Eric Shanower and Skottie Young have been adapting L. Frank Baum's Oz novels together since 2008, and earlier this month Marvel released the first issue Road to Oz, their fifth Oz series at the publisher.For Shanower, Road to Oz has personal significance because it's the first Oz book that he encountered as a child, leading to a more than 25 year (and counting) association with Baum's work. We talked to the writer about his last work with Young, the new characters introduced in Road to Oz, and the importance of the Oz books to all-ages comics as a whole. Courtesy of Marvel, we're also debuting several interior pages from Road to Oz #2, out Oct. 3. Road to Oz #2
cover.Newsarama: Eric, with the first issue of your fifth Marvel-published Oz adaptation out and a second on the way, which parts of Road to Oz were you most excited to bring to comic book readers?
Eric Shanower: The Road to Oz was the first of Baum's Oz books that I ever read. (Actually my parents read it to me because I was still learning to read.) So I'm excited to be adapting the whole thing for comics readers, since it has a personal resonance in my life and love for Oz.
It's also the first Oz book we've adapted that, as far as I can think, hasn't ever been adapted to another medium before. There's a Little Golden Book abridgement and there are audio versions, but it's one of the Oz books that gets passed over for adaptation. That's because the plot isn't very strong. The strength of The Road to Oz lies in the characters, and the new main characters are really good ones: the Shaggy Man, Button-Bright and Polychrome. They all have well-defined personalities and I think readers will have a fun time going on this adventure with them.
Nrama: Skottie Young is back on art for Road to Oz. When adapting the book, what elements were you particularly eager to see through his visuals?
Shanower: I was particularly eager to see Skottie's versions of the new main characters that I mentioned above. Skottie's done a great job on both the Shaggy Man — not too safe but not too creepy; Button-Bright — pampered innocence but not treacly; and Skottie's Polychrome is really wonderful. At the end of the story there's a big party in the Emerald City with lots of unusual guests from many different fantasy lands, and I'm really looking forward to Skottie's designs for all those characters.
Nrama: The Shaggy Man and Button-Bright are both seen in the first issue of the adaptation. What do you like about those characters, and how well do they lend themselves to the comic book page?
Shanower: Both the Shaggy Man and Button-Bright are strong characters, although neither is a forceful personality. Both have secrets that aren't revealed right away — in fact, Button-Bright's secrets aren't even revealed in this book.
I only had to do a little shaping to the story to make them work in the comics medium. And fortunately, Skottie Young has an expert knack of capturing the interior of a character when he's designing that character's exterior. So it wasn't too difficult to get these folks to work on a comics page. Baum's story-telling ability usually lends itself to visual representation, and The Road to Oz was no exception.
Nrama: With the Oz adaptations at Marvel ongoing for a few years now, has your approach to the work — or the collaborative dynamic between you and Young — changed at all in that time?
Shanower: My approach hasn't changed that much. I guess I have a little better idea of what to expect from my collaborators, although they continue to surprise and delight me. Marvel has started cutting our page count and issue count, so it's becoming a challenge to fit everything in. When we began this project I was able to fit in every scene — even the part in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz where the Soldier with the Green Whiskers has Dorothy and her friends wipe their feet before they enter the palace in the Emerald City. I loved keeping little down-to-earth touches like that in the story because they create such a realistic juxtaposition to all the fantasy. But now little things like that have to go because there's just not room.
Nrama: It's notable that the Oz books have been some of the most high-profile all-ages comics not only at Marvel, but the industry in general. How rewarding is that aspect to you, especially given how there's often a sense that there's not nearly enough such material out there?Road to Oz #3
cover.Shanower: It's extremely rewarding in an artistic sense that these Marvel Oz comics have been so successful. I certainly didn't think this would happen when I took the job. I've been working on Oz projects my entire professional career and none of those ever hit like this Marvel Oz project. I credit Skottie Young's art and Jean-Francois's color with a lot of the reason for that, and I'm so glad we're all part of it.
There are great children's comics out there. But there are a ton more that just aren't in print and I'm sure there would be more reprints and more new stuff if the market were different. But there aren't many places that children generally see comic books and graphic novels, so those things aren't on most children's radar. Children don't have the spending power of adults, so why should any publisher market to children, why should any distributor figure out how to get product to children? This situation is exemplified by the fact that Disney comics haven't sold in any major numbers since the 1970s. How crazy is that? Disney comics, simply through name recognition, ought to be top sellers. (And I don't mean Marvel comics, which are technically Disney comics since Disney owns Marvel — I mean comics like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.) But I don't think most kids go into comics stores or even care about comics.Road to Oz #1
cover.It's merely anecdotal evidence, but time and time again adult readers of the Marvel Oz comics tell me that their kids love them. But the kids know about them because a parent discovered them first. I can only remember meeting one child who found the Marvel Oz comics on his own — and that was because he was an Oz fan first. As I said, anecdotal evidence, and centered on one project, but I think it's a valid representation of the broader comics culture.
Nrama: Finally, is there anything else that you're currently working on that readers should know about?
Shanower: Well, of course there's Age of Bronze, my comics version of the complete Trojan War, which I both write and draw. It's in print from Image and an app for iPad from Throwaway Horse. I recently drew a Bart Simpson comics story written by Evan Dorkin for Bongo, but I don't know when that's scheduled for publication. That's about it. I've really been trying to cut down on everything but Age of Bronze and Oz.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!