Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs (St. Martin’s Press) – Part 2

Vintage Dinosaur Art

Ahoy-hoy, whippersnappers! I guess it’s been a while since we did part one of the 1990 Golden Guide to Dinosaurs, illustrated by John D. Dawson. The “D” stands for “Dinosaur”, one imagines. It’s time for some more early nineties Sibbicksaurs from this tiny spotter’s guide.

Deinonychus is at least partially based on the somewhat notoriously freaky creature from the Normanpedia. Dawson manages to tone down its creep factor a little bit. All the wrinkles that carried over from Bakker have been smoothed out to cleaner looking scales. Still, Dawson relishes the opportunity to turn up the gore. In the books of this time, Deinonychus was often presented as the most dangerous of all dinosaurs, someting a certain movie took an ran with. No points for guessing whose carcass that is.

On to the ornithischians. Lesothosaurus here looks strange and primitive, with a lizardlike head with that big eye so far to the front of its face. This is in fact moslty accurate to the skull. Lesothosaurus often gets rather unremarkable-looking reconstructions. I like it when an illustrator makes a prehistoric animal like this look a bit odd. Of course, the animals Dawson reconstructs are pretty much the same ones found in the Normanpedia; Sibbick’s Lesothosaurus is a bit more dynamic, but less strange.

Scutellosaurus in particular really reminds me of Dinosaurs! Magazine. I’m sure enough Dawson never illustrated for that magazine, but he easily could have, he’d have slotted right in. Again, I’m seeing a very lizardlike head on this dinosaur, with a lizard ear in particular. Scutellosaurus’ head isn’t especially well known, and this triangular head is at least one way I’ve seen it seketally restored with, so again Dawson can’t be faulted; his dinosaurs were at the very least referenced.

We’re on firmer ground with Stegosaurus. By today’s standards, it has a particularly short neck, as did many skeletal diagrams and mounted skeletons at the time. It’s not a tail-dragger like Sibbick’s, at least. Compared to the more minimal backgrounds we saw in our first look, we’re beginning to see more fully realized environments from Dawson. He does a good job on avoiding grass; I expect the scientist author, Eugene Gaffney, was fairly hands-on with the feedback.

Sauropelta isn’t in the Normanpedia, so Dawson couldn’t rely on Sibbick for this one. It still comes out looking pretty tyipical for the 90s. Interestingly, Sauropelta’s dramatic neck and shoulder spikes were often very much downplayed in the 90s. Nice environment, again, with a sunset vibe. Dawson is good with water effects.

Okay, here’s Sibbick again. His vision of Euoplocephalus was always especially influential, on artists and toymakers alike. Even though this isn’t quite what we believe ankylosaurs look like anymore, this look just looks right for them somehow, doesn’t it? No doubt the ubiquity of this particular design in the 80s and 90s has contributed to that. If you look at the hind foot on the far side, you can see Dawson struggles a bit with getting the perspective right. He’s far from the only one. It seems dinosaur feet are a particularly difficult thing to reconstruct. I’ve seen this be a pitfall for, for example, Maidi Wiebe, Thomas Thiemeyer and Elizabeth Sawyer.

I love the composition of the Iguanodon, looking pale as they bathe in moonlight. It reminds me of a much older Stegosaurus piece by James Allen. It’s images like this that makes it a bit of a shame that Dawson’s work appears only on the pages of this book the size of a passport. This would stand up to being in a coffee table book.

In this Maiasaura piece, you can see that Dawson is not exclusively a Sibbick desciple. His dinosaurs can look lithe and powerful like Greg Paul’s and Doug Henderson’s. I love the perspective of this one, with the volcanic nest in the foreground and the adults in the back. The very differently coloured juveniles are a nice touch, too. Of course, the adults are brown. 90s Maiasaura is always brown.

A nice dynamic Protoceratops piece, the other dinosaur known from its nesting behaviour. It’s chasing away an unnamed Zalambdalestes. Again, the Sibbick influence is a bit less with this one, contrasting with…


Eugene Gaffney’s text is very scientific and cautious to draw conclusions. There’s no “just so stories” in here. He is always quick to point out all the scientific uncertainty and comepting hypotheses inherent to palaeontology, to his credit. His voice as an author is down-to-earth and undramatic.

Dawson’s work here kind of contradicts this. Here, we have a dramatically posing Triceratops, standing next to the bones of one of its own kind. The bones are being scavenged by the very mammals that are about to inherit the Earth; a theatrical bit of symbolism we’ve seen before with the likes of Ely Kish. Obviously the piece, with its sky at golden hour, is meant to invoke, in a melancholy way, the impending doom of the Dinosaur Dinasty (read in Morgan Freeman’s voice). Life on our planet will never be the same.

And that’s the Dinosaurs Golden Guide from St. Martin’s Press! I never had it as a child but if I had, it would have slotted right in. The illustrations are as warmly nostalgic in all their Sibbick-inspired glory as anything I would have read at the time, and the text is well up to date to then-current science. My life would have been better for it, probably.

That said, there’s so many dinosaur books from the 90s, we’ve reviewed a whole metric ton of them and they are beginning to feel a bit samey. Next time, I’m gonna give you something from the very beginning of the 20th century. Proper Vintage Dinosaur Art, in other words.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    November 14, 2023 at 11:08 am

    ‘No points for guessing whose carcass that is.’
    Poor Tenontosaurus. Always the mangled and devoured prey item; never the bride.

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