Time for another round of How to Keep Dinosaurs, a book written by Robert Mash in 1983 that would prove very handy for anyone who might find themselves stuck in a James Gurney-esque fantasy world. For those who missed the first post, the 1983 edition features a series of really quite charming colour illustrations by Diz Wallis and Philip Hood, with monochrome cartoons provided by William Rushton. This is in contrast with the more common 2003 version, which just featured a load of post-Walking With Dinosaurs CGI dreck that’s aged about as well as a neglected brutalist building.
And with that out of the way, here’s an illustration I forgot to feature last time, in which Deinonychus joins the police!
That’s right – just as the police are assisted by dogs in the real world, so perhaps they could employ stabby-clawed almost-birds in the How to Keep Dinosaurs universe. Interestingly, this idea would be revisited by Dinosaurs! magazine some years later, and they even went as far as including an illustration by the wonderful Jim Robins in which a barely-restrained maniraptor menaces a street thug with bovver boots and a haircut like an onion. Here, though, we aren’t treated to anything half as dynamic, perhaps because the Deinonychus was copied straight from a black and white illustration that appeared in Charig’s A new look at the dinosaurs.
Come to think of it, the concept of this illustration isn’t far removed from the Jurassic World ‘weaponise the raptors’ plotline. Ain’t nothing new under the sun.
And now for some non-dinosaurs for, predictably, it is assumed that readers will unconsciously include otherprehistoricanimals when they read ‘dinosaurs’ in the title (see also: Dinosaur Art, and the equally egregious Mesozoic Art). The first of these to be fully illustrated is Euparkeria, the Triassic archosaur-adjacent reptile. Diz Wallis presents us with a slightly strange scene in which three of the animals accost a bored-looking man reading a newspaper and eating what appears to be a slice of cake, although the rest of the cake isn’t shown. The room appears rather bare and sparsely furnished. It’s probably referencing a famous painting that I’d surely know about, if only I weren’t so ignorant.
There are plenty of pterosaurs in this book too, naturally. The first of them to receive the full-colour treatment is Sordes, which in reality was rather small, but is here depicted as absolutely dwarfing a housecat and, you know, living in a garage. The look of the beast reminds me of vintage reconstructions of Pterodactylus. It’s somewhat interesting that the pterosaur is hanging by its fingers rather than its feet (bat-like reconstructions were de rigueur before researches actually bothered to look at their feet properly). However, I keep being distracted by various details of the early 1980s car featured in the bottom half of the illustration. Blame it on my parents having a Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 when I was very young.
Naturally, Pteranodon makes an appearance, in a section entitled ‘Dinosaurs that are Not Recommended’. Mash describes it as being too difficult to keep in captivity, and near-impossible to breed. He also mentions chick-feeding behaviour that seems suspiciously like that of modern gulls. Wallis takes this further, depicting a mostly-white Pteranodon making off with a fisherman’s catch like an overgrown herring gull with a supermarket sandwich. White Pteranodon have certainly been depicted elsewhere, but they remain far rarer than Pteranodon in other plausible colours; artists mostly seem to paint their fur brown or grey. I don’t know if such an animal would realistically be white above as well as below, but it’s an eye-catching look.
And now for some of those cartoons by William Rushton. The above piece appears on the back of the jacket, as well as inside the book. Although deceptively carefully shaded, there’s a jagged, anarchic look to Rushton’s cartoons that lends them an instant appeal; if anything, they would be better suited to a book with rather more, shall we say, bite than is provided by Mash’s text. Regardless, I can’t help but wonder if the pet shop owner shown above is a caricature of someone, while the ceratopsian in the top right really reminds me of Stout. (Quite sure that’s a coincidence, though.) As an aside, and if ever anyone fancied researching it, I’m quite sure that there’s a proud history of wacky pet shops in British fiction (like Dr Zitbag’s Transylvania Pet Shop, which I remember somehow).
One of my favourite cartoons is the above, in which a Nodosaurus enjoys a thorough cleaning from its keepers, while a Polacanthus is reluctantly dragged through a ‘Polacan-Wash’. Mash describes Nodosaurus as “the most manageable ankylosaur”, adding that
“Some owners claim that their Nodosaurus smiles at them from time to time. I suspect another explanation for this eerie grin: as with human babies.”
Yes, those human babies certainly are eerie.
I’ve included the above piece, in which Mickey Mouse rides the tail of an edmontosaur (here going by the name “Anatosaurus“), just because it makes me laugh. The dinosaur being dressed as Donald Duck (GEDDIT!?!) is funny in itself, of course, but there’s just something about the fixed expression on Mickey’s face. This cartoon encapsulates an awful lot of hilarious absurdity in a single image, and hints at a great potential for the satire of corporate exploitation that’s perhaps not explored in this book as much as it could be.
And finally…I had to include this one. It’s the nightmare toothy pin-headed Quetzalcoatlus, come to devour your soul! This is obviously based on that famous tiny illustration by Giovanni Caselli, as featured in The evolution and ecology of the Dinosaurs by Beverly Halstead, that spawned a number of bizarre imitations. With absolutely no reference material to work with, Caselli was apparently told to draw a ‘giant pterosaur’, and not much else. If only he’d been allowed to depict it menacing a moustachioed hunter, as shown here. Great stuff. Incidentally, Mash includes Quetzalcoatlus in the ‘Dinosaurs for Safari Parks’ section, rather than sticking it under ‘Not Recommended’, as with Pteranodon. He does recommend, however, keeping it in an aviary built from ships’ rigging held up by balloons, reaching a height of ten thousand feet. But of course.
Coming up next (from me): a 1979 book from a reading programme that features photos of old model kits! Blame Agata.