Fast Forward Book Review for October 2007
Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards
by Jim Ottaviani and Big-Time Attic
Ann Arbor, MI : General Tektonics Labs Productions, 2005
A review by
Colleen R. Cahill
Right up front I have to admit the book I am reviewing today is not science fiction or fantasy. But something called Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards sounds like it ought to be science fiction. What Jim Ottaviani and the comic artists at Big-Time Attic have created is a graphic novel about feuding paleontologies in the wild west: there are Indians, gambling, gun-totting scientists, dirty tricks and great dreams. The story of the bone wars is true, but it definitely has elements of the fantastic!
Scientists are often thought of as dry characters with little flair, but that is not true of O.C. Marsh or Edward Drinker Cope. Both men were obsessed with hunting the bones of dinosaurs and considered it a real coup when a new species was discovered. When Marsh starts taking over sites where Cope has been digging and also schemes to get his job as a scientist on the United States Geological Survey, a battle begins. Cope was supposed to be overseeing the mapping of the western territories in his government job, but spent a good deal of his time digging for bones. Marsh spent his time trying to blacken Cope#39;s name in Washington and in academic circles, as well as bribing Cope#39;s workers to spy and sabotage the digs. As he was often tied up back East, Marsh hired John Bell Hatcher, a paleontologist who was known for supplementing his income through gambling, to gather bones for him... and keep an eye on Cope. The war between Cope and Marsh was fought on many levels: from meetings and papers to throwing rocks to drive workers away from a rich bone site.
The animosity of this pair is just one part of the story. We also meet the artist Charles R. Knight who becomes famous for his lifelike and colorful depictions of dinosaurs. Knight received a great deal of help from Gabriel O#39;Reilly, an eccentric expert on reptiles whose apartment was a menagerie of snakes. We even run into P.T. Barnum, Buffalo Bill and Chief Red Cloud. All are affected, both for good and bad, by the bone wars. This is really a book of wild science as well as the wild West.
Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards is very entertaining and very educational. The black and white artwork does an excellent job of conveying a historic feel and portraying the various unique characters. Ottaviani#39;s stirring tale shows us not only the players in this larger than life story, but also the human jealousy and dreams that drove Cope, Marsh and many other scientists of that era. While aimed at dinosaur enthusiasts, this is a great story and I recommend it for anyone who loves an intriguing tale... even if it#39;s not science fiction.