Europasaurus: Life on Jurassic Islands

Back in December, prolific paleoartist Joschua Knüppe reached out to me to offer a review copy of his recent book, Europasaurus: Life on Jurassic Islands. I of course happily accepted, as I could already tell from the preview images he had shared that this would be a must-have for all serious dinosaur lovers. He had made the same proposal to Tetrapod Zoology‘s Darren Naish and Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs‘ Marc Vincent (which tickled my fancy to even be included in the same train of thought as them), and while they received their copies in time for Christmas, as the weeks stretched into months, it seemed apparent my copy had gotten lost in the mail. Joschua graciously offered to send a new one, but happily, just before he could do so, the original copy somehow got released from whatever postal purgatory it had gotten stuck in, and happened to arrive on my doorstep on the very morning of my birthday! Talk about a nice surprise!

Better three months late than never!

For those not already familiar with Joschua Knüppe, he hosts the popular “Paleostream” Discord and Twitch channels, wherein he frequently livestreams his latest illustrations, occasionally to a specific theme, along with a cohort of other artists. Many an obscure prehistoric critter has received its first representation in paleoart from these sessions. (My readers may also remember his participation in the Dino Nerds For Black Lives livestream event.) While Knüppe has published a few compilation books featuring artwork produced during these streams (which you can purchase at Studio 252MYA: see #Paleostream 1 & #Paleostream 2), Europasaurus: Life on Jurassic Islands, co-authored with Oliver Wings, is his first stand-alone book produced for a wider audience. And what a book it is!

The visuals in this book alone make it worth the purchase.

Promotional material describes Europasaurus as a “graphic novel”, which I agree best describes the nature of this book, but readers can expect something altogether different from the comic books typically sold under that title (see for example, Tec Rechlin’s Jurassic, which coincidentally also features a young sauropod seperated from its family). Lavish illustrations grace each page, with occasional inset panels depicting action sequences or closeup shots. The story opens on a warm summer day in Jurassic Germany, which at this point in time formed a system of tropical islands. We follow a young Europasaurus, a type of dwarf brachiosaur that developed a surprisingly small body for a sauropod as an adaption to the limited resources of their environment. After surviving a storm that wipes out his herd, the young Europasaurus (can I call him “Kleinerfuß”?) must brave the dangers of his island home in search of others of his kind. This journey naturally allows Knüppe to show off virtually all known inhabitants of this particular lost world, as revealed by the fossils of the Langenberg Quarry in northern Germany.

I’m very impressed by all the crazy angles and perspectives Knüppe managed to achieve with his subjects, especially since I hear many paleoarts complain about the difficulty in finding good, 3D reference material!

Speaking of the Langenberg Quarry, an extended addendum after the story’s conclusion provides a detailed look at the fossils known from this site, as well as the conclusions that can be inferred from them. This provides some welcome substance to the book, making the main graphic novel feel that much more more grounded. For example, the dramatic death of the Europasaurus herd in a lightning storm is directly based upon a particular fossil assemblage found at the site, representing multiple Europasaurus individuals all grouped together in close association. I’m a little surprised that the entry for the torvosaurine theropod didn’t mention the “Theropod Blitzkrieg” hypothesis Knüppe once illustrated. Essentially, the dwarf sauropods thrived in an environment with similarly undersized predators, but at a certain layer, all traces of Europasaurus disappear, replaced by the footprints of a large Torvosaurus-like predator. This possibly suggests a landbridge formed, allowing more traditionally sized predators into this isolated environment to wipe out the ill-prepared island dwarfs. The main story does vaguely allude to this, however, with a pair of torvosaurs that swim in from the mainland to attack a another sauropod.

Note the inset photo on the upper right, showing a complete, adult Europasaurus, which barely reaches past the knees of the skeleton of its close relative, Giraffatitan!
A map of the islands Jurassic Europe, with modern cities marked on the spots where they would eventually be founded. It’s amazing thinking about all the scientific work that had to go into the creation of this, with hundreds of unrelated researchers comparing stratigraphic and fossil data to hash out the details bit by bit over the years.

I can’t recommend Europasaurus highly enough. It represents the current pinnacle of Knüppe’s art, and it tells an engaging story with fascinating facts as well. It’s surprisingly thick, too. I was expecting a much shorter story, but there’s a lot of meat packaged on these bones, which gives it a very good value for the price. It’s rare to get this detailed of a look into a specific time and place in Earth’s history as we see in this book, and it is all the more welcome for it. (Vaishali Shroff’s The Adventures of Padma and a Blue Dinosaur is similarly specific, but aimed at a rather younger audience.) As if that wasn’t enough, it also happens to be bilingual, with English and German text printed side-by-side. As an American of Germanic descent who is insistent on retaining the umlauts in his last name, I am very happy I can now say I own a serious dinosaur book printed in German! It should come as no surprise then, that I happily award Europasaurus: Life on Jurassic Islands my Dino Dad Stomp of Approval!

Incidentally, if my shipping experience makes you worried about getting your own copy, I should say I’m pretty sure my long wait is some accidental consequence of having been sent a personal review copy. If you order through the normal Dr. Friedrich Pfeil storefront in the links I’ve provided above, you should receive your copy in a much more reasonable time, as evidenced by a few of my U.S. and Canadian mutuals on social media.

I wish I could recommend a fun toy to go along with this, but the Europasaurus that was meant to be included in the Battat lineup was cancelled, and the only other one I know of, the Bullyland Europasaurus, is retired. For more stories about sauropods, I can recommend Vaishali Shroff’s The Adventures of Padma and a Blue Dinosaur, which also focuses on little-known sauropods from the author’s homeland (in this case India), as well as the more traditionally comic-book-style graphic novel by Ted Rechlin titled Jurassic.

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