Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurus – Part 2

Vintage Dinosaur Art

In my previous post we took a look at Dinosaurus, a 1998 volume that I now know is essentially a compendium of the Looking At…Dinosaurs series, featuring much of the same dreadful artwork. (Thank you commenters!) For reasons best known to the publishers, artist Tony Gibbons – who was responsible for some of the weirder illustrations that appeared in the early issues of Dinosaurs! magazine in 1993 – was here let loose on dozens of pretty painful illustrations of dinosaurs, each more dreadful than the last. They’re rife with nonsensical anatomy, crude cartoonish stylisation, and egregious perspective errors that would shame a 10-year-old.

However, Gibbons can’t take sole credit as the artist responsible for strange perspective fudges in this book – Clare Heronneau got in on the act, too.

'Australian discovery' by Clare Heronneau

As mentioned last time, Heronneau is credited for “additional illustrations”, which basically means those that feature human beings, such as the Australian rancher (Doug Langdon) in the above scene. The subject of this spread is the discovery of Muttaburrasaurus, which is all well and good, but it’s a shame that there’s no mention of Australian pygmy cattle breeds in the text. They were an ill-conceived attempt to breed tiny Friesians that would consume fewer resources in arid environments, and yet still produce milk suitable for producing delicious, creamy cheeses. Unfortunately, they proved quite useless, and are now all but extinct. At least their memory lives on in artworks such as this one.

Ankylosaurus by Tony Gibbons

We should get back to perspective fudges in Gibbons’ dinosaur pieces, though, so here’s a very Sibbickesque Euoplocephalus (sorry, “Ankylosaurus“) that is somehow striking a tyrannosaur while swinging its tail away from it. The tyrannosaur’s pose is spectacularly awkward, although I believe it’s based on a Sibbick piece in which a similarly vertical tyrannosaur appears. (I’m sure Sibbick ensured that the anatomy made more sense, though.) We’re treated to further predator-prey interactions elsewhere, like…

Deinonychus by Tony Gibbons

…this Deinonychus attacking Zephyrosaurus. It’s best not to ask what’s going on with that right arm. Weird skin textures abound, but we’re used to those by now; what’s far more distracting here is absurdly oversized claw that seems to be protruding from the animal’s third toe, rather than its second. Presumably, it’s the result of Gibbons misinterpreting reconstructions of the animal shown in lateral view. We’re at least treated to lots of blood spurting from the Zephyrosaurus‘ wounds, which is exactly what a kid wants to see. What we can’t see are the animal’s hands, obscured as they are by convenient dust clouds; it’s presumably why the label “Four-fingered hands” bafflingly points to Deinonychus‘ quite clearly three-fingered hands, instead.

On the subject of stabby claws, here’s Iguanodon giving a theropod what for, as clearly inspired by a Sibbick piece that appeared in The Natural History Museum Book of Dinosaurs back in the day. As seen here, some pages in Dinosaurus feature ‘film strips’ that depict a sequence of events, very much like Dinosaurs! magazine. These appear to have been completed in quite a hurry, as they feature pretty obvious anatomy fudges; the theropod’s hands in the left image appear to have been forgotten about until after the Iguanodon was already finished, while what’s going on with its legs in the right image is anyone’s guess. They seem to have become an amorphous blob.

Baryonyx by Tony Gibbons

Other spreads in Dinosaurus feature an animal surrounded by its wider ecosystem, as seen here with Baryonyx. Various artists seem to have had trouble knowing what to do with Baryonyx‘s claws in the ’90s – weirdly, Gibbons’ effort for Dinosaurs! (in which the animal is fighting Iguanodon) was much more on the money in this respect than the above reconstruction, in which the animal has a single stabby-looking claw alongside two useless-looking nubs. Really very odd, but at least this is one of Gibbons’ lusher and more varied landscapes, and that sauropod in the background looks jolly.

Mononykus by Tony Gibbons

In light of the Baryonyx, it’s ironic that one dinosaur that should only have a single claw ends up with two. Yes, that’s Mononykus in the above piece. To be fair, no one really knew what to do with this odd beast at the time, but those claw-like…things…on the forelimbs are very strange indeed. Other than that, it’s a brightly coloured scraggly thing that’s screaming at us, so very much the usual for a feathered dinosaur at that time.

Ceratosaurus by Tony Gibbons

In this book, Mononykus has too many claws, and Ceratosaurus has too few teeth and resembles a cheap toy. Good grief. Even those footprints are weird. What made those, a three-toed bear? HAD THE ARTIST SEEN A BIRD FOOTPRINT? Pass the vodka…

Hadrosaur by Tony Gibbons

…Actually, I might need something stronger. Some sort of mind bleach. The above is, naturally, an illustration of hadrosaur tooth batteries, except it’s an affront to palaeoart. It reminds me of those old photos of people attempting to smoke a ridiculous number of cigarettes at once. Still, no portrait image in this book can possibly match up to the majesty of…

Stegoceras by Tony Gibbons

Stegoceras. Just try and make sense of that skull, I dare you. The worst part is, there’s some decent shading going on here – it’s not that Gibbons was out-and-out incompetent as an illustrator, just very, very ill-suited to reconstructions of dinosaurs. I really can’t decide if the CG clag that’s filled cheapy books in more recent years is any worse than this, or actually better.

Muttaburrasaurus by Tony Gibbons

And finally…a perfect candidate for “don’t talk to me or my son ever again,” if only that meme weren’t long dead and buried. It’s simply adorable how both the adult and hatchling look similarly grumpy, though (as well as fixing a stare in the same direction). Great stuff.

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  • Reply
    March 28, 2024 at 12:14 am

    Note how it lists Ankylosaurus as being discovered “in Canada” even though the holotype’s from Montana.

  • Reply
    Andrew Plant
    April 5, 2024 at 11:28 pm

    And I thought that the dinosaurs and other assorted prehistoric critters (and cave-men!) from The World’s Wonderful Creatures were bizarre. Despite the egregious mistakes (cave-men battling Tyrannosaurus dragons being but one) at least the animals had anatomy that worked, generally. These pics however, take bizarreness down to a new level. Even if Gibbons didn’t have access to good references, surely he knew dinosaurs had two back legs if they were bipedal? Iguanodon’s punctured attacker seems to suggest that, no, he didn’t. What I find most bizarre is that the publisher couldn’t find ANYONE who was a better artist. Perhaps he was extremely cheap …

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