Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz – Eric Shanower

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Here’s something I never knew that I wanted so much; a comic adaption of my favourite Oz novel written by Eric Shanower and brilliantly illustrated by Skottie Young.

In the fourth installment of L. Frank Baum’s hallucinogenically imaginative Oz series, Dorothy and her more hesitant cousin Zeb travel through bizarre underground lands, after falling beneath the Earth’s crust during the famous San Francisco earthquake.  Soon after her adventure begins, Dorothy reunites with the former Wizard of Oz in her attempt to return to somewhere normal, or at least Oz.

I’m particularly fond of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz for its constant danger. Later on in the series it is established that death is impossible in Oz, but underground Dorothy and her friends are threatened by plant-like Mangaboos, invisible bears, and wooden gargoyles (which Dorothy calls guggles). The sheer amount of wackiness in the Oz series fuels my dissatisfaction with the more conventional fantasies that followed it – why, in a genre whose name is synonymous with imagination, are so many of these books blatant Tolkien knock-offs? This story is also notable for Zeb, a young boy who reacts to the surreal wonders around him like a normal person, as opposed to his cousin, whose capacity for shock seems to have completely evaporated somewhere during the first book.

Eric Shanower’s translation from prose novel to comic script is so professional that I barely noticed it, as nothing I remember from the original appeared missing, although I was impressed by his clever way of justifying a frustrating plot hole from the original book.

Skottie Young’s art is the real star here. Look at how expressive Dorothy is on the cover, and how she looks like the twelve-year old she’s meant to be. I’m impressed at how Young has managed to draw a character that I recognise as the indefatigable Dorothy, without copying Judy Garland or the original illustrations. The amorality of the Wizard is captured perfectly, a cynical yet charming bad guy whose good side you want to be on, something like Henry Kissinger or John Howard.

Disney ought to commission an animated adaption of the Oz series based on the designs in this book, and market it towards fans of the Adventure Time and Steven Universe. (After all, they’ve been interested in Oz since Walt’s days, even going so after to make Return to Oz.) Beyond Young’s art and Baum’s dad-joke humour, the show ought to draw artistic influence from the Kroft Brothers (creators of H. R. Pufnstuff) and avoid anything High Fantasy or being dark for dark’s sake. I think it’s a massive pity that such a creative property has been languishing in the public domain for so long, when all it really needs is the right people, the right audience, and the right funds, in order to reinvent itself as a pop-culture phenomenon. It worked for Sherlock.

I’d recommend the Oz series to all young fantasy readers. Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz is the novel I’d point them to if they’re only willing to try one. I’m split in half over whether it’d be better to recommend the original novel or its comic adaption. The comic is probably more accessible, but I figure that if you’re smart enough to agree with me that Oz is clearly awesome, then you’re probably smart enough to read a thin illustrated novel. On the other hand, Skottie’s art is beautiful and it deserves a wide audience. I don’t know, just try Oz out at least once in your life.

Here’s a link to the manuscript of the novel.

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