By Kiel Phegley
Though its first issue won't debut until December 10, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ has already earned raves from even traditionally super hero-centric fans thanks to the expressive character designs of artist Skottie Young showcased in the recent sketchbook preview
. But while Young's work will doubtless bring a number of fans from the mainstream to the Oz party, his collaborator carries his own accolades from the world of indie and art comics.
Series writer and Eisner-winning cartoonist Eric Shanower got his start in the comics game two decades ago crafting original comics tales set within the Oz universe. With THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, Shanower brings his career with the characters full circle. We asked the creator about his life in Oz, bringing the seldom-seen scenes from the original work to light and what it's like collaborating with Skottie Young.
Marvel.com: Eric, you've done many Oz comics and stories and illustrations, but is this the first time that you've done a strict adaptation of the original story?
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Yes, it is. When I was little, I loved the Oz books, and I decided that when I grew up I wanted to write and illustrate my own Oz books. So that was my main focus: telling my own Oz stories. And I had thought over the years of adapting the first book, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," as a comic book or doing my own illustrated version of it, but I had other priorities or other things to do—plenty of other stuff in life. So I never seriously considered it. And it's a story that's been out there for over 100 years, so many people have illustrated it, and it's been adapted for comics many times. It wasn't like there was a gap I'd be filling. So it wasn't a big priority. It was just a thought I'd have once in a while.
But when Marvel asked me to do this, it was like, "Oh, Sure! I'd be happy to!" [Laughs
] I did a series of Oz graphic novels about 20 years ago, and after I finished the last one, I said, "Ok. That's it. I'm leaving Oz forever." But that's not the way it worked. I kept running into things where I'd get an idea I couldn't turn away from or some publisher would come to me with an Oz proposal and I wouldn't be able to turn it down. So I've never been able to get out of Oz all together. And this project was just another one of those things that I couldn't turn down because it's too interesting.
Marvel.com: Like you said, there have been plenty of adaptations of the first Oz story in the past. What did you want to bring to this to make it unique and give readers a reason to check the book out? Was part of it the chance to have someone like Skottie do the art?
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Well, my main thrust was to adapt the original story faithfully, which to me meant including the entire story. So many adaptations of the "Wizard of Oz" cut out parts. There are reasons for this. Some of the later adventures that the characters have seem sort of anti-climactic. There's a whole section after the characters discover the Wizard of Oz and he flies away in the balloon, and between that and meeting Glinda, there's a wholes series of adventures in the book. That usually gets cut out in most adaptations—the movie adaptation, comic adaptations. So that was definitely something I wanted to make sure stayed in. I wanted everything that was part of the book to stay in some way. Now, of course, it's an adaptation, and it's for a different medium from prose to comics, so there are different demands. My other main goal was to make sure it was a good comic, not just an adaptation where it didn't matter to me if it was good or bad as long as I got everything in. I wanted to get everything that mattered to me in and
make sure it was good.
I wasn't that familiar with Skottie's work beforehand. In fact, I don't think I'd ever heard his name before Marvel sent me some samples of his just to show me what his work was like. I had no idea what it was
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going to turn out like as far as the artwork, and I'm really generally a control freak, so I had to put up this wall in my brain saying, "Ok. This is not going to be my vision of Oz. It is going to be someone else's, and I may hate it even. It may turn out to be something I like…maybe not. Who knows?" Fortunately, I think Skottie's artwork is absolutely terrific. It is so gorgeous, and I am so glad that he's handling it. I think everyone's going to be really happy with the way it looks when the book is published, and I'm really looking forward to everyone's reactions. The reaction so far to the art that's been released on the net and in the sketchbook that came out has been really, really positive, which I think it deserves.
Marvel.com: When you sat down to re-read the book, did it seem like you could take full scenes out to present in the comic, or did you really have to find creative ways to present things in a visual format?
The book is not dialogue-driven, I [wouldn't] say. There is a lot of dialogue. I found myself not having much of a problem keeping the text. Of course, a lot of it got cut out because it is comics. A lot of it I just gave to Skottie and said, "This is the situation and what needs to be in the panel because it's what's in the text. Just let the visuals carry the story from the text." I think that's working well for comics. In the last 20 or 30 years, the reliance on captions in comics has gone way, way down. Captions seem to be the ugly step sister of comics these days. But captions are useful when used properly. So I used captions to carry the story, and all the text in my captions is directly from the book. But I don't think it's a caption-heavy comic. When I'm writing the script I just sort
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of dive in, swim around and grab onto something that seems right. I type it into the computer screen, and if it works, it works. If not, I try and find something else.
Marvel.com: In terms of Skottie's visuals, it seems that he came up with many different takes on the characters and then you gave notes to come to the final version. In the original story, is there a lot of specific description for how they look, or does it just say, "And then there was a scarecrow…and then there was a cowardly lion"?
It depends on the character. For instance, Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion—you just have a little girl. Baum doesn't give a description of Dorothy. She's an everyman—well, everyperson. Dorothy is not described just so that the reader can put their own imagination into the character and not have that character be too different than any reader. The lion is just a lion, and there's not a lot of description. He's a large lion. That's about it. But with the Scarecrow and Tin Man, there is a lot of detail on them in the book particularly because each of them describes how they came into being. So we get some really explicit description of them in the book.
One of the advantages of me being a scripter on this project is that I've been an Oz enthusiast for most of my life. I've read all the Oz books multiple times and done my own Oz stories, so I'm quite familiar with the entire Oz mythos. So when I was describing the characters in the script for Skottie to design, I was able to draw on the entire history of the character and give him some suggestions about how other artists have drawn the characters saying, "I've seen this done, and it doesn't work very well. Maybe you could try this approach." I
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wasn't trying to dictate anything to Skottie, but I was trying to give him a solid base and some tips on what might work and what might not work. At the same time, I have to say that all the design work is Skottie's own, and I was impressed that he put aside any other vision of the characters and came up with his own whole cloth, which I was very happy about.
Marvel.com: It's interesting because so many people who know the world of Oz came to it through the movie musical. It's weird to say this, but in a way you don't want to reveal too many spoilers for what actually happens in this 100-year old story because a lot of people don't know the ins and outs. But do you hope to drive some readers to the original book once they see this more faithful version?
You know, if people go back to the original book or some of the sequels, that's fine. That's not a goal of mine. Like I said before, my goal was to adapt the first book well for comics. This adaptation for Marvel for me is the end itself—to give people a good comics reading experience. If they don't go beyond this, that's fine. As long as they think this is wonderful, I'm happy. [Laughs
Marvel.com: And are you interested in going on and doing more Oz comics for Marvel after this?
Yes. In fact, we're going beyond THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, and I'm now adapting the second Oz book, "The Marvelous Land of Oz," which Skottie is going to be drawing as well. I finished the scripts for WIZARD last June, and Skottie's in the middle of issue three or four right now of eight issues. Marvel told me last summer that they wanted to continue doing more of the Oz books, so I started last week writing the script for the second book. As far as scheduling goes, I'm not sure what Skottie's schedule is, but I'm doing the script because I've go the time and I need the money. [Laughs
] And I don't want to be late on my deadlines! I have to say, I'm so grateful to Marvel. They're really behind this book, and everyone seems very excited. And I'm excited too because it's really great to have a publisher behind the project.
THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ #1 blows into stores on December 10.
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