Saturday, May 11, 2013

365 Comics...130: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (hardcover, 2009)

Beyond the 1939 film, which I never cared all that much for and yet have seen countless times, I didn't really know much about the grand scale of Oz.  Oh, I saw (and loved far more) Return To Oz, so I had an awareness that there was more than just the Wizard, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion out there, but I never pursued it.  I've never even read L. Frank Baum's original text.  I've always intended to look into all of it more, even having purchased an annotated copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,  I just never got around to delving deeper, until recently.
The world of Oz is indeed a fascinating place, as is its origins in Baum's feminist influences, and also its incredibly expansive publication history.  Over 40 "official" books are contained in the series (over a dozen by Baum and the remainder by six different writers), but with the Wonderful Wizard of Oz entering the public domain in 1956, countless iterations and interpretations of the characters, series and land of Oz have manifested.  Considering the diversity of Oz almost from its inception (newspaper serials and a stage plays appeared even before a sequel did) it's actually quite unfortunate that the Judy Garland-starring film has dominated the public's perception of Oz, to the point that everything, even Baum's sequels, are deemed derivative or inferior.

With Oz The Great and Powerful [review] recently bringing the Land of Oz back into the public conversation, I've decided to finally satiate my curiosity and really delve into Oz, starting with that annotated edition I picked up a decade ago... which I got a little overwhelmed by about halfway through its 400 pages.  So, not unexpectedly, I turned to comics.  Marvel has been steadily adapting  Baum's Oz books for the past 4 years remarkably with the same creative team of Eric Shanower and Skottie Young (they're currently on their fifth series, adapting Road To Oz) so it seemed like the best place to turn (there's a reprint of the 1930's newspaper comics serialization out there that I wouldn't mind seeing either).  

Back when I was first getting into comics, I saw some ads for Eric Shanower's extensions to Oz and I was intrigued (they looked like they were gorgeously illustrated, as well), but I never did get them.  Yet Shanower's name stuck in my mind, as has his association with Oz.  So seeing his name as writer on the Marvel books lends them a sort of authenticity in my mind.  Reading his introduction to this volume, it's more than evident that Shanower is an Oz obsessive, a lifelong fan, and member of the International Wizard of Oz club.  Beyond his five comic books (all now available from IDW and Comixology) he's written a novel and short stories about Oz, as well as illustrated for the books of others.  He's passionate and devoted, as well as talented, so the perfect guy to go to for any alternative to Baum's original text.

Skottie Young also seems quite passionate about Oz, and intent on making it work.  His devotion to character design (as seen in the back-pages on the collection) is evident, having constructed a Lion, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Toto, and Wizard that are as appealing (if not moreso) than Baum's original artistic collaborators (W.W. Denslow and John R. Neill).  By design his Dorothy isn't quite as memorable as they detail "the character can't be too specific as she's a sort of Everywoman."    The coloring by Jean-Francios Beaulieu is amazing, and deserves as much of the accolades as Shanower and Young.  The appearance of  lavish cel animation, Beaulieu's colors define the environment and contribute immensely to the awe and majesty of Oz.

If you've only ever seen the 1939 film, it's an incredible discovery reading Baum's source or a faithful adaptation such as this.  There's so much left out of the MGM movie, the horrifying origin of the Tin Woodsman and his enchanted axe, for one, or the lengthy journey that follow's the Wizard's departure by balloon.  Most adaptations of the Wizard of Oz tend to stick to the compressed film iteration, and while the full story is kind of choppy, hopping from scene to scene, resolving the situations without building much tension, it's still a an engrossing world, one I'm keen to continue exploring.

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