BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
Although most people might know the award-winning Eric Shanower
for his work on the epic Age of Bronze
, the writer is no stranger to the works of L. Frank Baum
. He's spent several years in the magical land of Oz working on a variety of characters and situations. Now, after creating further adventures for several of the Oz staples, he's finally adapting the original story for the Marvel Illustrated
line. Shanower's working with artist Skottie Young
on the miniseries. He told THE PULSE, "I hope that this adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
undercuts expectations on the part of readers who think they know the story."THE PULSE: I know you've loved the Oz world since you were six years old. When we last spoke about Oz, IDW was getting ready to republish your five graphic novels about the world of Oz. How did you feel when you saw the final versions of those reissues?
I felt wonderful. The book, Adventures in Oz,
is really thick and heavy. I was surprised by how much it weighs, especially the hardcover version, which has 70 pages of “extras.” The whole package is really beautiful, and I’m so thankful to IDW
for spearheading the project. It’s 95% perfect, which is a really high percentage—as anyone involved in the publishing world knows.THE PULSE: Since you had a chance to play Monday Morning Quarterback with those volumes, what were some of the important tweaks and edits you made?
hired an amazing man named John Uhrich
to go over every single panel and restore them all. I had final approval of everything, but John was so close to my wavelength, that I rarely needed give instructions to redo anything. He is truly amazing.
I still had all the original art, so getting good scans wasn’t a problem. There was a lot of color change between what I painted and what was originally printed. But the process of scanning back in the 1980s and early 1990s when the Oz
graphic novels were originally published was different than it is now. What you see in Adventures in Oz
is far closer to what I wanted the first time around. This time I got it, I’m pleased to say.
I tried to keep my hands off the art and text, just left what I wrote and drew back then as it was—for the most part. There were a few Dorothy faces that were so ugly I just couldn’t bear to leave them untouched, so I did a little bit of redrawing. Actually it was mostly just directing John Uhrich
to get rid of lines rather than redrawing. I corrected a couple lapses, such as putting green glasses on the characters in a flashback to The Wizard of Oz
—it was my mistake forgetting the green glasses the first time around. I made maybe half a dozen textual changes, but for the most part I think the Oz
graphic novel series held up pretty well without much tinkering.
I enjoyed being able to put together the 70 pages of extras, most of which had never been published before. I was able to present alternate endings of some of the stories, earlier versions in different guises, character and costume designs, samples of a lot of my Oz
work outside of comics, etc.THE PULSE: How did it feel twenty years later to have the chance to use some of the technology available now to help make your works even better than you might have originally envisioned?
It felt really nice. The Oz
graphic novel series really didn’t become better than I originally envisioned. But the new collected edition is much, much closer—virtually exactly what I wanted.
The color is what I’m most happy about, especially in the first Oz
graphic novel, The Enchanted Apples of Oz.
Back in 1986, that was the first time I’d painted a whole graphic novel. I had no idea what the reproduction would do to what I painted, but I sure found out! By the time I got to the fifth Oz
graphic novel, The Blue Witch of Oz,<.i> I’d learned how to compensate for a lot of the reproduction quirks. But the one thing I could never solve was keeping the dark colors dark enough. They separation technique the original publisher used wouldn’t reproduce darks.
That was definitely not a problem with the new edition, Adventures in Oz.
I have much gratitude to IDW
, and I wish them the best. They’re publishing a lot of great projects. I hope there’s an opportunity for me to publish with them again.THE PULSE: I know you've done extensive research into the world of Oz and things that L. Frank Baum created. What are some of the things you've discovered in your research that, as an adult, you were surprised to learn?
I was surprised to learn how great the influence of the 1903 Broadway version of The Wizard of Oz
was on the rest of the Oz
series and on author L. Frank Baum’s
life. The stage show was a major hit back then, but it’s been forgotten and eclipsed by the 1939 Judy Garland
movie, which actually owes some of its sensibility to the Broadway show. The Broadway show was actually responsible for the rest of the Oz
series existing.THE PULSE: Since you've crafted quite a few Oz tales, what interested you in returning to that world with Marvel Illustrated's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?
asked. I’d thought over the years about doing a comics adaptation of The Wizard of Oz,
but never really had an opportunity. The only other time I’d been seriously approached about it was in 2004 when Byron Priess
asked me if I were interested in drawing an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz
. Of course, I don’t have time in my schedule—Age of Bronze
takes up most of the hours I’m not asleep. But when Marvel
asked me if I were interested in writing the script, but not drawing it, I knew I could fit the project in.
I really don’t feel as though I’m returning to Oz
. The fact is that I’ve never left. After I finished the final Oz
graphic novel back in 1991, I thought I would leave the Land of Oz
behind. But that didn’t work. I’ve since become reconciled to the idea that I’ll always have an Oz
project in my life. This Marvel
series is just the latest one.THE PULSE: How is what you're doing in this series different from what you've done with your own Oz saga?
It’s different, because the story isn’t mine, it’s L. Frank Baum’s
. It’s an adaptation of a work that already exists, not a new story of my own that only uses Baum’s characters and concepts.
In writing the scripts I had to go back to the characters as they were first conceived. There’s not a huge amount of obvious character development over the Oz
series, but there is some. So while writing the scripts, I needed to keep in mind that the characters, and in fact the entire Land of Oz
, were in “infancy.” But I was also able do something L. Frank Baum
couldn’t, since he didn’t know he’d be writing any sequels—I could look forward to where I knew the characters would eventually end up and leave that potential in my scripts—although I doubt that aspect will be obvious to any reader. THE PULSE: Several other people have adapted The Wonderful Wizard of Oz ... how do you make this stand out from what has come before? How do you make it appear to be what one would expect from the property, but also a little bit different?
“Several other people have adapted The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,”
you say? What an understatement! There have been countless adaptations of this story, not only in comics, but in pretty much any medium you can think of.
My technique in approaching an adaptation of this book was not to worry about making it different from anyone else’s adaptation of The Wizard of Oz
, but simply to take the original text and do my best to translate it to the comics medium. My task was to remain faithful to the book, yet to make sure it worked flawlessly as a comic—or at least a comic script, since I’m not handling the art.
I certainly tried to use all my years of gathering knowledge about Baum and Oz
and all its permutations, as well as my years of experience creating new Oz works, as a background for the script.
One thing I did that I doubt that any other adapter of The Wizard of Oz
in any medium has done before was to look at the instances where L. Frank Baum
rewrote or retold portions of the story. Several of these instances provided better material for a comic book adaptation than the original book, so I used bits of them. But unless readers know the text of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
really well, this won’t be obvious to any of them.THE PULSE: Why didn't you want to illustrate this yourself? I know time was probably an issue ....
I wouldn’t have been able to fit illustrating this comic book into my schedule. Age of Bronze
readers have to wait long enough between issues. Fortunately I didn’t have the choice of illustrating it—Marvel
had already picked Skottie Young
for that job.THE PULSE: How do you work on a project like this without kind of repeating yourself or mimicking some of what you've done with your prior Oz work?
The story is different than any I’ve worked on before. The characters and concepts are the same, but anyone who reads comic book or any sort of serial fiction knows that the possibilities in these sorts of situations are endless. The thought of repeating myself never crossed my mind while working on this project. It wasn’t a problem.THE PULSE: Great! What are the biggest challenges of adapting a story that everyone feels he or she knows so well?
I hope that this adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
undercuts expectations on the part of readers who think they know the story. Yes, the basic outlines are the same. But most adaptations cut out a lot of things, such as the Good Witch of the North’s kiss on Dorothy’s forehead, the origin of the Winged Monkeys, the China Country—I even retained the scene where the Soldier with the Green Whiskers has Dorothy and her friends wipe their feet before they walk into the Wizard’s palace. I’d never consciously noticed that detail before, although I’ve read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
many times. I thought it was charming and so typical of Baum, so it’s included in this Marvel
version. But before anyone starts to think this is going to be laborious to read because every single detail is retained ad nauseam, rest assured that I was completely conscious of the need to make this adaptation into a rewarding experience, not a dry study. I point to my past comics work as evidence that I can write enjoyable comics.THE PULSE: Since this was broken down into eight issues, how did you decide where the natural stopping points were?
I looked at the table of contents in the book and saw that there were 24 chapters. I divided them by eight, then shuffled around a few of the chapters that were significantly shorter or longer than the average-length ones. And those divisions determined what I put into each issue, more or less. Of course, I wrote all eight scripts with the understanding that they’ll be collected into graphic novel form after the serial publication. Isn’t that standard these days?THE PULSE: What's it like having Skottie Young bringing your ideas to life here?
Skottie is doing a terrific job on Oz
I had no idea what Skottie’s Oz would look like when I first accepted the job. I didn’t know whether I’d like it or hate it. I usually draw all my own scripts. I’ve written very little for other artists—although as it happens, the comics I have written for others to draw have turned out to mostly be Oz
My vision of Oz is concrete and it’s rooted in the original Oz
book illustrations by John R. Neill
—as anyone who looks at my Oz
comics can easily see. I knew when taking this job that I’d have to set aside all my expectations. Of course, when I’m writing a script, I visualize the characters and situations according to my own conceptions, and I think that’s a large part of writing a successful script. But I knew all along there was basically no chance that Skottie would present me with art the way I’d conceived it.
I made a lot of suggestions to Skottie in my scripts, but when it came to details, they were just suggestions. I certainly wanted him to bring his strengths to the project, didn’t want him crippled by a vision not his own. And really, that’s any comic book scripter’s job, to give the artist useful building blocks and let him or her come back with the best result possible.
I might have hated what Skottie did with the art. I might have been lukewarm about it. Fortunately, I think it’s wonderful, beautiful, funny, gorgeous. It’s not what I’d have done. It’s Skottie’s unique vision on his own terms—true to the original book, but unlike any version of Oz anyone has seen before. And believe me, I’ve seen PLENTY of them. And his work just keeps getting better. I think that even if a reader doesn’t care for the story, the art is so gorgeous, it’s worth buying this project just for that.THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on? What's coming up in your Age of Bronze?
SHANOWER: Age of Bronze
, of course, my version of the Trojan War, published by Image. I’m currently drawing issue #28, the close of the first battle between the Achaeans and the Trojans. Lots of blood and dust.
I’ve drawn an Uncle Scrooge
story for Gemstone
that’s still waiting in the second stage of approval—I made the first raft of revisions and am waiting to see whether I can go ahead and letter and ink it now.
I recently finished a 12-page comics story about creating, researching, and working on Age of Bronze
. It’s for a volume about the use of Greek and Roman classical literature in comics. I believe mine is the only chapter in the book in comics form. All the rest are prose essays by scholars. I think the title will be Classics and Comics
, but I don’t think the book has a publisher yet, and thus no pub date, but it’ll probably be published by a university press.
I wrote and drew an 11-page comics story about two boys who find a genie in a bottle. It’s for a young adult GLBT anthology of fiction edited by Michael Cart
and titled How Beautiful the Ordinary: Stories of Identity
. It'll be published in September 2009 by Bowen Press
, an imprint of HarperCollins
I also just appeared in the music video “Worst Presnadent Ever” by Charlie Imes
. I play a White House Press Corps member and have one line in the 13-minute “Movie” version of the video, the one at the bottom of the Web site. The link is: http://worstprez.com/
I’ll also be appearing onstage at the People’s Improv Theater in New York City on Comic Book Club Live at 8pm on Oct. 14. And I’ll be doing my hour-long presentation on Age of Bronze
at the San Bernardino (California) Public Library at 6:30 pm on October 29.