Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurus – Part 1

Vintage Dinosaur Art

When I first started writing for this blog – many, many years ago now, possibly even as long ago as 2009 – I was accused of being overly-critical. “Who cares if a dinosaur’s gross anatomy shifts considerably from one illustration to the next?” “You’re pissing all over a classic!” You know, that sort of thing. And the accusers had a point, at least some of the time. As I’ve got older I’ve certainly mellowed – not to mention got to know a number of professional artists – and have even been called “effusive”. Well, once. I’m reluctant to trash something that an artist clearly put a lot of work into, and try my best to look for the positives.

In the end, though, some illustrations really are just Quite Bad. These are some of those.

Dinosaurus cover

Dinosaurus (no relation to the B-movie) was published in 1998 by Quadrillion Publishing (well, to be precise it was “created by Quartz Editions for Zigzag Publishing, an imprint of Quadrillion Publishing Ltd.”). It was edited by Tamara Green, Paul Barrett served as the scientific consultant, and it was illustrated by Tony Gibbons. Whose proficiency as a general illustrator of reference books certainly isn’t in question; it’s just that he probably shouldn’t have been allowed to produce quite as many illustrations of dinosaurs. The creations in this book, while well painted and sporting gloriously vibrant colours, are at best oddly naïve, at worst hideously distorted, and mostly just rather ugly to look at.

Although it’s possible to tell that something’s a bit off based on the cover alone (what is going on with that oddly familiar-looking Tyrannosaurus‘ skin? Oh, they’re all like that), the, er, best is saved for inside.

Dilophosaurus by Tony Gibbons

In the artist’s defence, there’s a ridiculous amount of work in here, and it’s very likely he was under considerable pressure to produce it all. This would help explain a number of recurring issues in these pieces. Almost every dinosaur, from across tens of millions of years time and the entire surface of the Earth, lives in exactly the same sparsely vegetated yellow-brown habitat. The animals frequently suffer from strange perspective errors, possibly the result of limited reference material (although I’m not sure there’s a ready excuse for glued-together Dilophosaurus crests in the 1990s), and the further back one looks in a scene, the more things deteriorate. For example, behold the background Dilophosaurus in the above scene, which resembles nothing so much as a cheap-‘n’-nasty 1980s hollow dinosaur toy.

Background Dilophosaurus by Tony Gibbons

Yeah, not sure we can wheel out the old ‘it’s a stylistic choice’ line for this one. It reminds me of an awful “Corythosaurus” toy that came free with packs of PG Tips tea around the time of Jurassic Park, except they didn’t have mismatched legs.

Brachiosaurus by Tony Gibbons

The lack of 3D references is very evident in Gibbons’ illustrations of Brachiosaurus, depicted as essentially being like Diplodocus with a funny hat. It’s definitely hard to appreciate how wide the muzzle is without ever seeing a front view of the skull, but why minimise the animal’s verticality in this way? Other illustrations in this book clearly reference the Normanpedia – much as we’re all sick of Sibbick clones, I think Gibbons would’ve benefited from tracing over the Sibb-man’s smiley green brachiosaur for this one.

Stegosaurus by Tony Gibbons

More Late Jurassic dinosaurs now, and as you may be aware, Gibbons provided illustrations for my beloved Dinosaurs! magazine in the early ’90s. Among those were some of Stegosaurus when it was the ‘star dinosaur’, which were very much like the above piece – you know, except for that individual with the flattened plates. There’s an allusion in the text to Bakker’s idea of Stegosaurus flexi-plates, which I can only imagine this piece has been inspired by. In spite of that, these are probably some of the least odd-looking reconstructions to appear here, although my impression is probably coloured by my familiarity with Dinosaurs! It’s certainly noteworthy to see a horizontal-plated Stegosaurus appearing as late as 1998.

Allosaurus by Tony Gibbons

We’ve already established that Gibbons has issues with perspective when reconstructing dinosaurs, but nowhere is this more evident than in the occasional head-on view. The above piece – depicting an Allosaurus with a comically round maw – shows an almost childlike understanding of perspective, with the skull becoming absurdly wide towards the back, and the tongue apparently being triangle-shaped. How exactly is this frog-mouthed thing supposed to work? I’d love to see someone attempt to draw a skull for this monstrosity. (That’s definitely a hint, by the way.)

Iguanodon by Tony Gibbons

And speaking of peculiar front-on views…you might not notice much that’s strange about the above scene to start with; the Iguanodon look pretty normal, save for the skin (which is a given) and a few relatively minor anatomical quirks. Sauropods browse in the distance, Hypsilophodon jogs merrily by, and all appears right in the yellow-brown world.

But then there’s that theropod over on the left. Didn’t even really notice it, did you? Perhaps you were too busy admiring the turd-a-saur that’s floating by in front of it.

Look at the theropod. Look at its face.

Theropod by Tony Gibbons

I guess something punched it really hard, right in the forehead. (I bet artist readers are simply wondering what happened to the left arm.)

Parasaurolophus by Tony Gibbons

Anyway, the Early Cretaceous gives way to the Late, and we’re treated to a scene featuring everyone’s favourite trumpet-headed duckbill, Parasaurolophus. Again, one’s eye is naturally drawn to the individual in the foreground, which appears fairly conventional for the time; it resembles Sibbick’s effort for the Normanpedia. It’s an animal with distinct elbows, wrists, knees and ankles. It hangs together reasonably well.

…Which is more than can be said of the creatures behind it, which appear to have been dashed off in rather a hurry. Their limbs are tubes, their heads are all over the place, and some of them appear to be starving to death (over on the left, at the back). I’ll wager that the individual with the more vertical crest is based on Sibbick’s Tsintaosaurus, but WHY do they all look so utterly different? There’s a reasonable enough Parasaurolophus right in the front there! They just had to be variations of that! Why, why, by Bakker’s beard, why!?!

Velociraptor by Tony Gibbons

I feel like I haven’t featured quite enough peculiar takes on very familiar theropods so far, so here’s Velociraptor, except it’s a tube now. Just look at that foot – it doesn’t have any toes. It’s just a stump with claws protruding from it! It’s of a piece with the flattened head, complete lack of wrists, and semi-sprawling hind limbs. We shan’t even mention what’s going on with the prey animal, whatever it is, although that left leg looks extremely uncomfortable.

Perspective fail

And finally…another mouth gone wrong. These dinosaurs are supposed to be Troodon, by the way, which obviously didn’t really have any shoulders or, you know, bones in its arms to speak of. Of course, we must also mention the mouth of the individual on the left, which was clearly modeled on a paper fortune teller. (The kid on the left, by the way, isn’t a Gibbons – “additional illustrations” were provided by Clare Heronneau.)

Would you like to see more of this book? Well, hard luck, there’s plenty more where this came from. Coming soon!

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  • Reply
    Gemma Hazeborg
    March 5, 2024 at 4:24 pm

    We’ve been on a roll with the bizarre dinosaur illustrations lately, haven’t we? But people can ususally tell artistic naïveté from a plain old hack job. What surprises me most is that this one came _after_ Dinosaurs! Magazine. I remember his work in there being, not great, but at least better than this.

  • Reply
    March 6, 2024 at 10:19 am

    Judging from the shared involvement of Tamara Green, I think Tony Gibbons may also have illustrated the ‘Looking At… Dinosaurs’ series ( which were a key part of my childhood dinosaur awakening. I remember even at the time, I thought they resembled inflatable toys/balloons more than animals, but I took what I could get. That shockingly purple Allosaurus gets a whole book to himself, but my favorite was always the snarling traffic-cone-orange Megalosaurus.

  • Reply
    March 10, 2024 at 1:06 am

    Green, Gibbons & Barrett also worked together on 2001’s Extinctosaurus, which is available on with a free account (hint hint).

  • Reply
    Thomas Diehl
    March 11, 2024 at 12:35 pm

    What a perfectly fine Parasaurolophus in the foreground there. Nothing wrong with its jaws, nothing wrong at all…

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