It all started a week or two ago, when my partner Maartje found a Dutch translation of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park somewhere. It is an original 1991 edition. This means the cover image had been produced before the movie was made. It is necessarily completely free of the iconography of the film that would come to overshadow the novel, and indeed overshadow all other dinosaur media. That logo, that skeleton, that font, the designs of those dinosaurs and those characters which are all etched into our collective consciousness, none of it shows up on the cover. It’s a thing unto itself, and it is a thing to behold indeed. I’ll show it to you in a minute, but it got me thinking.
How many more of these are out there? How many localizations of Crichton’s sci-fi novel have been produced around the world, with unique cover art that predates the Spielberg film? How many of these were produced by book cover artists who in normal circumstances would have never illustrated anything close to a dinosaur? I took to the Internet, and the results exceeded all my expectations. It is true that most versions of the book you can get nowadays simply have the well-known logo on the cover. Boring! Nevertheless, I found a wealth of unique and remarkable, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, book covers that are independent from the visual language of the movie. Not all of these predate the film proper, but they were still unique enough to include. As a connoisseur of kitschy dinosaur Europeana, I’m gonna review a bunch o them! And I’ll save the Dutch one for last, because I’m a tease like that.
Let’s start in Italy. This, too, is a 1991 original (the novel itself is from 1990, but translations take a while). I must admit that, in most cases, I have no idea who produced these book covers; I’m not quite committed enough to get a copy of all of these myself to find out. That’s a shame, because as far as these go, I see a pretty servicable dinosaur here. Believe me, they get much worse… The eagle-eyed among you will have recognized the influence of Burian, specifically his 1959 Allosaurus. The environment it’s stomping around in looks less like a high-tech theme park in the Costa Rican jungle and more like a cheap resort in Florida. I bet that house looked like that before the dinosaur attack. The dinosaur looks smaller than you’d expect, too, compared to these humans. Poundland Jurassic Park. A nice pulpy book cover, very appropriate for the novel.
Staying in Southern Europe, this 1992 Spanish edition is simultaneously more stylish and more freaky. This highly stylized dinosaur looks more like some quadrupedal mammalian monster rearing up, some sort of awful earless dog. The stance and forelimbs are obviously referenced from a four-legged animal. Sit, Rex. This is what happens when an artist with no prior experience in dinosaurs, no relevant palaeoart reference points, and no internet tries this sort of thing; it can only happen in very specific circumstances, and it could not happen today. That’s why these vintage covers are irresistible to me.
This Polish edition comes not with a cover illustration, but with model photography. It’s a perfectly decent 1990s T. rex model, better than any toy from around this time anyway. However, it’s still obviously made of plastic and gives the book a slightly cheap vibe. Would you be seen on the train reading this?
Apparently, this is what the original 1991 German edition looked like. Sadly, I’ve found no higher resolution image than this. It might be faked, but it’s extremely eccentric anyway. A stylized, simplified cover in jolly primary colours with a jolly dinosaur silhouette, complete with jolly bizarro proportions. Those long arms are really something. I just know that the shadowy guy running away is the same dork who waves at all the dinosaurs in all the size charts on Wikipedia. Those playful fonts and colours don’t really sell the danger of the story to me. I love how the original German title of the book was just “Dinopark”.
There’s been a ton of different German editions over the years. Many of these are delightfully offbeat. Here’s another model T. rex in extreme close up. The infamous Jurassic Park font makes an appearance here, so we’re post-movie.
Germany is the gift that keeps giving; this one is as recent as 2005. This one is especially baffling. The font in the title could be that a romance novel. The backround is a swamp, while the dinosaur model looks especially cheap and ugly. The German text on the cover explains how this novel and Spielberg’s film conquered the world. Just a complete mishmash of unrelated elements on this book cover.
Another German-language edition. This might be the Austrian one, though I’m not sure. This is the most stylish one we’ve seen so far, and for obvious reason: plagiarism! You’ve no doubt recognized Burian’s heroic Tarbosaurus on the cover here, even if it has been silhouetted out and given a different background. I won’t deny this looks cool, though. You can’t go wrong with Burian.
Speaking of Burian: what about Czechia? Disappointingly, the land that brought forth the world’s greatest palaeoartist has to make do with nothing but re-used stock art on the cover. If you’re my age, you will probably recognize this as the Neil Lloyd T. rex from Dinosaurs! Magazine! It doesn’t look like a whole lot of effort went into this book cover.
But we can always do worse. Here’s a later Czech version, with none other than the Papo T. rex on the cover! Absolutely no shame. Zdeněk must be turning in his grave.
Here’s at last something that looks like original artwork to me. Or is this something pre-existing, cut out from its original background? Anyway, this is an Hungarian edition. Nothing especially noteworthy here; just a slightly dodgy drooling dinosaur.
This one is also Hungarian. From 1996, so the movie logo makes an appearance, but it’s weird enough to be interesting. At the top, we see a bizarre, goofy, wild-eyed cartoon dinosaur in various stages of polygonal rendering… did the cover artist confuse genetic research with computer generated art? It does look oddly frog-like, that’s an important plot point in the story. The rex skull is absent from the logo, where’d it go? Interesting how the novel came out under separate titles in Hungary. Sziget means island (as every European hipster definitely knows), so this reads Monster Island, while the above means Park of Primitive Creatures. I also appreciate how the author of this book is called Cmriicchhateoln. Graphic Design is my passion!
I’m a big fan of this Swedish edition. It captures some of that childlike wonder. There’s a bit of Burian in that T. rex, and maybe a bit of Bernard Robinson? Copied from one of those ubiquitous 80s/90s T. rex images you’d see places. I don’t know, I’ve seen so much of this stuff, man. The covers uses a variation of the Jurassic Park Neuland font, so it must be a post-movie edition.
Russia can always be relied upon for quality idiosyncratic covers, and they do not disappoint. The dinosaur that greets us on this purple cover is even cute, with those big hamster cheeks and friendly eyes. At the same time, it’s not the worst T. rex we’ve seen on these covers by a long shot, with the shape of the skull actually quite well observed. I have a hard time finding this one scary, though.
Here’s another Russian edition, and this has to be one of my favourites. The creature on the cover here looks as much like a dragon as it does a dinosaur. Contrasting with the previous one, this is a completely fanciful creature that is, again, not produced by anyone who’s ever done dinosaurs before. It doesn’t even have arms. If anything, this looks like the skull lizard creatures of Kong: Skull Island. The typography and design on this one are absolutely 90s-tastic.
Out of the many Russian editions I found, this one looks the classiest. As I live and breathe, that looks like an honest-to-Zeus piece of actual competent palaeoart on the cover! It could be Greg Paul or one of his disciples. I hope it wasn’t stolen. The elegant font completes the picture. I don’t like the orange, though.
Another favourite is this Turkish version, from 1993. It came out to tie in with the film, but the artwork is original. Once again, our T. rex is completely monstrous and out there. It’s more of a vintage guy-in-a-suit Godzilla than anything, and the sauropods haven’t got the memo yet about how they’re not supposed to be in the water. The scalation on the T. rex is interesting, they look less like the big scales of an animal and more like rocks, as if the creature is some sort of golem, made from the very Earth itself. This vintage Turkish edition was on sale for the better part of 100 dollars, which goes some ways towards explaining why I decided against starting a collection of these.
Most Asian editions of the novel didn’t come out before the film, so those covers are overwhelmingly film-related, and not very interesting. An exception is this 1996 Thai version. Although the logo, the gate and the font are all there from the film, we do get some original, illustrated dinosaurs. I say “original”. Rather than Burian, the inspiration this time seems to have been John Sibbick, his highly recognizable T. rex and Velociraptor dutifully traced. I wish I had a higher resolution version of this one.
And here’s the Dutch version that I promised you! I don’t mean to brag, but surely this is the king of weird vintage JP book covers? Look at that thing! What is even going on here? Is this made by someone who not only has never illustrated a dinosaur before, but never even seen a dinosaur before? What is going on with that arm? How does its neck work? Is that its back? Look at that five-fingered hand. Wait, which way does its knee bend? Is its leg backwards, or am I? What even is reality? Is that the face of 1998 Godzilla? I’m so confused. Please send help. Anyway, I have this one, so I can tell you who’s responsible. The image is credited to the brothers Schriemer who studied in the same town as me, so credit where credit is due. Er gaat niets boven Groningen. Five stars.