David Pepose is a name comic fans are hearing more of by the day. He’s made his mark in the industry with inventive and harrowing concepts that defy genre. Last year, he made his mark with one of the most interesting reinventions of a classic — The O.Z.
In The O.Z., a soldier struggling with PTSD finds herself sucked into a familiar, yet terrifying, fantasy realm: the land of Oz. Ruled by a familiar despot, Oz has become The O.Z., or “Occupied Zone.” Now, Dorothy Gale must team with the Tin Soldier, Prince of Lions, and Jack Pumpkin Head to locate the Silver Slippers and bring peace to the Occupied Zone.
The first issue of the series found Dorothy transported to Oz and learning about the horrors which had fallen on the land after the ending of the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Her grandmother was the Dorothy Gale of legend, and now it is up to her to rescue the land just as her grandmother did generations ago. Now the second issue is on its way with the Kickstarter launching today!
The second issue reunites the original creative team of Pepose, Ruben Rojas, Whitney Cogar, and DC Hopkins. We got a chance to sit down and chat with Pepose about The O.Z., his writing process, and the Wonderful World he’s reinventing with the fantastic art team. And be sure to stay tuned after the interview for an exclusive variant cover reveal from Spencer & Locke and Godkillers artist Maan House!
Tony: David! Thanks for sitting down to chat!
David: Of course! So thrilled to catch up and talk about The O.Z.! For those who haven’t read out book before, I’ve described it as what if The Hurt Locker took place in The Wizard of Oz — it’s the story of Dorothy Gale’s Iraq War veteran granddaughter, as she finds herself stranded in the war-torn land of Oz. If you missed our first Kickstarter last year, we’ll be offering print and digital tiers to get everyone up to speed. We want as many people to join our Emerald Army as possible, and we’ll be offering a ton of rewards at every budget level to incentivize that.
Tony: You did a ton with the first Kickstarter, and I’m excited to see what you, Ruben, and Whitney have in store! So I’m going to start with what I think might be the most loaded question you’ve gotten as you’ve been doing press for The O.Z. Which have you listened to more as you’ve been writing the series — Iz Kamakawiwoʻole’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” or Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road?“
David: I’ll admit that I am partial to “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” — but I didn’t let myself listen to it until after I’d finished writing the book. Now if you’d been asking me how much Dead Kennedys I listened to while writing this…
Tony: Hah! In all seriousness, this is a series that seems like it has a hell of a playlist — one that’s probably more full of AC/DC and Guns’n’Roses. Do you listen to music when you write? Do you create playlists for each series?
David: I do listen to music when I write! But rather than settling on a hard-and-fast playlist, I usually key into a couple of songs that I’ll listen to on repeat while I chisel through an issue. It’s not quite like background noise, but it helps me figure out the imagery and energy I’m aiming for with a particular book. Sometimes, it’s alternative rock, sometimes it’s rap, sometimes it’s old-school punk — it’s all over the place.
Tony: The Land of Oz is probably the fantasy world most ripe for reinvention, probably only behind Wonderland and Transylvania. What inspired you in your take on Oz?
David: Like a lot of my projects, I often start with puns and wordplay and let that carry me. (Laughs) When I decided I wanted to do a fantasy book, I’d written down a lot of my favorite fantasy series, like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and The Wizard of Oz. While I wrote down the word “Oz,” it struck me that it could be used as an acronym — when I hit the words “Occupied Zone,” the whole concept just crystallized for me. It wasn’t just a fantasy story, but a war story, too.
Tony: Yeah, and I think from a world building standpoint, it made the story all the richer for it. I also loved that The O.Z. clearly is a sequel to the original Wizard of Oz (with some tweaks, naturally). What led you to make that narrative choice?
David: Honestly, the core concept really just steered me in that direction. The idea of the original Dorothy killing two Wicked Witches and convincing the Wizard of Oz to leave — and then bailing herself, in the span of a week — sounded like a recipe for a power vacuum not unlike Baghdad. So it had to spin off of the original story, rather than being a hard-and-fast reboot.
Tony: So where the first issue left off, Dorothy just stepped up and took up the banner of the oppressed people of Oz. Where does the second issue pick up?
David: Our second issue picks up a couple of weeks after the first, as Dorothy and the Resistance have been pulling off some hit-and-run guerilla strikes against the Scarecrow’s regime. It’s been slow but steady, and they’re starting to get some traction — enough that they might make some riskier moves to try to end the conflict now. Suffice to say, Dorothy’s plan doesn’t exactly survive contact with the enemy, and it’s figuring out what to do next that will steer this next segment of our adventure.
Tony: I get the feeling that “what to do next” isn’t the only thing that needs to be figured out. There’s obviously a mystery with your hero Dorothy too. Will this issue be giving any answers or will we need to wait for the conclusion?
David: We’ll get to see more of what shaped Dorothy as a soldier, but it’ll really be our third issue where we put all of our cards on the table. For now, we’re focusing on keeping Dorothy and her journey as a leader front and center, but we’re also going to be expanding the cast of characters and exploring all-new corners of the Occupied Zone.
Tony: Besides the Cowardly Lion, will we be seeing your take on other notable Oz characters like Ozma or the Nome King?
David: The Lion and Jack Pumpkinhead both play a big role in this second issue — one as a head of state searching for clarity and purpose, the other as a blue-collar mercenary with a dark sense of humor and a knack for explosives. But beyond that, we’ll see a few other denizens of Oz in this issue, and even more in Issue #3. The only character I’ll confirm we don’t have in the mix is Ozma — she’s a character with history, and if we ever did a sequel, she’d play a BIG role.
Tony: So it’s obvious why Dorothy and the Tin Man are your protagonists. What inspired you to use the most unexpected character we could imagine as your villain — the Scarecrow?
David: He was the one the original Dorothy left in charge when she clicked her heels together and left — and I think there’s something really tragic about the smartest guy in the room getting his ego ground into dust against the overwhelming forces of running a country. I see the Scarecrow as a truly tragic figure, despite being the evil villain of the piece — he’s the idea man who’s learned that there are things bigger than him. His corruption comes honestly, I think.
Tony: This series has always been billed as a three issue miniseries. Would it spoil anything to ask if you have any ideas already for a sequel?
David: Like with most of my books, I’ll never say never — but I’d only do it if Ruben Rojas, Whitney Cogar, and DC Hopkins were on board. They’re the real magic of The O.Z., and without that kind of creative alchemy, the series doesn’t work. But for now, we’re focused on making sure we wrap up all three issues, and then taking a beat to catch our breath — but I never write a book without having a few extra ideas in my back pocket. If the demand is there for The O.Z. in this new Kickstarter, I’m sure there are a few more battles just around the corner…
Tony: Can’t wait! Sounds like it’s going to be a hell of a ride. You’re absolutely right though, what Ruben, Whitney and DC put into the book is so great. Alchemy is the best word for it.
So last question for you, you’ve been crazy busy lately. What’s up next on your plate (that you can talk about)?
David: Mum’s the word on a lot of it — but rest assured I’ve got plenty on my plate to keep me busy. But I’ve been working on a few other things as well, including Spencer & Locke 3 and Grand Theft Astro, not to mention getting our ducks in a row for The O.Z.’s third and final Kickstarter. It’s the best kind of busy, and I’m excited for people to see what we’ve got coming!
We can’t wait! The O.Z. #2 Kickstarter launches on today! Check out the campaign page here, and make sure to contribute! And as promised, we’re excited to exclusively reveal Maan House’s absolutely stunning variant cover for The O.Z. #2 below!
That was totally worth making it to the end, wasn’t it? WOW.
Check out The O.Z. #2 on Kickstarter today!