Over a decade go, on the blog’s previous incarnation, I wrote a slightly unusual Vintage Dinosaur Art article about a single poster. Said artwork was produced to accompany the officially endorsed Natural History Museum (or, as it properly was at the time, British Museum (Natural History)) dinosaur toy line, made by Invicta Plastics of England. At the time, I mentioned that I knew of two posters, both with the same theme (an Age of Reptiles-esque seamless transition through time), but with the newer poster featuring some additional animals that were added to the range of models in the 1980s. Well, at long last, here it is!
Both posters were painted by the same artist – Ian Coleman. However, this one is a considerable improvement over its predecessor, bigger and better in every respect. It’s not simply that there are more animals here (and that the poster is wider to fit them all in), but they are also much more characterful and believable as living beings, and there’s far more interesting experimentation with composition and, especially, perspective. Just look at that regal brachiosaur right in the centre, and tell me you haven’t instantly fallen in love with this art. It’s magnificent.
But more on that in a moment. Firstly, a little background on where I scanned the above from. You might have noticed that, in the bottom centre, the expected NHM logo is accompanied by another one that reads “Florasaurus”. That’s because this was a centre fold-out in a sticker album entitled The Story of Dinosaurs, which appears to have been a promotional tie-in with Flora spread, of all things. Fittingly enough, the album’s cover (below) features the older Invicta poster, while the page backgrounds (which would mostly be covered with the stickers if you stuck them in) are taken from – oh yes – The Age of Reptiles. (Rest assured, the stickers aren’t especially interesting – they’re illustrations from an old Benton book that we’ve mostly seen before.)
Back to the poster, then. There was obviously a need for the animals to resemble their Invicta toy counterparts. At the time of the first poster, they all followed a consistently retro, tail-dragging style, but in the 1980s this changed considerably, with even sauropods sculpted with their tails held proudly up in the air, and the often crocodilian look of the smaller dinosaurs being dumped in favour of a cleaner, leaner aesthetic. This contrast could have been rather uncomfortable on the poster, but Coleman consolidates the different styles very well.
The transition through time is, once again, from left to right, with the oldest animals appearing beneath a wonderfully evocative, glowing, orange sky. These include two returning veterans in Scelidosaurus and Plesiosaurus, along with two newcomers, Ichthyosaurus and Cetiosaurus. (The toy probably wasn’t actually Ichthyosaurus, but we’ll leave that aside.) It’s notable how much more of the plesiosaur is shown, and how its anatomy (especially its head) has been greatly improved. Meanwhile, the ‘new style’ Cetiosaurus sits surprisingly comfortably alongside the semi-sprawling Scelidosaurus, with the former being framed beautifully against the sky. Great work on the musculature, too.
Whereas the older poster mostly featured animals standing around, not doing very much – almost as if they were a series of static models in a diorama, in fact – this one finds room for a little more fun, anachronistic interaction. Here, Stegosaurus and Megalosaurus seem to regard each other rather suspiciously. The latter, while still based on the (even by then) dated Invicta model, is a huge improvement over its predecessor, with considerably finer detail and a very striking mottled green skin pattern. It also has clearly differentiated digits, quite unlike both the toy and the version on the older poster – not to mention, only three of ’em on each hand. (Its toes still look a bit ‘clumped’, but, hey ho.)
When compared with the older piece, both animals have a much more naturalistic and less static appearance, sticking to the look of the toys, but with a little more artistic freedom permitted. Which is a Good Thing.
On to what is definitely the highlight of the piece for me – the mighty Brachiosaurus (or Giraffatitan, as this one would be referred to nowadays). The Invicta toy, in spite of being entirely monochrome green, has a presence befitting such an overwhelmingly awesome beast; it might not be the biggest brachiosaur toy out there, but there’s something about its pose, the subtle elegance and gracefulness of its neck, and the indifferent, almost contemptuous look on its face, that makes it a real stand-out in my collection, at least. This artwork captures that perfectly, as well as spectacularly indicating the sheer size of the real animal. Most of the other animals are perched up on a rocky outcrop, while the brachiosaur is striding down the valley in-between, yet it still towers over them.
And it has that look on its face. I know, I know, brachiosaurs probably didn’t have mouths quite like that – this almost seems to imply the presence of pseudo-cheeks. But I just love it anyway. There’s a reason it’s right in the middle of the poster.
On the other hand, the rest of the sauropods – Mamenchisaurus, Apatosaurus, and Diplodocus – are just sort of…there, in the background. The Apatosaurus and Diplodocus are even fairly hard to tell apart (Apatosaurus is the grey one), which is consistent with the toys, which omitted the famously insane neck of Apatosaurus and basically just made it Fat Dippy. In the context of the two tail draggers, the Mamenchisaurus looks like a crazy interloper from the Bakkerverse. As it did, too, in plastic form.
Perhaps the most characterful fellow in this whole affair is the above Troodon, painted in the extreme foreground (for it’d be a bit lost otherwise), craning its neck up and giving a slightly mad, intense stare that absolutely befits its birdlike character (even if it doesn’t have any feathers, for obvious reasons). The Troodon was a slightly incongruous inclusion in the toy line, being out of scale with everything else and only able to stand when attached to a base; it also strangely lacked any sickle claws to speak of, an error that Coleman has at least partly rectified here. It’s being bellowed at by Triceratops, sporting the same flat, rectangular scales as the toy, in another example of a fun little interaction. It’s a lot more interesting than in the first poster, where Triceratops was directly facing Tyrannosaurus, and still couldn’t be bothered to show any signs of caring about it.
Speaking of Rexy, while he necessarily still looks a lot like his plastic counterpart, he’s actually rather more dynamic-looking here – with a tail raised well clear of the ground and a fully-open mouth, that tonne of sculpted stone raised effortlessly against a suitably dramatic, cloudy sky (with Pteranodon swooping safely out of the way). Rexy’s head is still rather off, with too few teeth this time and, yet again, an ear where a temporal fenestra should be. But he’s much improved.
Elsewhere, over on the left we have an Iguanodon looking much the same as it did before (i.e. very Burianesque), a mammoth, a Glyptodon, and – way, waaaayy back in the far distance (and mostly cut off here) – a blue whale breaching. Yes, there was a blue whale toy in the range, albeit at a much smaller scale, obviously. Incidentally, that was the last one I had to track down to complete my collection. Bloody thing.
And that’s your lot! I could praise this thing to the orange-purple-blue skies all day long, but probably best not take the blog post into unreadable territory. Although, I haven’t even mentioned how good all the trees are. And the ROCKS! Look at those rocks! They remind me of Cheddar Gorge, somehow. Absolutely stunning work that I’m glad to finally have a print of once again, even if it’s not the best quality. (At least it’s not a jigsaw, like the one I had as a kid.)
Of course, the sticker album I mentioned earlier does have another couple of posters bundled in, that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Might have to have a look at those next time…