Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs (Identifying)

Vintage Dinosaur Art

It can sometimes feel like, after countless (well, 10 or 11) years of scouring eBay, I’ve dug up virtually every popular dinosaur book from the ’80s and ’90s that could possibly be found. It doesn’t help matters that a large number of them feature a gloomy parade of depressingly sub-par Sibbick rip-offs, and therefore blend easily into one another, like a great amorphous blob of weird leathery flesh and plagiarism. And yet – and yet, not two weeks ago I managed to find something new. Behold: Dinosaurs, part of the Identifying series from The Apple Press. Not only that, but there are illustrations from LITC fave Graham Rosewarne in here, too.

There are still Sibbick copies, of course. That is inevitable.

Identifying Dinosaurs cover

Dinosaurs was published in 1997, but actually reuses content from an earlier book entitled Dinosaur Identifier, including the text by stalwart Steve Parker. The material in here is very 1990s, so I imagine it’s not much older than ’97. As is tradition, the book is divided into two sections – the first being an overview of the Dinosauria, and the second providing an alphabetical ‘spotter’s guide’ of various dinosaur genera. The cover gives us a decent idea of what to expect, with an obviously Sibbick-inspired T. rex, Czerkas-inspired Allosaurus, and seemingly Paradise Park-inspired Deinonychus. Why no Graham Rosewarne on the cover? Beats me.

Apatosaurus by Elizabeth Sawyer

The majority of illustrations in this book are by Elizabeth Sawyer. I haven’t found much about her online, other than a listing on Goodreads (note to self: get hold of Drawing Dinosaurs), but she appears to be an all-around illustrator who’s worked on a plethora of books, and therefore not a dinosaur specialist by any means. With that in mind, one shouldn’t be too harsh on her work here, especially as decent reference material could be hard to come by in the 1990s for anyone who wasn’t in personal contact with Robert Bakker and Greg Paul (cf. Luis Rey). However, it is perhaps fair to say that the dinosaur reconstructions in this book aren’t, well, much cop. The above Apatosaurus is a perfect example: it’s rotund to the point of being comical, its tail is bent in an awkward fashion to fit the page, its neck is weirdly short, and the houseplant popping up behind it makes it look rather tiny. It looks like a mutant potato.

Anchisaurus by Graham Rosewarne

Still, we do have Graham Rosewarne’s work as a palate cleanser. Here’s a beautifully proportioned Anchisaurus, looking very contented as it noshes on a plant that appears perfectly in scale. Rosewarne’s work frequently stuck out like an immaculately reconstructed Digit I in Dinosaurs! magazine, and so it is here. It’s Paulian, sure, but never shrinkwrapped, and always carefully detailed and precise. I think he deserves more recognition.

Mamenchisaurus by Elizabeth Sawyer

The Anchisaurus is Rosewarne’s sole contribution to this book’s sauropodmorphs, so here’s Sawyer’s Mamenchisaurus. It’s something of a brown blob with indistinct limbs, although I have a feeling it’s based on another illustration that also made the animal look very corpulent. At least it’s got its neck up in the air.

Dilophosaurus by Elizabeth Sawyer

While Sawyer’s sauropods have classic tree-trunk legs, her theropods are another matter. I do very much like the painterly technique employed on the above Dilophosaurus, which would make it stand out among today’s typical palaeoart offerings; there are some lovely highlights and details on the animal’s scaly hide, and the head isn’t too bad, either. It’s the legs that are the issue, here, in that they’re rather long and weirdly humanoid. It’s a problem that afflicts all of the large theropods in this book – they don’t really look digitigrade at all, as if the artist struggled with the concept. The Dilophosaurus also suffers from malformed feet – the perspective is completely off.

Tyrannosaurus by Elizabeth Sawyer

Rexy has similar podiatric problems, although at least his toes seem to point in the right directions. The left leg, in particular, looks quite jarringly humanoid, with the ankle very low down and the entire foot flat on the ground. The piece as a whole is obviously based on Sibbick’s meat-swingin’ T. rex from the Normanpedia, without being a direct copy. As a result, the head is oddly shallow, but the animal as a whole does appear suitably massive and imposing.

Ankylosaurus by Elizabeth Sawyer

A very similar-looking Tyrannosaurus also appears alongside Ankylosaurus (here played by Euoplocephalus, because ’90s). For some reason, its head is notably cruder, with super-slim jaws and cartoonish spiky teeth that make little sense. Makes me wonder if the artist painted the body first and ran out of room, or didn’t originally plan to include the head at all, but was made to by the publisher. The latter idea does make some sense – this is the Ankylosaurus page, after all, with the tyrannosaur relegated to a mere detail, and having Rexy’s head loom out of frame would have given us an involving, ankylosaur’s-eye-view on the scene, and made it more dramatic. On the other hand, it’s probably just a rushed head.

Oviraptor by Graham Rosewarne

Fortunately, a theropod is among Rosewarne’s rare offerings. Scientifically, this Oviraptor has, of course, aged badly – it’s totally scaly and has that erroneous nose horn. However, those were the times, man, and the details that have aged well reveal how closely Rosewarne was paying attention. Notice the long fingers, the hands orientated palms-in, the long neck, and lithe frame. While the majority of ’90s maniraptor reconstructions have aged badly simply for being scaly, you can still tell who was doing their homework (see also: Wayne Barlowe’s Oviraptor).

Triceratops by Elizabeth Sawyer

And finally…I have a feeling that “young Triceratops” is a bit of post hoc justification, a bit like the “young Stegosaurus” in The Giant Book of Dinosaurs. Wouldn’t it have been more effective to draw the rhino and Triceratops to scale, to emphasise that the latter had much in common with the former, but was freakin’ huge? It has a conspicuously diminutive head, too. Oh well.

More from this book to come! Possibly.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    March 24, 2021 at 10:03 pm

    Excellent review as usual, Marc. It makes me want to run out and search for the book. And don’t worry, if you run out of stuff on eBay, you could always review each one of the Rourke series individually. That will kill a couple of years!

    By the way, why are YOUR reviews undated?

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