20 years old, and so as the years progress, we’re able to incorporate increasingly recent books into our purview. Except, relative to the time of writing, they aren’t more recent – it’s just that time seems ever shorter, our breaths increasingly laboured, the sun vanishing ever more quickly over the horizon. Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.
Anyway, Dinosaur Lives was published in 1997 by Ladybird as part of their Young Discovery series, and it’s a world away from the gloriously nostalgic Bernard Robinson-painted lizardy beasts of their most famous dinosaur book.
The cover features Carnotaurus, and while us dinosaur nerds will immediately spot what’s wrong with it – head and horns are the wrong shape, the arms are rather too well-developed (they even have flexed wrists!) – really, it could be far worse. It’s suitably lean and slightly Paulian-looking, it has its proper scutes, and there’s no arguing with a contrasting red head, ever. It’s striking enough for the cover, and provides a decent preview of the illustrations within the book.
The illustrations in Dinosaur Lives were provided by S Boni and L R Galante, both of whom are stalwart illustrators of children’s books with a great deal of artistic skill. (I believe the former’s first name is Simone.) Both have plenty of experience as wildlife illustrators, and the work here is very typical of artists with that sort of background, but who aren’t dinosaur specialists; it’s very competent, and the animals appear to make anatomical sense, but not very original. When compared with similar books from the early ’90s (that weren’t illustrated by Luis Rey), the reconstructions here are strikingly colourful and bold, without being garish – attractive stripy patterns abound.
In the above spread, Carnotaurus is notably given greater prominence than T. rex (heresy!), while Dromiceiomimus appears to have been based on a Normanpedia Stenonychosaurus. Compsognathus is doing that weird head-ducking thing that proved so popular in the ’80s and ’90s, although it’s at least from a different perspective, this time. Rexy is…fine. Head’s a bit generic. Whatever.
The sauropods are especially notable for being stripy and vibrant – even in the late ’90s, there was still a tendency to depict sauropods in drab grey and brown colours (I mean, one could argue that that’s the case even now). I particularly like the Amargasaurus here, posed in suitably Paulian fashion with an elephantine flicked-back forefoot. It’s also commendable that Diplodocus is given space to stretch out, emphasising its remarkable shape. Its fleshy nostrils are notably near the tip of its snout, something that I’ve noticed wildlife artists tended to do more than specialist palaeoartists back in the day, perhaps because it just seemed right. Ain’t half interesting how the scientific evidence has come to back them up on that front.
Those feet are rather wrong, though. And curiously dainty. Diplodocus also looks rather too pleased with itself. Calm down, Dippy, you’re not all that.
Ornithopods are described as “Other Plant Eaters” in Dinosaur Lives, because this is a book aimed at young children and one can only use so many complicated terms. And no one cares about ornithopods. Both of these illustrations, but especially the Iguanodon, appear to be based on models used in Dorling Kindersley books (and stickers, and posters, and ACTION PACKS etc. etc.). The Iguanodon has at least been given a different colour scheme, even if that peculiar slit pupil is a dead giveaway. It also looks like it’s had a manicure.
Unlike those boring old ornithopods, thyreophorans get two spreads to themselves – perhaps because someone at Ladybird wanted to torture the illustrators. The Stegosaurus rather reminds me of an illustration from WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, although it’s far from a direct (mirrored) copy, while I’m sure the Yingshanosaurus is based on another Sibbick reconstruction of a different stegosaur, but I can’t quite put my finger on which one. Lexovisaurus, meanwhile, is doing something very, very uncomfortable with its legs. In fact, its hind limbs appear to have dislocated completely.
Over on the ankylosaur pages, Euoplocephalus has something interesting going on in its eye – could that be an ungulate-like horizontal pupil? (Shades of John McLoughlin.) Other than that, it’s a fairly standard, competent reconstruction for the time, but I do like the painterly technique employed in these illustrations. The speckly brown gruduating to grey-blue is very attractive. Struthiosaurus just looks cross.
The ceratopsian spread sees the return of blantant DK model copying, in the form of the Triceratops on the left, which does at least look properly chunky (those forelimbs are downright intimidating). Again, it retains the peculiar slit pupil of the original model, something of a signature from the sculptor. Styracosaurus is depicted with a rather pleasing dappled frill (reminiscent of late ’90s Sibbick), while Chasmosaurus seems to have completely lost any over-the-eye ornamentation it might have had. Still, we’re always happy to see Chasmosaurus around here, given the blog’s name. (Wait, hang on – it’s ‘chasmosaurs’, not Chasmosaurus? I’ve been living a lie!)
And finally…it’s John Sibbick’s big Maiasaura piece, as produced for the NHM in London, but now the Maiasaura are green. Makes a change from brown. In Sibbick’s original, the adult individual shown in the lower right here is threatening a much smaller, predatory lizard that’s lurking around the nesting colony. Here, it seems to be arguing with a group of juveniles, which is fair enough. Juveniles are annoying – they’re noisy, they’re expensive, and they smell.
Coming up next time: I’m not sure! But we might even have finally organised some sort of podcast. Watch this space.