Vintage Dinosaur Art: Prehistoric Creatures (Benwig Painting and Colouring Book No. 6)

Vintage Dinosaur Art

We haven’t featured too many colouring books on LITC – Victoria Arbour reviewed the Jurassic Park one for us back in 2018, and they popped up a few times in David’s seasonal gift guides (back when he was still doing those), but that’s really the sum of it. I am therefore rather happy to present Prehistoric Creatures, number 6 in the Benwig Painting and Colouring Book series, published by Benwig Books in 1971. Until I find the colouring book full of Normanpedia knock-offs that I had as a child, I guess this will have to do.

I jest, obviously. This is quite the find!

Benwig cover

For the princely sum of seven and a half pence back in 1971 (about £700 today, probably), you could have treated your child, grandchild, niece, newphew, or peculiar spider-collecting girlfriend to hours of fun courtesy of this delightfully illustrated volume. Naturally, there are monochromatic images just waiting to be coloured in with whatever art materials happen to be in range – but these are featured alongside identical illustrations that have been partly coloured already. To provide a little inspiration, perhaps, or just in case the kid couldn’t be bothered to colour the animal itself. The artist is, sadly, uncredited, but it’s safe to say that they leaned very heavily on Zallinger’s work. That said, when was the last time you saw a Diplovertebron anywhere?

Benwig Diplovertebron

For that is what is featured on the first page – the amphibian-ish thing Diplovertebron (as revealed by a text label that I’ve managed to chop off in the above image). It’s certainly an unusual choice for a kids’ book like this. I’m quite sure that there’s a reason for its inclusion here, very likely that it was included in an earlier book about dinosaurs andotherprehistoricanimals, but I really can’t think of a similar illustration (and a Google image search doesn’t turn up anything similar). If you’re much smarter, and possibly more handsome, than I am, and know the origin of this one, please do leave a comment.

Benwig Scutosaurus and Archelon

Next up, we have the Late Permian pareiasaur Scutosaurus (with an AMNH-inspired posture) alongside the Late Cretaceous turtle Archelon. A rather odd pairing, for sure, but then the creature selection here does seem to be fairly random. Scutosaurus appears to have a very miserable-looking, jowly face, as if it should be wearing a little bowler hat and commodious black suit. That is enjoyable in itself, but not half as enjoyable as the contrast between the somewhat naturalistic green and yellow of the Scutosaurus and the pink with green spots on the Archelon. Occasionally, the pre-coloured beasties sport somewhat ‘realistic’ liveries, but they’re mostly coloured as if a small child grabbed a load of Crayola felt pens, for whatever reason.

You might be wondering about that beak on the Archelon. Well, it’s true that Archelon had quite a beak on it. This might be taking things a little far, though.

Benwig Geosaurus and Antrodemus

Speaking of lurid colours, check out the outrageous spots on that Allosaurus (here going by Antrodemus)! It’s clearly based on a Zallinger Allosaurus, but its hands appear to have been replaced with tridactyl oven mits. Like the Scutosaurus it appears to be in a terrible mood, although Al has a more melancholy air. Perhaps it’s those missing claws. Cheer up, Al – at least you’re not an abelisaur.

Positioned above Allosaurus is the metriorynchid Geosaurus. In the pre-coloured illustration, one is an almost sensible mottled green and yellow, while the other is just solidly Sky Blue. (But why?) Nice tail fin, and I do appreciate that the animals are depicted in lush, leafy environments. I’m sure it’s not just to provide plenty for kids to colour in.

Benwig Brachiosaurus and Tyrannosaurus

Next up are Brachiosaurus, clearly modeled on Zallinger’s work, and Tyrannosaurus, which I’m really not sure about. The latter is surely the stranger one here, with its corpulent, lumpen body and legs like Nik Naks, although it’s worth noting that the background brachiosaur appears to have a duck bill. Here, the monochrome illustrations do show off an impressive degree of stipply detail, to the extent that I’m quite sure a skilled artist could achieve very pleasing results when colouring in. If anyone wants to have a go at colouring this thing in after all these years, please do let me know. (Nothing is sacred around here, except my signed copies of various Darren Naish-authored books, which you’ll have to prise from my cold, Raynaud’s-afflicted hands.)

Benwig Lambeosaurus, Styracosaurus, Protoceratops

You’ll have noticed that most of the illustrations in the book thus far have featured a single genus in a ‘spotter’s guide’ style. The above piece is the sole exception, featuring as it does Lambeosaurus, Styracosaurus, and Protoceratops together. And they’re all pretty bizarre-looking. Hooray! Naturally, the eye is drawn to the Styracosaurus in the centre, featuring a rather crude caricature of a Burianesque frill-less Styracosaurus head, but the flattened salamander-like Protoceratops might just be the strangest of all. It was very common to depict Protoceratops as sprawling back in the day (I’ll refer you to the work of Neave Parker and Burian), but this elongated, stumpy-legged beast almost looks like it’s on its way to evolving snake-like locomotion. Why is its tail that freakin’ long? Where did that come from? As Tom Waits might have said, we have a right to know.

In any case, over on the coloured-in side, the detailed striping and dappling on the Styracosaurus contrasts with its solid blue body. Of course, such striping on the horns is rather controversial, for surely a keratinous sheath being constantly built up would not allow for such details? Don’t tell David Silva, though. By comparison, the Lambeosaurus is a rather sober orange and looks fairly conventional for the time.

Benwig Dimetrodon and Stegosaurus

It’s not until we approach the end of my copy of this book that we run into the first instance of a colouring page that’s actually been coloured in by somebody. Sadly, I have no idea who – unlike some of the books I’ve covered, there’s no inscription in this one. (I’ll feel very silly if it turns out to be the guy who sold me this on eBay.) The presumably very young artist has adopted an interesting approach for the Stegosaurus, which sports an array of differently-coloured feature scales that have a ‘patchwork quilt’ effect. Perhaps this is intended as a hypothetical mating display, with males displaying the dazzling array of differently-coloured spots in order to impress females. It’s still ultimately green with orange plates, of course.

Above the grumpy-looking Stego is Dimetrodon, depicted in front of a glorious swirl of leaf shapes that almost resemble an Arts and Crafts wallpaper design. Almost. (Sometimes I insert things like this just to provoke Natee.)

Benwig Euoplocephalus

And finally, it’s Ankylo…no, wait, it’s Euoplocephalus! It’s rather unusual for a book like this, from this era, to namecheck Euoplocephalus, and I’m quite glad that they did. That said, this is otherwise a pretty conventional retro Ankylosaurus reconstruction, albeit with an unusually long tail. The pre-coloured version sports a fairly naturalistic look when compared with some of the others featured here, with the lighter osteoderms on a dark background resembling at least one Ankylosaurus model that I own. It’s a pleasing way to finish.

Coming up next time: something else, probably also from the 1970s!

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  • Reply
    December 8, 2023 at 11:25 pm

    Euoplocephalus replaced Ankylosaurus as the go-to ankylosaur around this time since the latter’s actual life appearance was uncertain until Carpenter’s 2004 monograph.

  • Reply
    Zain Ahmed
    December 17, 2023 at 11:02 am

    “Don’t tell David Silva, though.”

    Or David Armsby for that matter. He put striping bands on his styracosaurs’ horns in Dinosauria too.

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