Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards by Jim Ottaviani & Big Time Attic (2005)

BoneSharpsCover blurb


The wild, wild west provided the setting for some famous battles, but the gunfight at the O.K. Corral can’t hold a candle to the Bone War. In the late 1800s the newly re-United States dug, tunneled, and blasted its way to the Pacific Ocean, exposing rock that hadn’t seen the light of day for millions of years.

Nor had the bones buried in those rocks. Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards is the story of Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, two scientists who found and fought for those bones, and the artist Charles R. Knight, who almost single-handedly brought dinosaurs back to life for an awestruck public.

My thoughts

If there was an award for best title ever for a work of fiction, then it would definitely go to Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards.

Luckily, the rest of this graphic novel is just as good. Bone Sharps is a fictionalized account of the “Bone Wars,” the name given to the bitter rivalry between two 19th century American paleontologists, Edward Drinker Cope and O.C. Marsh. Both men were consumed by hatred of the other, and in the end they would die nearly penniless and alone partly as a result of their feud. But their rivalry also led to the discovery of hundreds of new dinosaur and prehistoric mammal fossils, with Marsh’s work in particular providing some of the earliest fossil evidence to back Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

If I have one complaint about Bone Sharps is that it doesn’t show how each man’s work related to the scientific debates of the time. But other than that I have a hard time finding flaws in this excellent comic. Ottaviani’s writing does a good job capturing personality quirks of each scientist. He also manages tell a good tale without taking too many liberties with history, as revealed in a “Fact or Fiction?” appendix in the back of the book. The cartoonish art could be a turnoff for some readers, but I quite liked it, particularly the use of sepia tones to give the comic’s panels an old-timey look.

Bone Sharps is the best account of the infamous Bone Wars you will find outside reading a history book. Definitely pick it up if you have even the slightest interest in the subject.


  • Mark Schultz, creator of Xenozoic Tales, provided the cover art.
  • Ottaviani has teamed up with many artists over the years to pen several graphic novel biographies of famous scientists, including J. Robert Oppenheimer and Richard Feynman. His works are available at


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