Return to The 'MARVEL'-OUS LAND OF OZ

One of comics’ welcome surprise hits in the past year was Marvel’s adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s original novel of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by noted Oz comic creator Eric Shanower and Skottie Young.  Now, the series continues with The Marvelous Land of Oz, an eight-issue adaptation of the second book in the classic series.  From Jack Pumpkinhead to Tik-tok, it’s a whole new world of characters that massively expands the universe created in the first novel.  With the 70th anniversary of the Judy Garland film in effect, we chatted with Shanower and Young about their return to Oz.

Newsarama: Eric, Skottie -- For our readers out there who haven't read the original story, tell us a bit about The Marvelous Land of Oz -- both the story and how it opens up the world of Oz.

Eric Shanower: The story of The Marvelous Land of Oz starts out small with Tip, an Oz boy with a mysterious past, playing a practical joke on his guardian, a crotchety old witch named Mombi. But the consequences are epoch-making for the Land of Oz.

Tip meets the Scarecrow, who’s the ruler of the Emerald City, and the Tin Woodman, who’s the Emperor of the Winkies, and they become involved in a takeover of Oz by a group of militant young women who want to run everything their own way. The final results change the political landscape of Oz forever.

Exclusive Lineart from Marvelous Land Of Oz

New characters include Jack Pumpkinhead, the living Saw-Horse, the Gump, and Mr. H. M. Woggle-Bug, T. E.

Skottie Young: It takes the imagination of the first group of characters and pushes that limit even more.  I'm trying to step up the designs and keep everyone wanting to see more and more characters.

Nrama:  The original novel was heavily designed for a stage adaptation.  Given the unlimited budget of comics, what have been the challenges in opening it up?

Shanower: The author, L. Frank Baum, had a major hit when his stage adaptation of the first Oz book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, took Broadway by storm in 1903. He hoped to repeat that success, so The Marvelous Land of Oz was written with a stage adaptation in mind, which is obvious from many of the characteristics of the book.

One of these is the way the story has a lot of static scenes in which the characters exchange dialogue peppered with jokes—very different from Wonderful Wizard with its continuous forward momentum.

This comics adaptation of The Marvelous Land of Oz is a faithful adaptation of the book. While writing the scripts I have had to keep my eye on the movement of the story, to make sure it’s not bogging down.

Exclusive Lineart from Marvelous Land Of Oz

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of terrific action scenes and lots of humor, but I’ve had to tighten up some of the dialog in and around the action and humor. But since Skottie Young is drawing the book, I have no fear that even the calmest conversation will have plenty of visual interest.

The stage adaptation of The Marvelous Land of Oz wasn’t as successful as the Broadway Wizard of Oz. I’ve been consulting Baum’s script of the stage version of Marvelous Land while writing this comics adaptation and incorporating details from that source wherever it makes the comics adaptation stronger.

Nrama: When revisiting the novel for the adaptation, did you discover anything new about it that you hadn't noticed before?

Shanower: Um, not really. I’ve been living with the Oz books as part of my life since I was six years old. Yes, here and there I stumble on something that strikes me anew when I’m re-reading an Oz book.  But that doesn’t happen often, and I so far I don’t think it’s happened with Marvelous Land.

Young: I read the first novel again before we started on this project, but I've decided to keep the second novel closed this time around.  I'm trusting Eric 100% and trying to use his words as my base for this story.  

I'm doing my best to pretend that this is OUR book and every panel I read from Eric is the first time I'll envision it.

Nrama: The first volume was a real success story for Marvel and all-ages books.  Were you surprised by how much fans and critics embraced it?

Shanower: Yes, I was surprised by the reception of the first series. I’d figured it would be pretty successful in collected form once it got beyond the comic book Direct Market, but the success in the Direct Market was unexpected. My career in comics is strewn with critical successes, but this Oz series has been really nice in turning out to be the biggest popular success I’ve had, as well as a critical success.

Exclusive Lineart from Marvelous Land Of Oz

Young: I was very surprised.  I'm not sure what I expected but I know it wasn't anywhere near the love that we ended up getting.  I'm personally the most proud of how many people have written me and told me that they are enjoying the book with their children.  

Critics surprised me the most as I've always been a bit on a tight rope with them.  I'm either loved or despised for not being what you might consider a "typical" comic book artist.  It seems that those traits really served us well on this project.

Nrama: Readers seemed to particularly enjoy the more surreal elements of the original novel in the last adaptation that have often been left out in other interpretations.  Do you think mass audiences are finally ready to once again embrace the stranger side of Oz?

Young: I do.  The source material is so rich with strange and wonderful imagery and the combination of Eric's knowledge of the world and my ability to think a little outside the box makes for a great pallet to re-introduce this material to the world.

Shanower: “Stranger side of Oz”? What do you mean? It’s all seems like normal Oz to me.

Nrama: How many volumes of the original series would you like to adapt for Marvel?

Shanower: I’d like to adapt the entire Oz series into comics for Marvel—as long as Skottie Young is drawing them.

Young: I'm in until they kick me out.  I've worked for Marvel for 8 years, worked on various series at Warner Bros. and Cartoon Network, designed toys for a few toy companies, and anything else you can think of...but the level of fun I've had on this book has blown all the rest away.  I'll do them all!

Nrama: Have you read the 1970s adaptation Marvel put out by Roy Thomas and Alfredo Alcala, and if so, what did you think?

Exclusive Lineart from Marvelous Land Of Oz

Shanower: Are you kidding? Of course I read the Marvel adaptation by Thomas and Alcala when it came out. I still remember where and when I bought it. I thought it was great. Of course, I’ve refrained from looking at it since I started working on this adaptation.

Nrama: Also, curious on your thoughts as to Return to Oz, , which I feel is a really underrated film.

Young: I've always enjoyed it and think that it's pretty creepy.  

Shanower: Return to Oz is a really problematic film. I loved it when I first saw it opening day, but my subsequent viewings have revealed major flaws to me. I still think Fairuza Balk did a terrific job as Dorothy, and some of the design—such as Tik-tok and Jack Pumpkinhead—is really great—Billina too.

But so many elements—among them the electric shock therapy and Ozma sending Dorothy into a mud puddle—just don’t work for me. Overall I find it really dreary and un-Ozzy.

Nrama: Eric, do you see yourself doing more full-on original Oz albums in the future?

Shanower: No, I don’t plan to be doing any major original Oz comics. My time is primarily consumed with writing and drawing my other series,Age of Bronze,, published by Image. That’s going to be continuing for quite a while into the future.

Of course, I don’t know what I’ll be interested in doing once ,Age of Bronze, is over, but I’m completely content to work on ,Age of Bronze, and write Oz adaptations for Marvel for the foreseeable future.

Nrama: What else are you working on right now?

Shanower: Today I’ll be inking the variant cover for Marvelous Land issue #1. Next is a cover Little Adventures in Oz, volume one, IDW’s new packaging of my Oz graphic novels. I just finished Age of Bronze #29 two weeks ago—that’ll be out in October and I need to get to work on issue #30.

HarperTeen is publishing a Young Adult anthology of LGBT short stories, titled How Beautiful the Ordinary and edited by Michael Cart. I contributed a 12-page comics story called “Happily Ever After.” It’s out this month and the reviews are good so far.

In 2010 Oxford University Press will be publishing a volume titled Classics and Comics, edited by George Kovacs and C. W. Marshall, a collection of essays about the use of Classical literature in comic books. I’ve contributed a 12-page comics story about creating Age of Bronze.

Exclusive Lineart from Marvelous Land Of Oz

Sunday Press just published the complete run of L. Frank Baum’s 1904-05 newspaper comic page Queer Visitors from The Marvelous Land of Oz, a really extravagant full-color oversize book and I contributed a couple essays and a checklist of Oz comics to it. Readers of Marvel’s Marvelous Land should really check that book out since the story takes place just after the events of Marvelous Land, taking most of its main characters to the USA for an extended sight-seeing tour.

And I just finished the script for Marvelous Land #6, so I’ve still got #7 and #8 to write, and after that it’s on to the third Oz book, Ozma of Oz. And a few other minor projects that have to get done in among everything else.

Skottie Young and I will be presenting the keynote lecture on the program of the National Oz Convention of the International Wizard of Oz Club October 3 at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, so I’ve been working on that, too. Anyone who’s interested should come see us. I believe we’re signing books afterward, and we’ll both have Oz artwork displayed in an exhibit of Oz illustration and comics running in the Beach Museum on campus.

Young: I'm working on graphic novel of my own that's coming along slowly but surely.

Nrama: You know, Eric, you may well know more about Oz than anyone else on the planet.  Why have the ideas and the books proven so enduring, Judy Garland film aside?

Shanower: I’m not sure that I know more about Oz than anyone else on the planet—I’ve met some real intense fans who can blow me away with the trivia. But I try.

 I think Oz has endured because the stories Baum wrote manage to take the reader to the Land of Oz—at least while you’re reading them. Baum didn’t write down to kids, and he didn’t try to make his writing anything but straightforward. His characters are fascinating and he presents them so believably.

Baum’s story plots often leave a lot to be desired, but the characters and places are so lifelike, it’s easy to believe they could be real. I think that’s a lot of why Oz has endured.

Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?

Shanower: I’m really happy to be writing this series of Oz book adaptations for Marvel. The editorial team has been great, and the other members of the creative team are doing a superb job. I want to especially thank all the readers who’ve embraced our Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and I hope they also will enjoy The Marvelous Land of Oz and beyond.

Visit The Marvelous Land of Oz with Shanower and Young this November.

Zack Smith (zack.zacharymsmith@gmail.com) is a regular contributor to Newsarama.

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