Vintage Dinosaur Art: The World of Dinosaurs (The Question and Answer Books)

Vintage Dinosaur Art

If there’s one thing children love, it’s asking questions. And if there’s one topic that inspires more questions than any other, it’s probably dinosaurs! Needless to say, publishers have long since learned that the Question and Answer format makes for a quick, easy way to stock store shelves with titles that seek to provide those curious kids with the answers they so desperately seek. Does this one accomplish that lofty goal? Or at least provide us with some pretty pictures to ogle? Let’s find out!

The cover of "The World of the Dinosaurs" featuring a Tyrannosaurus killing a Triceratops as another approaches, and myriad dinosaurs in the distance.

Written by Anthony Harvey and illustrated by Alan Male and Lawrence Mynot, The World of Dinosaurs was first published in 1978 and features information and artwork befitting that tumultuous time in dinosaur research. The cover transports us to a primordial world dominated by strange reptilian monsters, but the wrestling match between T.rex and Triceratops is far more explosive than we’d expect from contemporary works. How often can you say you’ve seen a ceratopsian being hauled up by its face and, uh, straddled by a tyrannosaur? It’s best not to think too hard about what’s happening to Rexy’s leg and appreciate the dynamism for what it is. The textures of the animals are strangely rubbery, but they all have a nice sense of heft and muscle definition. Elsewhere we can spot a stego-slug, a Burian “Trachodon”, a nondescript sauropod, some little generic dinosaurs, and a rare Archaeopteryx with anatomically sensible hands! Sadly, the book doesn’t say which illustrator did which pieces, but this one clearly had some idea of what they were doing.

A green Brachiosaurus, brown Allosaurus, and grey Pteranodon are compared to a two-story home and a human.

As with many dinosaur Q&A books, most of the questions focus on things like how big they were, how long ago they lived, and how they related to each other. This size comparison, likely by a different artist than the cover, showcases what might be the creepiest Allosaurus I’ve ever seen. See how long you can stare into its beady, sunken eyes before you’re overcome by the heebie-jeebies. It’s downright ghoulish! The Brachiosaurus is much more conventional and even has nostrils in a reasonable position instead of way up high on the head! The Pteranodon is just a shameless Burian knockoff, but that’s hardly anything novel.

A side-view image of an olive-coloured Euparkeria.

As any dinosaur enthusiast worth their salt knows, Ornithosuchus was among the first dinosaurs and was a direct ancestor of Tyrannosaurus. At least, that’s what just about every book from before the mid 1980s claims. Nowadays we know it was basal member of the Pseudosuchia, and thus not a dinosaur at all. The illustrator seems to have mixed up their reference material since this is very obviously a Euparkeria, but I won’t complain. We used to see a lot of Euparkeria in dinosaur books since it was seen as the stock from which the whole of Archosauria sprung, but it’s sadly been swept under the rug as dinosaur origins became better understood. There’s a lot of the same haggard spookiness we saw in the Allosaurus. I have to assume those bumps are supposed to be scales or scutes, but they just look like warts to me. I can’t help but imagine it scurrying around the feet of a primordial Mesozoic witch, knocking some neon green goop from a great black cauldron. Somebody put that in a movie, please.

How do we know how dinosaurs walked? Footprints, of course! This is a lot more ichnological focus than books of this age tend to have, so good on the author! The unnamed dinosaurs (Allosaurus and Diplodocus?) aren’t exceptionally good or bad and I can’t help but think they’re at least partially plagiarized. The sauropod is similar to Knight’s Diplodocus but it isn’t a perfect match. The theropod is a little harder to pin down, but I know I’ve seen that pose before.

This time it’s explicitly Allosaurus and Diplodocus, and the problem with featuring multiple artists begins to show itself. The sauropod could pass for the same species, but the Allosaurus is a totally different beast. I’m certain it’s copied, but I can’t remember the name of the artist it’s copying! Take notice of the nostril position on Dippy, something shared by the other sauropods in the book. The Ornithomimus is pretty standard for the time, just a scaly ostrich with a tail and arms with grabby hands bolted on. Love those big meaty thighs!

Apologies for the curve of the page here, I had a hard time getting pictures of this book and my scanner wasn’t working. The Triceratops and Iguanodon are essentially Neave Parker copies, but the thyreophorans are original as far as I can tell. I love a good stego-slug, especially one with wormy rings of fat on the tail. The ankylosaur of uncertain affinity is one of the most lizard-like I’ve ever seen, but that’s better than the quasi-mammalian louse version that you’d often find in books of this age. I do wish the artist added some colour splashes or striping on a few of the dinosaurs. I get the impression they’d be a lot more memorable with something to make them pop!

Leptoceratops prior to the 1990s was practically unrecognizable, looking like a strange cross between a vintage Iguanodon and a Protoceratops. I love the claim that there were “relatively few land plants” in the Triassic. I assume they meant something like less plant diversity overall, but the phrasing implies to me that there were barren wastelands strewn across the Earth that would one day be filled when flowering plants showed up.

I can’t get enough of that T.rex! Strange legs aside, it’s truly monstrous with some nasty looking teeth and a neat little fin on the neck. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a fat tail on an tail-dragging T.rex but it works! The Megalosaurus is pretty similar to the T.rex right down to the roasted poultry skin and weirdly human arms. Still, it’s a nice departure from the skulking Neave Parker look you’d expect to see! The texture and beefy limbs on the Brachiosaurus are lovely, and the nostrils seem to be down on the end of the snout much like the book’s other sauropods but very unlike most art from this time. That has to be one of the highest weight estimates I’ve ever seen for a Brachiosaurus, over 100 tons!

In the pre-phylogenetic days dinosaur books experimented with all sorts of neat ways to showcase ideas about relationships between extinct species. This spread showcases one of the more common styles, with colours representing orders/families/whichever Linnaean rank suits your tastes. It’s a great showcase of how much casual plagiarism occurred in dinosaur books of a certain vintage. Virtually every single creature here is a copy! That aside, I appreciate a rare vintage Diplodocus with a skull that roughly matches the real thing. I’m pretty sure the Tylosaurus is mislabeled pliosaur, though the fringe down the back lends credence to the mosasaur interpretation.

And at long last, the image that made me buy this book in the first place! I’m pretty sure the art here is all original, or at least mostly original, and it’s absolutely lovely. This is why I still love these old books even now, nearly fifty years down the line. Lizard-faced Hypsilophodon and Deinonychus are bordering on identical, but all the other species have such character! The Triceratops is like a grizzled old tank, the Stegosaurus wears a look of dumb curiosity, the Tyrannosaurus stares with a dull but singular intent, as if it’s ready to take the head right off the Allosaurus beside it. I’ve seen this artwork as a poster, though I have no idea if that poster came with this book originally or was distributed by some other means. If anyone knows where I can get one, please tell me in the comments!

Next time: we return to Dinosaur Adventure 3-D for a look at some Cretaceous creatures!

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  • Reply
    July 20, 2023 at 7:17 am

    Great post, as usual. What keeps striking me the most from books from that time and older is not the outdated depictions of dinosaurs, which is to be expected and understandable, but how inaccurate they are anatomically. There is no way the artist looked at the actual skeleton before drawing that Allosaurus (any of them, really). I assume it was really hard to get quality reference material back then and they most often resorted to copying previous works by other artists, adding a new layer of distortion every time. The work of Knight, Burian and a few others looks dated but accurate to what was known back then.

  • Reply
    January 31, 2024 at 8:21 pm

    I also love this book,and the series.Do you know where I could find the one on military vehicles?

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