Vintage Dinosaur Art: Now You Can Read About…Dinosaurs

Vintage Dinosaur Art

Falling very much into that particular sub-category of kiddy fodder dinosaur book in which the animals almost all inhabit parched desertscapes, Now You Can Read About…Dinosaurs was published by Brimax Books in 1984 (with this edition arriving in 1985). For the mid 1980s, it’s pretty much par for the course – a little backward when compared with the full-throttle Dino Renaissance art that was already out there, but hardly much more retrograde than even the Normanpedia. It was books like this that meant I always envisaged dinosaurs living in a perma-desert when I was very young, and I’m sure it’ll be nostalgic for many.

But before we carry on, I must thank Jennifer Black for sending me all the photos you see here. Cheers, Jennifer!

Now You Can Read About Dinosaurs cover

NYCRAD was illustrated by Bob Hersey, a wildlife artist and, latterly, senior lecturer at the University of Brighton. (You know, assuming it’s the same person. I should probably try emailing him.) Hersey illustrated other dinosaur books, too, including at least one written by that super-sexy shiny-domed Iguanodon expert, David Norman. Based on experience, I’d have guessed Hersey was a wildlife artist even without spending about 10 seconds Googling him – the artwork here is obviously technically very competent, and the creatures hang together reasonably well, but it’s clear that he’s no dinosaur specialist. Apart from the many deserts, the animals all hark back to reconstructions from an earlier era, even if they are not direct copies (although the Stegosaurus on the cover doesn’t half resemble Bernard Robinson’s). They also sport various anatomical quirks, not least the tyrannosaurs’ tendency to have teeth that keep going, and going, and going. Right into the neck.

Now You Can Read About Dinosaurs title spread

The mega-toothy tyrannosaur exploits continue on the title spread, in which one threatens what I assume to be a suitably retro Scolosaurus, complete with truncated tail with spiked club. Bless. Those mountains do look rather spectacular, even if there isn’t a whole lot of vegetation going on. In the background, a gaggle of tail-dragging Triceratops, anonymous sauropods and hadrosaurs hang around looking a little despondent. As well they might – it’s 45 degrees out, and not one of them remembered to bring a hat.

In spite of the old-school appearance of the animals, there’s a lot of energy in this scene (in the foreground, anyway) – the tyrannosaur is shown on the attack with its foot raised high in the air, kicking up dirt, while the ankylosaur braces itself and glowers angrily at its foe. It’s a shame that there aren’t many other scenes of animals interacting in this way, as the rest of the book is more of an identity parade.

Brachiosaurs by Bob Hersey

But first…some trees! Hooray! The book begins with a general introduction to dinosaurs, illustrated by some brachiosaurs milling about in a forest. The lush greenery is quite marvellous, and lends a suitable sense of scale; not surprising, with Hersey being a wildlife artist. There’s no explanation as to why the animals on the left are smaller and darker than the ones on the right – perhaps they are juveniles, or a different species. Not too bad for the time, although they are all tail-draggers and they do all look a little bored. The Mesozoic, eh? Just a load of dinosaurs twiddling their thumbs for 160 million years until they were mercifully wiped out. (And some of them didn’t even have thumbs to twiddle.)

Brontosaurus and Diplodocus by Bob Hersey

The sauropod fun continues with Brontosaurus and Diplodocus, with the latter declared to be “the largest dinosaurs” (I’m sure author Harry Stanton meant ‘longest’). These are your very typical grey, wrinkly sauropods of the era, resembling less refined versions of the Invicta toys with more peculiar heads. Brontosaurus also lacks its characteristic absurd cervical vertebrae, making it essentially Fat Diplodocus once again – but of course, such depictions were very common until quite recently, as artists had a hard time getting hold of decent reference material. Why, even the Invicta model falls foul of the trope. At least none of the sauropods here are obviously copied from other sources, so we are spared yet more Burian knock-offs or such horrors as the Freaky Giraffoid Barosaurus.

Pachycephalosaurus and Parasaurolophus by Bob Hersey

Besides the earlier tyrannosaur, the other animals depicted in a dynamic pose are Pachycephalosaurus, which are naturally shown butting heads with considerable force. Other artists (like Bernard Robinson) may have done it better, but this is still a very respectable effort, with the clashing dinosaurs kicking up dirt and dust, and the force of the impact even causing the individual on the left to leave the ground entirely. It’s one of the best illustrations in the book, for my money – even the minimal background is superbly done.

Meanwhile, Parasaurolophus sit-stands while munching some pine needles. I do like the fact that Hersey was clearly referring to birds when illustrating this scene, and while the hadrosaur looks rather peculiar to modern eyes, it is entirely believable as a living creature; it doesn’t look completely fantastical. Again, a reminder that Hersey was a wildlife artist. It does have distinctly Robinson vibes, at least to me, although I’m wondering if that isn’t partly down to the artists sharing similar techniques in depicting glistening, scaly skin.

Triceratops and Styracosaurus by Bob Hersey

Naturally, ceratopsians are profiled in this book, too, although the illustrations aren’t especially interesting – the Triceratops is, again, quite Robinson-like, while the Styracosaurus has a slightly odd skull, although it’s very far from being the strangest depiction of the animal that we’ve seen around these parts. It’s noteworthy that neither animal has a keratinous beak, which instantly makes it clear that Hersey was referring to other artworks that were already quite old themselves. (Again, probably fair enough in an era when decent reference material was hard to come by.)

I mostly included these because I enjoy the expression on the Triceratops‘ face. It’s just ever-so-slightly disappointed, like it ordered food in a branch of Costa and was dimly hoping that it might actually be tasty. (With apologies for the parochial jokes.)

Tyrannosaurus by Bob Hersey

Naturally, Tyrannosaurus – being The Best Dinosaur – has an entire double-page spread to itself. And it’s rather good, ignoring that ridiculously toothy maw for a moment. The animal is shown with lovingly detailed, reflective scaly skin, its tail held proudly up in the air, busy dismembering the carcass of a poor little green guy (which I’m sure also appeared in a Robinson piece). I appreciate the animal’s muscular, dynamic appearance, as well as the fact that such a gory scene was included in a book aimed at very young children. This would have thrilled me when I was at the right sort of age for this book. Yes, OK, the skull is a bit silly, but it could have been worse, John.

Ichthyosaur and plesiosaur by Bob Hersey

Did I mention that there are otherprehistoricanimals in this book? Well, there are, including the above two marine reptiles. I’ve mostly included these because, quite apart from the snake-like head of the plesiosaur, there’s just something very off about that ichthyosaur. It appears flattened, somehow, as if it were based more on certain extant fish than actual ichthyosaurs. But do correct me if I’m wrong. I do like the little notch in the dorsal fin – a rather pleasing subtle detail.

Dinosaur extinction scene by Bob Hersey
And finally…the dinosaurs bite the dust, as represented by a Triceratops collapsing in a landscape that, frankly, doesn’t look that much more desolate than any of the others. But never mind the dinosaur, and the actually quite impressive use of perspective on its left horn – whatever is that skull meant to be over on the right? That ain’t no dinosaur skull, that’s for sure. Mind you, it wasn’t just the dinosaurs that were killed off 66 million years ago, so perhaps its suspiciously mammalian appearance is actually quite intentional. Another mystery for the ages! Perhaps I should try emailing Robert Hersey…

Coming up next time (from me): something sent my way by Herman Diaz! Reader contributions always welcome!

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  • Reply
    January 4, 2023 at 4:34 pm

    Pretty sure Hersey was referencing kangaroos more than birds for the Parasaurolophus; the resemblance is quite striking. And that ichthyosaur looks very suspiciously like a pike…

    • Reply
      David Orr
      January 4, 2023 at 5:21 pm

      I like that birdy Rex. Seems modeled after a hawk feeding on its prey. And that ichthyosaur is really bizarre, it’s interesting that he went this weird sharky-mosasaur-fish direction instead of something more dolphin-like.

    • Reply
      Marc Vincent
      January 5, 2023 at 9:22 am

      Yes, you’re probably right. I instantly thought of rheas I’ve seen sitting like this, but those proportions, and the arms…birds have blinded me, clearly!

  • Reply
    Ben Hillier
    January 4, 2023 at 5:11 pm

    Love these; especially Rexy. Thanks!

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