Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs (1988) – Part 2

Vintage Dinosaur Art

Time for another round of The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs. No, not that one – the one from 1988, written by Mary Elting and illustrated by Christopher Santoro. As an aside, I didn’t say too much about Santoro last time, and I probably should have. He’s an accomplished and much-lauded illustrator of children’s books with (as of today) over 30 years’ experience (as per a number of near-identical bios that appear on various publishers’ websites, like HarperCollins). He’s not a natural history or animal specialist per se, at least as far as I can tell, which does make his work here all the more impressive. It’s very 1988, but definitely at the better end, even comparing favourably with the Normanpedia in places (when he isn’t just copying from it).

Brachiosaurus by Christopher Santoro

For example, while I’m sure I’m going to be reprimanded in the comments for failing to notice where his Brachiosaurus has been copied from, it looks very decent to me. It’s clearly muscular, with well-defined limbs, and even sports a decently fleshy nose, in stark contrast with the prevailing shrink-wrapped style of the time. It’s rather Paulian (perhaps I’ve identified the source?), which is definitely a Good Thing in this context. The feet are strangely mammalian and lacking any variation in claw length, but when I start nitpicking a sauropod’s feet, it’s probably a sign that the artist did a decent job. Nice verdant, hilly backdrop too.

Brontosaurus by Christopher Santoro

Unusually for a book from this Dino Renaissance era, The Big Golden Book features Brontosaurus. Yes, not Apatosaurus, but Brontosaurus. How so? Well, a certain Robert Bakker being involved as consultant might have something to do with it. Bakker always had a fondness for the name Brontosaurus, and stuck with it (and the term ‘brontosaurs’) long after the name became synonymous with scientific wrong-headedness (so to speak) in popular books. Of course, in the long run, Brontosaurus was fished out of the black hole of junior synonymy and now appears once more in the dinosaur literature without any caveats. And so, once again, Bakker was right, and those of us who’d had “Brontosaurus is WRONG!” bashed into our heads in childhood had to adjust. I’m still not sure I’ve recovered.

Anyway, these are some pretty generic, grey sauropods – not a patch on the brachiosaurs, and lacking the fat necks that they should have, but at least they aren’t hugely overweight. I do like the group of white pterosaurs flying overhead – an unusual colour choice and a neat way of providing scale. The slightly Sibbickian camptosaurs aren’t too bad, either, and I appreciate the linking of the text (with its description of fossil trackways and animal behaviour) with the illustration.

Diplodocus by Christopher Santoro

Similarly, Diplodocus is 1980s-chunky but not hugely so, and I appreciate that those tails are being held high up in the air (drooping sauropod tails were still all too common at the time). Nice patterning, too, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the close-up head on the left has one nostril right between its eyes. One. What the hell? It’s not shrink-wrapped, and including a close-up of a sauropod’s head is always a good idea – otherwise, it tends to be so tiny on the page that all detail is lost. At least, here, we can get a good idea of the animal’s narrow snout, where its eyes were positioned, and how its peg-like teeth were clustered at the front of its mouth. But why the lonely blowhole on the forehead? It’s weird, man.

Seismosaurus by Christopher Santoro

And now, here’s Diplodocus again! For Seismosaurus has been sunk into Diplodocus…for now. I look forward to the paper that’ll be published in 30 years’ time, firmly establishing it as worthy of generic status. In any case, at the time it hadn’t even been published, and there was a tendency to overestimate its size; Santoro does a fantastic job in making it look suitably enormous, dwarfing smaller dinosaurs and pterosaurs, browsing the very tops of pine trees and craning its neck right over a double-page spread. It is depicted as notably chunkier than Diplodocus (therefore looking immediately more 1980s), with tree-trunk limbs and great, thick skin folds. In fact, its grey colouration and specific details of its skin texture do conspire to make it look a little too mammalian, but then, such was the artistic tendency of the time. It does also look a bit like it has fat human toes on its hands, which I find slightly distressing to look at.

There’s a Mamenchisaurus too, and although I’ve unfortunately chopped much of its neck off here, it’s really rather nice. It follows the more slender, Paulian approach to reconstruction that we saw previously.

Iguanodon by Christopher Santoro

While Santoro does well to avoid obvious Sibbickery on the most part, it does creep in here and there. We had the Deinonychus in the previous post, of course, but there’s also the matter of this Iguanodon, which closely resembles Sibbick’s from the Normanpedia. It’s not a direct copy, but the skin (those large, rectangular scales!) and patterning are very, very similar. I believe the individual in the background has adopted the pose of one of Sibbick’s hadrosaurs, although I can’t quite place which one. What I do know is that it has pointed teeth in its beak, for some reason. Perhaps they are pseudoteeth, but none of the other Iguanodon have any (including the cute babies – a nice addition).

You know, those arms do start to look increasingly humanoid the more one inspects them. Probably time to move on.

Edmontosaurus and Corythosaurus by Christopher Santoro

Santoro’s illustrations of hadrosaur heads represent a marked change from his more Sibbickian pieces, but a welcome one. We’ve returned to a more Paulian look here, and even if the animals’ faces are a little sunken here and there, I’ll gladly take it. The move away from a Sibbicky style also means we’re treated to a more vibrant colour palette, which is also very welcome. Intriguing touches here include the green patch of skin around Corythosaurus‘ eye, and the fleshy red nose on Edmontosaurus. The eye on the Corythosaurus is especially well done, and really draws the attention of the viewer – it pops from the animal’s face and has a convincing liveliness about it. More, please!

Tsintaosaurus and Parasaurolophus by Christoper Santoro

No, wait. Go back. GO BACK! OK, so the Parasaurolophus does look rather…alarming. But the Tsintaosaurus to its left is worth paying attention to, if you can manage to divert your eyes for a moment. Everyone knows that the animal was originally restored with a thin crest that stuck up vertically and slightly forwards; this was often paired with two hypothetical fleshy nasal sacs to form the ‘Cock-n-Balls-o-Saurus’ look so beloved of sniggering children the world over. Occasionally, some spoilsport would come along and claim that the supposed crest actually just formed part of the animal’s snout, and so we had ‘flat nose’ Tsintaosaurus too. Santoro’s reconstruction is rather unusual in depicting an upright crest, but projecting slightly backwards rather than forwards. It’s an interpretation that seems, to my eye, closer to the way that Tsintaosaurus’ crest is restored nowadays, post-Prieto Márquez and Wagner.

We do have to talk about Parasaurolophus, of course. It appears to have been based on P. walkeri, but the angle of the crest is slightly off, and to anyone familiar with looking at reconstructions of the animal, it’s very conspicuous in its, er, verticality. Of course, if one were to step back for a moment and assume the point of view of someone completely unfamiliar with hadrosaurs, it really doesn’t look any more ridiculous than the real P. walkeri. But, us dino nerds are primed to spot these things. That yellow colour doesn’t help.

Styracosaurus by Christopher Santoro
And finally…some ceratopsians for ya, namely Styracosaurus. It’s notable that the animals – quite correctly – have five clearly separated digits and only three claws on their hands, with the two outermost digits being clawless. It’s a remarkable detail to get right for time,when absolutely everyone was giving ceratopsians pachyderm paws; in fact, it’s something that people still get wrong today, even when excellent references are only 20 seconds away on the internet. The horns are superbly painted to give the impression a smooth, keratinous sheath. The proportions of the animals are a little off all around, but all things considered, it’s a really good effort.

Styracosaurus and Gorgosaurus by Christopher Santoro

The other half of this spread features Gorgosaurus, and so I’m able to crowbar in a tyrannosaur once again. The head seems rather stylised (and shallow, especially the mandible) and it only has three toes for some reason, but it could’ve been worse, John. I do love the big fleshy noses on the ceratopsians, and they’re posed in wonderfully energetic ways, even if the tyrannosaur is a little static. I guess it’s just nonplussed. “Whatever, I didn’t want to eat your child anyway. No need to make a fuss.” I know how you feel, Gorgo. I know how you feel.

Should I post even more from this thing? Let me know!

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Zain Ahmed
    July 23, 2021 at 2:32 pm

    “Should I post even more from this thing? Let me know!”

  • Reply
    July 23, 2021 at 8:27 pm

    Yes, please share some more! I love seeing all these 80’s and 90’s illustrations; I like settling in with some tea and pouring over these posts. The Brachiosaurus scene here is my favorite- it really is pretty.

  • Reply
    August 19, 2021 at 8:10 am

    This Brachiosaurus is heavily inspired by Mark Halletts famous Brachiosaurus version from Zoobooks

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.