Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards
Subtitled A Tale of Edward Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh, and the Gilded Age of Paleontology and illustrated by Big Time Attic, a studio made up of Zander Cannon, Kevin Cannon, and Shad Petosky, with a cover by Mark Schultz, Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards is another fine true-science graphic novel written by Jim Ottaviani.
His most entertaining book yet is full of schemes and, as guest star P.T. Barnum is told, “humbug” as dinosaur hunters plot against each other for status and money. O.C. Marsh is buying up antiquities while Edward Drinker Cope considers Marsh a gloryhound who only wants his name in the papers. Charles Knight, illustrator, helps brings their bone discoveries to life with his artistic reconstructions of what the beasts might have looked like.
Those who do their own field work are contrasted with those who have crews to do dirty work while they claim glory and hobnob with politicians. Although the story is historical, the question of whether promotion is a necessary evil (to gather funds through attention) or a base desire of those with the wrong motivations is a very modern one. Those with purer motives take comfort in being uncorrupted by money, but that money would come in awfully handy when they’re working hard and struggling with debts.
This dusty subject is given life and verve through the personal politics of the participants, and it’s the details that make it fun. For example, instead of plain text, Barnum’s comments are printed in display type, similar to a circus poster. The toned art is expressive, fluid to read, and perfectly captures the emotional involvement of these early paleontologists. It’s ironic that today, I recognized images of their discoveries but hadn’t previously heard of any of them. Lives end; science and art endure.
There are notes at the end of the book telling which elements of the story are factual and which fictional, with more in the former category than you might expect. The GT Labs website has more information, including preview pages. Jim Ottaviani’s previous book was Suspended in Language.