Eric Shanower and Skottie Young helped introduce L. Frank Baum’s original Oz books to a new generation with their adaptations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz from Marvel Comics. But their new adaptation, Ozma of Oz, may be their biggest and best story yet.
Filled with some of Baum’s strangest and most memorable creatures, Ozma of Oz unites Dorothy with Oz’s princess, and introduces a whole new world of friends and villains – some of whom were used in the 1985 film Return to Oz and helped traumatize a generation (we’re looking at you, Wheelers).
Shanower and Young got up with Newsarama to talk about their new adaptation, their love of Oz, and the Ozma of Oz from Marvel that you didn’t see. And there’s some exclusive pages from the upcoming adaptation to boot!
Newsarama: Eric, tell our readers the basic story of Ozma of Oz. This was the first Oz book I read as a kid after seeing the MGM film, and it seems like the series sort of settled into its core here, in that it mainly focused on introducing new characters within Oz and the surrounding lands, and keeping the setting within this area. What does this represent for the Oz series as a whole?
Eric Shanower: Ozma of Oz features the return of Dorothy Gale, who wasn’t in the previous Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz. Most of the story takes place in the Land of Ev and in the underground Dominion of the Nome King, which are both divided from the Land of Oz by the Deadly Desert that turns all flesh to dust with a touch.
Dorothy and a yellow hen named Billina find themselves shipwrecked in a strange land where they rescue a clockwork man named Tik-tok, who in turn rescues them from the Wheelers, strange men with wheels instead of hands and feet. Then they’re captured by Princess Langwidere, who owns thirty interchangeable heads.
Ozma of Oz and many of her friends from the first two Oz books—including the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion—challenge Langwidere. But Ozma’s real task is to rescue members of the Royal Family of Ev, who’ve been enslaved and enchanted by the mysterious Nome King.
The confrontation with the Nome King is a tense guessing game with all or nothing stakes. The Nome King is the most important villain of the Oz books, and here he makes his first appearance, though for a long time we can’t be sure whether he’s actually a bad guy or a good guy.
Exclusive inked page from Ozma of OzNrama: Skottie, what have been the unique challenges of this series so far?
Skottie Young: This is the third year of us doing Oz together, and the big challenges are fewer and fewer. I'm used to the characters and their shapes now so it's much easier to move them around the way we need them. It's very odd to feel this way, but I just don't view it as a challenge anymore. It's 100% pure fun.
Nrama: Eric, this is actually Marvel's second attempt at telling the tale of Ozma of Oz. Could you share the first version's history with our readers, along with why it's unlikely to ever see print?
Shanower: The first collaboration between Marvel Comics and DC Comics was a Treasury Edition—those oversized-format comics from the 1970s—of an adaptation of the 1939 MGM movie version of The Wizard of Oz in 1975. Roy Thomas wrote the script and John Buscema did the pencils.
This was followed in 1976 by a Treasury Edition of an adaptation of The Marvelous Land of Oz, published by Marvel alone. The script was again by Roy Thomas. The art this time was by Alfredo Alcala. In the back of The Marvelous Land of Oz was an announcement for the next issue, an adaptation of Ozma of Oz by Thomas and Alcala. It was never published.
The reason it was canceled, so I’ve been informed, is that L. Frank Baum’s third Oz book, Ozma of Oz, was not in public domain yet in 1976. Marvel had thought it was, but when they found they were wrong, they canceled publication of Ozma of Oz. The artwork, including the cover by John Romita, had been completed before the project was canceled.
Exclusive inked page from Ozma of OzOver the years a number of people, including you, Zack, have mentioned to me how neat it would be if Marvel’s 1976 Ozma of Oz could finally see publication.
But I'm not sure anyone could publish the Thomas/Alcala version of Ozma at this point. I don't know if anyone knows where the artwork is. Or what state it would be in. In the early 1990s I acquired photocopies of maybe two thirds of the pages. The other third of the pages—scattered throughout the story—seems to be missing.
Some of the page edges were cropped off in the photocopies. At the point the art was photocopied, many of the word balloons, which had been pasted-up onto the art, were falling off. Some of the balloons had been paper-clipped to the edges of the art and others were completely missing. For publication, the physical artwork would need a lot of restoration, even if the missing pages could be located.
If the one-third of the missing Ozma pages never turn up, Roy Thomas might readily agree to reconstruct his script if the publisher were willing to pony up a reasonable page rate. Unfortunately Alfredo Alcala's dead, so he couldn't do any art reconstruction.
I know who owns the Romita cover, which was sold legally by John Romita. But I don’t know whether the interior art left Marvel legally, so I don't know whether the person who has it now would step forward if Marvel—or another publisher—publicly asked to borrow it for reproduction.
Exclusive inked page from Ozma of OzThere's always the chance that Marvel made photostats of the art back in 1976, but if they did, who knows whether those would still exist?
The other big obstacle to publication of Ozma of Oz—as well as to potential reissues of the Wizard and Land adaptations—would be that the publisher would have to negotiate with the rights-holder to the appearances of the characters from the MGM Wizard of Oz movie version, since those versions of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion were used in both Land and Ozma. It certainly could be done, but I'm not sure Marvel or any other publisher would consider this worth it.
Nrama: Skottie, I want to ask you about the challenges of depicting most of the characters in the book -- I understand if you haven't gotten to drawing them yet!
Young: I'm trying something different on this time around. On Wonderful Wizard and Marvelous Land I spent a lot of time up front designing the characters – having most of the major players worked out before starting the first issue.
This time, I've decided to design them as I go along. I wanted to see if designing from within the story would have a different effect on me rather than just reading a description and going from there.
So far, the Wheelers have come out pretty creepy, and the image I drew on the page was my first take on the characters. I'm very pleased with it the outcome. This approach felt very organic and I kept the momentum of the story going. But the fact that I'm so used the world I've created visually that it's much easier to trust myself to design in this way.Exclusive inked page from Ozma of Oz Nrama: What are you most looking forward to depicting in this story?
Shanower: When I was a child, Ozma of Oz was my favorite of the Oz books. There’s not a single element I can point to and say I’m looking forward to more than another. I’m having a good time with writing lots of stuff in every issue—big things like the storm at sea, and little things like pacing the commands Ozma’s army gives each other.
Visually, however, I’m looking forward to seeing what Skottie does with the Nomes and the Nome King. And what he does with Langwidere switching heads—really curious to see how he’s going to handle that. I already love what he’s done with Dorothy’s hair. His Wheelers are much creepier than the ones in the Disney movie, Return to Oz. And his Billina is a knockout.
Young: It sounds like a safe answer, but I can say that I'm looking forward to the entire thing. I love telling stories and it takes all the pieces to do that. So for me, no one thing sticks out in my mind. They all blend together and I look forward to them all.
Nrama: Again, great success with both Oz adapatations so far -- the hardcover of the first volume was a much-borrowed item at Christmas at my house last year. What do you make of the reception to the work, and why do you think it's proven so enduring?
Shanower: When I was first approached by Marvel to work on this, I figured a comics adaptation of Wizard would be pretty much ignored by comics readers as a whole, as most comics adaptations of classic literature seem to be ignored if they’re not Classics Illustrated. So I just thought I’d do my best, take the paycheck, and that would be the end of it.
When I started to see Skottie’s artwork, though, I began to believe that the project would actually be something to be proud of, even though I still thought it would be pretty much ignored. When the early issues sold out immediately, I was completely surprised.
I’ve been working on Oz projects—both in and out of comics—for a long time, and no Oz project I’ve worked on before has proved so popular. It makes me so happy! I like being on the New York Times best seller list—I like getting multiple Eisner Awards—but the best part of all is that Marvel Comics is continuing with adaptations of the Oz series. Three years ago I would have said the chances of that happening in my lifetime—whether or not I was involved—were zero.
Certainly I give a large part of this Oz project’s success to Skottie’s art and Jean-Francois’s coloring—it really draws people in just like I was drawn in when I saw their first page of Wizard a couple years ago. But I also have to credit L. Frank Baum’s original stories and their continuing power to grip the imagination more than a century after they first appeared.
I’m just trying to do the best job I can with my part—translating Baum’s work into a solid foundation for Skottie to build on. It also doesn’t hurt that The Wizard of Oz—both Baum’s book and the 1939 MGM movie—is a classic beloved by millions.
And it doesn’t hurt that comics are easy to read. Time after time people mention to me that they’ve never read the Oz books, or only read the first one, so they’re really happy to get these adaptations from Marvel which are so easily accessible.
Young: I think it's a combination of many things. Baum's stories have touched so many, and we're lucky to have built in audience ready to see what we do with our take on the material. Eric is well known as the keeper of the Oz storytelling torch in comics, so his love of the material really comes through in his written adaptation.
And I think I've done my best to pay homage to the source material while giving it a new coat of paint at the same time. I think that together we've created something that seems familiar and brand new at the same time. That's not an easy thing to do and I feel lucky to be a part of it.
Exclusive inked page from Ozma of OzNrama: What would be in your ideal lunch pail from a lunch pail tree?
Shanower: I want one exactly like the one Dorothy picks in the book.
Young: A Black Sabbath burger from Kuma's in Chicago. That's it. That would be killer.
Nrama: What's next for both of you?
Shanower: Next week I fly to Europe for a speaking and signing tour for Age of Bronze, the Trojan War comic book I write and draw. I’m speaking in Bristol, England, then Athens, Greece, then the Quai des Bulles comic-con in St. Malo, France, followed by a French signing tour.
I’m still working on the last issue of the Ozma of Oz script. And Age of Bronze is still continuing. Oxford University Press will be publishing Classics and Comics, a volume of essays about the use of Greek and Roman classical literature and culture in modern comics—I drew a comics story about Age of Bronze for the book; it’ll be out in early 2011.
There are a few other things lined up, including penciling one issue of a popular Vertigo title, but since I haven’t signed contracts for these things yet, I don’t want to be specific.
Young: Hopefully Oz will continue to find its way onto everyone’s bookshelves, and we can keep making our way thru the collections. I'm also working on an original graphic novel of my own right now, and you will be seeing my name on the some writing credits at the House of Ideas over the next year.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Shanower: I hope everyone enjoys our version of Ozma of Oz as much as I enjoyed reading the book the first time when I was about nine years old. I’m really looking forward to Skottie’s art on it—and to bringing everyone comics versions of the rest of the Oz books.
Meet Ozma of Oz this November.Anything from Ozma you're excited to see in comic format?