Eric Shanower Returns to the 'Marvel'-ous Land of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz turned out to be a solid hit for Marvel’s Illustrated line.  Beginning in November, writer Eric Shanower and artist Skottie Young take readers back over the rainbow in The Marvelous Land of Oz, an eight-issue adaptation of the second L. Frank Baum classic.  We had the chance to catch up with Shanower before Philly to get thoughts on making yet another return to the famous land.

Newsarama:  Going back before your previous Oz book, what was your initial exposure to Oz?  Did it come from the film or from the books themselves?  And how did you react to the story at the time?

Eric Shanower: I’d seen the Judy Garland movie on television a couple times by the time I was six. I loved the movie and I can remember marching around the living room with my sister singing “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead!” But when I found several of the Oz books by L. Frank Baum in a bookstore and my parents bought one for me, my doom was sealed as an Oz aficionado forever after. It snowballed from there. I had to have all forty books in the Oz series. Then I discovered that Baum wrote many more books than Oz and that John R. Neill illustrated many more things than Oz books. It just never ends.

NRAMA:  From that initial exposure and the subsequent portrayals of Oz in pop culture, did that make it more difficult for you to form your own vision of what Oz should be?

ES: I’m afraid I was scarred early by John R. Neill’s illustrations in the Oz books. That’s what Oz looks like to me and I base my own Oz illustrations on the ground that Neill broke. Which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy alternate visions of Oz. I think Skottie’s work is terrific, and when I agreed to script this project, there was no guarantee that I was going to like the artwork illustrating my scripts. To my relief, it’s worked out incredibly well.

NRAMA:  Every writer/artist team has a different version of the collaborative process; how does it work with the two of you?

ES: First I write the scripts and then Skottie draws the artwork. There’s not a whole lot of back-and-forth—practically none. I try to give a lot of information in my scripts—to draw on my background knowledge of Oz and L. Frank Baum’s work and life. I want to provide a really sound base for Skottie to build on, but still give him the freedom to create his own unique version of Oz. I think it might help that I’m a cartoonist, too, not just a comic book writer, so I understand from both sides the fundamentals of panel-to-panel storytelling, what can readily be accomplished in a panel, and how the story moves across the pages. Skottie’s good enough that he could make it work even if my scripting was a complete mess, but I don’t think it is.

Both Skottie and I like the Oz books, but while I’ve been steeped in Oz and all its permutations for decades, Skottie has a much more casual relationship to Oz. That balance is probably very good for the project.

NRAMA:  Obviously, you have a long and varied history with Oz as a concept and creative wellspring.  What keeps bringing you back?

ES: I’ve tried at times to get out of Oz altogether, but it never works. There’s always a project that comes along that’s too interesting to turn down. This Marvel project was merely one of the latest, and I’m glad I jumped on board. At one point in the early 1990s I thought I had pretty much said all I had to say using the Oz characters and concepts, but obviously I was wrong. Oz has fascinated me for decades, not just the books, but all the infinite paths my interest in Oz has led me down—the places I’ve gone, the people I’ve met, the ideas I’ve encountered. As long as it stays interesting, I’ve resigned myself to always living partly in the Land of Oz.

NRAMA:  Similarly, when you've trafficked in this area before, what sets "Marvelous" apart from your other excursions?

ES: Before these Marvel Comics adaptations, I’d never worked on adapting Oz stories so directly before—my projects were usually new Oz stories. So that sets this Marvel Comics work apart from my other Oz work. What sets The Marvelous Land of Oz apart specifically is the fact that it’s not anywhere near as well-known as the story from the first book, particularly the Judy Garland movie version of that story.

Marvelous Land is a good story, but it’s not as straightforward as Wonderful Wizard, so I’ve had to work a little harder on the adaptation—keep it moving, keep it clear, keep the settings changing enough so that Skottie doesn’t get bored drawing the same scene for seven pages at a time. Every project, every issue, is a new challenge. I’ve never scripted the next issue of Marvelous Land before, so it’s always a fresh exercise in seeing how to make the next issue work.

NRAMA:  Is it difficult to delve into a more straight-forward adaptation when yourself have a reputation and record of doing new things within the context of Oz?  Did it present any challenges, or was it its own rewarding experience?

ES: Actually it’s been easier writing an adaptation than creating a new story with existing characters. I’ve never worked this closely with an established text before, not even in my Trojan War comic Age of Bronze. The story’s all there, so that part is no problem—it’s a sort of safety net. The danger is in losing sight of the overall shape of the script because I have that safety net. I have to remember that I’m translating prose into a script for a comic book. Prose and comics aren’t the same thing, they each have their strengths and their limitations. And even when I’m successfully keeping all the balls in the air, I have to remember that I’m just one step in the chain of creation. My script still needs to be interpreted by Skottie’s art and Jean-Francois’s colors. So of course, each new page of the script is a challenge. But these Oz adaptations are just as rewarding as they are challenging—both on an artistic level and in the unexpectedly great reception that greeted The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I just hope readers like The Marvelous Land of Oz at least as well. I don’t see why they won’t.

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