Vintage Dinosaur Art: Creepy Creatures

Vintage Dinosaur Art

For many of us, an interest in dinosaurs goes hand in hand with a general fascination with all things monstrous. This association of imagined creatures with the real monsters of the past is such a strong one that many books focused on the former can’t help but spend a bit of time on the latter. Creepy Creatures, published in 1982, is one such book. Cover art featuring an assortment of monsters, including a satyr, mummy, and a saber-toothed catWritten and illustrated entirely by Dan Nevins, this book profiles a menagerie of creatures hailing from literature, film, mythology, folklore, and prehistory. Nevins has a singularly simple style with a lot of character. The almost childlike artwork struck a chord with me as a preschooler and my own art from the time borrowed a lot from his style.

A cartoonish grey T.rex pinning a generic dinosaur with its foot

It’s clear that Nevins was more interested in depicting prehistoric creatures as a form of monster, largely influenced by popular media of the time, than any sort of high-fidelity reconstruction of an extinct animal! This T.rex isn’t a clear copy of another artist’s work but the influence of classic dinosaur films is obvious. Just take a look at those three fingers, the generalized reptilian face lined with zig-zag spiky teeth, the scowling expression, plus a covering of what looks to be toad skin! Nevins’ T.rex is a rampaging terror where predatory power is emphasized above all else, and woe betide any nondescript noodle-necked dinosaur in its path. Despite being completely different anatomically, I can’t help but think of the equally strange T.rex-victim George Solonevich painted for Dinosaurs and More Dinosaurs.

A cartoony Diplodocus with red speckles and snake-like fangs.

This is ostensibly a Diplodocus but it looks more like a python that swallowed a bear. If you asked a child to draw you a sauropod but described it in the simplest terms (“a big four-legged reptile with a long neck and tail”) you’d end up with something a lot like this. It’s a shame that there are only a handful of dinosaurs in this book, I can only imagine how an Ankylosaurus or Deinonychus in this style might look! Take a moment to pity the poor Squonk, who is so ashamed of its ugliness that it dissolves from its own tears of sorrow. Relatable.

A spread with cartoony depictions of a Triceratops, Loch Ness Monster, and Abominable Snowman

This Triceratops is clearly based on one of Charles Knight’s classic depictions of the species, but with a charming covering of splotchy dots and the paw-like hands and feet that characterize all of Nevins’ dinosaurs. The nasal horn is more or less where it should be, but the brow horns are emerging from the frill in a classic artistic blunder. Still, it’s a depiction of Triceratops loaded with personality. I like to think he’d speak in the voice of Brian Blessed!

Nessie, according to the text, might be properly identified as “the Plesiosaur, a dinosaur that lived 200 million years ago.” The less said about that the better. She’s sporting a spotted hide that reminds me a little of a sea turtle’s shell but moreso of hundreds of staring eyes. Her little fanged face is positively adorable. The bagpipe-playing rider doesn’t seem to be bothering her, in fact, she seems pretty happy about the whole situation. Not the Abominable Snowman, though, who is famously averse to all woodwind instruments.

Cartoonish depictions of an ichthyosaur, Stegosaurus, and Dr. Jekyll

Our final non-avian dinosaur is a surprisingly active looking Stegosaurus for a book so full of dumpy cold-blooded lizards. Of particular note are the (sort of) correctly staggered plates, accurate number of thagomizer spikes, and hilarious little expression. It’s just happy to be here! Sadly the little blurb about it repeats the classic two-brains myth but so do hundreds of other books.

The ichthyosaur is sporting a stylish serrated back-ridge that I can’t say I’ve ever seen in another depiction, and those ferocious red eyes are eye-catching! An orca-like colouration is as close to a traditional choice as possible, but it’s well executed here and makes good sense. Other than the upcoming mammoth, it might be the animal that looks closest to our modern ideas of life appearance.

A cartoony Pteranodon soaring behind the head of a red-nosed warlock with a black hat.

That’s a pretty good Pteranodon for the a cheap kids book from the early 80s! The wings even sport the right arrangement of fingers and the crest is in proper proportion with the beak, surely that bodes well for the text!

Oh no.

Best we just move on.

A cartoony depiction of a woolly mammoth with a white wolf clinging to the top of its head.

A few prehistoric mammals are also famous enough to feature. I don’t mean to keep making fun of the text but 40 feet tall!? I can’t imagine how you end up making a mistake that massive. Despite that, it’s a really cute depiction of everyone’s favourite fossil proboscidean. I think we’re meant to interpret the wolf as being tossed by the mammoth, but I’ve always seen it as a wolf desperately clinging to the top of its head in some sort of horrendously botched predation attempt.

A cartoonish drawing of Smilodon

The Smilodon is pretty cute too, almost Flintstones-ian! It’s rare to see a spotted saber-tooth, especially at a time where they were almost always given the exact same pattern as a lion. Smilodon lived ten million years ago, sure, why not.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of the prehistoric creatures. But there’s always room for a certain quasi-dinosaurian supermonster we all know and love! Yes, that’s right, it’s…

A cartoonish depiction of Godzilla and a Leprechaun

Godzilla, proudly displaying his ability to spit radioactive flames that look suspiciously like plastic ribbons. Funnily enough, this Godzilla has a lot in common with the famous Heisei-era look that wouldn’t be created for a few years after this book was published. As a kid I traced the T.rex above and put it side by side with Godzilla to see all the similarities. I felt like I’d cracked some sort of secret code about the origin of Godzilla! Being a dignified blog, I won’t comment on the Leprechaun beyond acknowledgement that it’s there.

Sadly, that’s about all the blog-appropriate content I can scrape out of this fun little book. If anyone wants to see some of the non-palaeontology themed creatures within let me know over on Twitter and I’ll be happy to share some more!


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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Yasmin Foster
    September 15, 2022 at 1:59 pm

    I’m chuckling that the Smilodon has saber-incisors rather than canines, like some sort of peed-off rodent 😀

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