Fossil Feud

Columbus Alive | September 29, 2005
Dinosaurs always make for cool comic books, even when they’ve been extinct for millions of years before the beginning of the story. Writer Jim Ottaviani proves as much in his compelling historical fiction graphic novel Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards (G.T. Labs), a fictionalized version of the true story of warring paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, the two preeminent 19th century scientists who scoured the American West for fossils.

You can’t make up these sorts of outlandish characters and conflicts, and Ottaviani doesn’t. Authoritative and aristocratic Marsh resorts to bribes and dirty tricks to discredit Cope, buying out the land his rival is digging on and even planting fossils for Cope to discover, in the hopes of embarrassing him.

Cope, on the other hand, seems the more noble of the two, but his fever for fossils—which he rates in importance far above his family and his own health—makes him seem driven to the point of insanity.

The supporting cast includes a young artist by the name of Charles R. Knight, whose paintings of the extinct dragons ignited the public’s imagination in a way that skeletons and published papers never could. Then there’s P.T. Barnum, gun-slinging cowboy scientist John Bell Hatcher, president Ulysses S. Grant, Alexander Graham Bell, Chief Red Cloud and even the Cardiff Giant.

Ottaviani’s tale is fleet and engrossing, and brought to vibrant life by artists Zander Cannon, Shad Petosky and Kevin Cannon. Among the most remarkable scenes they pull off are the graceful illustrations of stories told by the two protagonists.

In one, Cope tells his disbelieving compatriots of the elasmosaurus, who swam the oceans that once covered Wyoming; we see the seas rise up around Cope, and the scene shifts to that long-ago time while Cope narrates.

Similarly, near the climax, Marsh tells Red Cloud about another indigenous people’s myth of where mastodon bones came from, and the scene shifts from their conversation to a glorious recreation of giant men and monstrous mastadons making war on one another.

They’re two truly beautiful scenes in a beautiful book, probably the best historical fiction graphic novel since Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell. And, like From Hell, there’s an extensive section in the back of Bone Sharps explaining what is fact and what is fiction that’s almost as fascinating as the story that preceded it. For info on the indie publisher, click to

“True Porn 2”

You’ll have to dig up the late Supreme Court Justice Potter “I’ll know it when I see it” Stewart to find out if the 48 short stories that comprise True Porn 2 (Alternative Comics) are pornographic, but I don’t think they are—it’s not like they exist exclusively to cause arousal. Plus they’re real, mostly autobiographical tales told by comics creators, and as anyone who’s ever been to a comics convention can attest, the only thing less sexy than seeing a bunch of comics creators naked would be seeing a bunch of comics creators naked and doing it.

Just kidding—I’m sure there are some sexy comics creators out there. There are even some sexy stories in this book, but most of them lean toward the funny, the romantic or the heartbreaking. This is comics we’re talking about, after all.

The rules are incredibly simple: The story has to be about sex, and it has to be true. So you’ll see little kids working through misinformation, teenagers exploring, coming-of-age stories, coming stories, lame bachelor parties, cats and dogs doing things that would make the Farrelly Brothers blush, and the book’s editor Robyn Chapman’s failure to get laid at a sex party.

Obviously, given the nature of the material, this book isn’t for everyone (I found one or two of the stories a little too icky). But it’s a solid anthology, with a great good-to-bad story ratio, offering a nice cross-section of alternative comics talent and human sexuality among artists. Think of it as the Kinsey Report for cartoonists.

Columbus Alive

Founded in 1983, Alive is the Capital City's oldest and only independent alternative and is known for providing a forum for the area's free thinkers. The paper's spirited and original perspective on music, arts and culture distinguish it from the...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 62 E. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43215
  • Phone: (614) 221-2449