Vintage Dinosaur Art: Saltasaurus (Dinosaur books from The Child’s World)

Vintage Dinosaur Art

Saltasaurus – the little armoured titanosaur that could – was a staple of popular dinosaur books in the ’80s and ’90s, following its naming in 1980. Sadly, since then, it has largely disappeared from view – displaced, no doubt, by certain much, much larger other South American titanosaurs. Of course, I’ve said all this before, not to mention hosted an art competition based around a terrible pun, but it remains as true today as it was 11 years ago. Alas, poor Salty. At least we still have all that media from back in the day, like this 1992 entry in the Dinosaur book series from The Child’s World (for more on which, read my earlier Megalosaurus post). Loads of Saltasaurus here!

Saltasaurus cover

This book was illustrated by Betty Raskin, and the dinosaurs have the typical heavily Normanpedia-inspired look that one came to expect in the early ’90s. I don’t believe there are quite any direct copies here, but the shapes of the limbs, certain details (like the feet), and general wrinkliness are all very 1980s Sibbick. Saltasaurus appeared once in the Normanpedia and was notably rearing up, making any direct copies easy to spot (of course, Sibbick might well himself have been cribbing from a Mark Hallett sketch from a few years prior). There’s plenty of rearing Saltasaurus action to be had here, but the cover star is pictured simply feeding on a tree, looking a little like a mashup of a few different Sibbick sauropods.

Sauropod defending itself by Betty Raskin

Saltasaurus is most famous for the bony nodules in its skin, which were presumably a form of armour, and so the book first looks at ways that herbivorous dinosaurs might have protected themselves. This includes whipping their whippy tails, as seen in the above illustration, in which a diplodocid-lookin’ guy lashes out at a very dramatically posed theropod. How exactly the theropod contorted itself into that position is a bit of a mystery (as is what happened to its shoulders), but it’s going to make the most of it by being as camp as possible. “How DARE you!”

Iguanodon defending itself by Betty Raskin

Other herbivorous dinosaurs had big stabby thumbs that they could plunge into the vulnerable fleshy parts of their adversaries. While Iguanodon stabbing a strangely inert theropod in the neck became a bit of a trope, here the sail-backed predator (Altispinax?) is throwing itself about in a equally dramatic fashion to the allosaur (I presume) in the previous piece. It’s just that it so happens, in its flailing, to have ended up in the perfect position for Iguanodon to stab it right in the neck. Not again! I appreciate the blood spurts, and the confident, almost dismissive look on Iguanodon‘s face. Like it’s teaching the theropod a lesson.

Saltasaurus defending itself by Betty Raskin

But you know what the best thing about Saltasaurus was? It could whack with its tail and stab with its thumbs! And it had armour, too! (There’s an illustration of an ankylosaur to make the point about armour, but I left it out. Sorry.) Why, it was like some kind of super-dinosaur. A Super-saurus if you will, although, y’know, not that. In the above piece, Salty gives a tyrannosaur a good seeing to. Presumably, the artist wasn’t given much indication as to what kind of theropod to include; at least she went with something Late Cretaceous. It’s decent enough in a 1992-kids’-book sort of way, although Salty’s tail seems to lack any sense of movement; there’s little indication of the force flinging such a massive appendage through the air, and it almost appears as if it’s simply resting against the tyrannosaur. At least Salty looks suitably furious.

Saltasaurus stabbing theropod by Betty Raskin

Now this is more like it – Salty stabbing a theropod right in the neck (why is it always the neck?) with its vicious, deadly thumb claws. It’s our first rearing Saltasaurus, too. Nothing like a bit of drama, and I do appreciate that the dinosaurs have a pretty consistent appearance and anatomy between illustrations (mind you, I’ve been looking at a lot of Tony Gibbons art recently).

Saltasaurus defending with armour by Betty Raskin

As well as stabbing theropods, Salty was able to resist their high-kickin’ karate attacks with its bony plates and bumps, as seen above. Why a tyrannosaur would bother kicking anything like this when it had a huge, bone crushing mouth stuck up front is anyone’s guess, but it is impressively athletic. Lovely brushwork, too, although Salty’s head seems to be a little askew.

Saltasaurus with eggs by Betty Raskin

It’s not all predator defence in Saltasaurus: The Book though; we’re also treated to some more unusual depictions of (hypothetical) saltasaur behaviour. In the above piece, a Saltasaurus nudges the soil with its mouth in order to better protect its eggs. However, one should note that the book’s text (by Janet Riehecky) is careful to avoid suggesting that they necessarily indulged in a lot of parental care, leaving the exact nature of what’s going on in the above piece open to interpretation. It could be that this mother saltasaur is simply forming a suitable mound before wandering off. It’s rather cute, in any case.

Saltasaurus herd by Betty Raskin

This book’s also noteworthy for Raskin’s depictions of whole herds of Saltasaurus, with the larger adults seemingly dragging their tails along in a very mid-’80s-Sibbick manner, albeit without leaving any drag marks. (Maybe they all just lowered their tails at this precise moment?) As I’ve mentioned before, while other dinosaurs had long since had a tail-lift, tail-dragging sauropods seem to have persisted in art well into the ’90s, likely due to the influence of Sibbick’s Normanpedia work (in particular) and the fact that they were still (justifiably) seen as more lumbering and sluggish.

You’ve got to wonder where this lot are wandering off too, though. I love the soft, picture-book quality of the dunes on the right, but why are they leaving such lush, verdant feeding grounds behind? Maybe there’s a traditional nesting site over there a la Prehistoric Planet.

Saltasaurus by Betty Raskin

And finally…another herd of Saltasaurus, this time hanging out in the woods, with no fewer than TWO rearing individuals! The one on the right straightforwardly resembles Sibbick’s, while the one on the left has shades of Sibbick’s rearing Plateosaurus. That guy in the middle does look familiar, too, but I’m having a harder time placing it (those forelimbs do indicate a brachiosaur influence). Still, it’s worth noting that none of these are direct copies, with the artist putting her own spin on things, placing the animals in a quite pleasingly painted forest clearing. For a kids’ book from 1992, illustrated by a generalist, it’s really not all that bad. Remember, it might always have been another Gibbons.

Next time: Ornithomimus!

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Gemma
    April 10, 2024 at 4:10 pm

    That’s a cute one! I miss Saltasaurus. Not only is it a forgotten staple dinosaur, it was also the only Cretaceous sauropod that was ever included in any of these. Learning about Alamosaurus blew my mind.

  • Reply
    Nancy Cousintine
    April 14, 2024 at 9:39 pm

    Looks like Old Salty, was rather, apparently! Perhaps the name should be changed to Assaultosaurus, as per this book! 😉

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