Interview with Eric Shanower, the Wonderful Writer of Oz!

Somebody won a signed copy of THIS COMIC!
Somebody won a signed copy of THIS COMIC!

Today, July 22nd, the final issue of Marvel’s critically acclaimed (and IoM-acclaimed) Wonderful Wizard of Oz hits shelves, written by Eric Shanower and illustrated by Skottie Young.  Make sure to pick it up when you hit your local funnybook shop!  There’s never been a comic adaptation quite this loyal to the original work, much less this pretty to look at and fun to read.  Later this year, the Oz saga continues in Marvelous Land of Oz, adapted from the second book in L. Frank Baum, from the same talented team.

We had a chance recently to talk to writer Eric Shanower about his work on his own Oz titles, Marvel’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Marvelous Land of Oz, and his own title Age of Bronze, about the Trojan War.

We even asked you guys for your questions and, after the jump, you can read our full interview with Shanower and see who won a signed copy of WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ #8!

You’ve been dabbling in the Land of Oz for years now … can you tell us a little bit about what interested you in this world to begin with, and what you’ve done prior to your Marvel Comics work?

ageofbronze
Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships

I first saw the 1939 MGM film version of The Wizard of Oz on tv. I loved it. Then I found an abridged version of the story in the bookmobile and checked it out and loved that. Then I found several of Baum’s Oz books in the bookstore and my parents started buying them for me because I loved them and wanted the whole series. I can’t definitively state what interested me in Oz to begin with. Partly the fact that a child is usually in charge, guiding the grown-ups and quasi-grown-ups. Partly the fascinating characters and places. Partly John R. Neill’s illustrations for the Oz books.

As for what I’ve done prior to these Marvel Comics Oz adaptations, there’s not enough room to list everything here. My work has been published by all the major US comics publishers and many of the smaller ones. My primary project is Age of Bronze, my award-winning retelling of the Trojan War story, published by Image Comics in the US and half a dozen other companies in translation elsewhere. My first professional comics work was lettering issue of Warp for First Comics in 1984. My major Oz comics work was the five volume Oz graphic novel series, recently collected into one volume entitled Adventures in Oz and published by IDW. One of my favorite projects was a comic called An Accidental Death written by Ed Brubaker. I’ve written and illustrated children’s books, co-founded a publishing company, provided artwork for television, written articles and short stories, created designs for t-shirts and other apparel, and lots of other stuff. A complete list can be found on my web site www.ericshanower.com.

What was behind your decision to adapt the Oz books through Marvel’s line, and the decision not to illustrate it yourself?

Neither of these decisions was mine. Marvel approached me to write the script for a comics adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and I accepted the job. I’m perfectly happy to not be illustrating it. I don’t have the time in my schedule, and I think Skottie Young is doing a terrific job with the art, as is Jean-François Beaulieu with the color.

Skottie Young’s art is amazing on the series – can you tell us a little bit about the process of working with him, coming from an illustrative background yourself?

MARILWWOZ004007_col-1
Interior art from WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ #4

Skottie and I don’t work closely on this Oz series. I write the script and turn it in to editors Ralph Macchio and Nate Cosby, and sometime later I start seeing the pages Skottie’s drawn. Once in a while I’ll have a comment on Skottie’s art, but not often. And it’s even rarer for Skottie to have a question or concern about the script. It’s quite painless—on both ends, it seems. I didn’t know Skottie at all when we began this project. I’ve since met him and grown to like him personally, but so far I think the sort of hands-off working relationship we have is going well, so there’s no reason to mess with it. Perhaps one of the reasons it works is that as a cartoonist, not just a scripter, I know what it’s like to draw from a script. I try to provide what an artist needs in a script—to build as solid a foundation as I possibly can—and not what an artist doesn’t need in a script—I try to leave as much room for Skottie’s own artistic sensibility as I can.

Was there anything you had to leave out, or even add to the storyline of the first book to fit the confines of comic storytelling?

Well, I had to leave out a lot of Baum’s text, of course. That’s just the way it goes in translating a prose work into comics. I didn’t really add anything substantial. I had to figure out how to get Dorothy home from Oz in her own dress rather than have an Oz dress fly off over the Deadly Desert so that she arrived home in her underwear, and I had to figure out how to make the Good Witch of the North’s kiss disappear at the end. I made suggestions where Baum’s text wasn’t specific, such as particular settings for some scenes and the look of different parts of the forest in the Munchkin Country. I used information from Baum’s later Oz books to supplement this one—for instance, some details of the Tin Woodman’s transformation from flesh to tin, that purple is the color of the northern quadrant of Oz, and the layout of the Emerald City.

For those unfamiliar with the story past the initial book, what can we look forward to in Marvelous Land of Oz, the upcoming miniseries?

landofoz
Preview art from THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ, coming later this year.

In The Marvelous Land of Oz readers can look forward to a lot more action with the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman. There are plenty of new characters, such as Jack Pumpkinhead—the Saw-Horse—Mr. H. M. Woggle-bug, T. E., who’s actually a giant bug—and Tip, a boy with a mysterious past. The new villains are Mombi, a really creepy old witch, and General Jinjur, a young woman who wants to take over the Emerald City. It’s a funny and exciting story, different in tone from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Where can fans meet you during the convention season? Any upcoming appearances?

July 22-26, I’ll be at my regular booth at San Diego’s Comic Con International, booth #2008. Then the first weekend in October both Skottie Young and I are scheduled to appear at the National Convention of the International Wizard of Oz Club at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. I suspect I’ll be at Wondercon in San Francisco in 2010, but that’s not absolute yet. And I’ll speak at the Oz Convention in Fresno, California, next spring.

So now we have a couple of questions from our awesome readers…

Blair Frodelius asks….If the Wizard of Oz had not been a success as a Broadway play in 1903, how do you think “Marvelous Land of Oz” would have differed from Baum’s finished copy?

Hey, Blair, why am I not surprised you got the first guest question in? If The Wizard of Oz hadn’t been a Broadway smash, I suspect that Baum wouldn’t have written any more Oz books. He would have continued writing fantasies, of course, but I think we’d have more books like Queen Zixi of Ix and Dot and Tot of Merryland. The Marvelous Land of Oz appears to have been written in response to the explosive popularity of the Broadway version of Wonderful Wizard, and Baum clearly intended to repeat the magic with a stage adaptation of Marvelous Land. Unfortunately, it didn’t work and that play was a flop. The stage adaptation of Ozma of Oz, his third Oz book, finally made it to the stage in 1913 as The Tik-Tok Man of Oz. It was a moderate success, but never transferred to Broadway. After that Baum basically gave up on staging his Oz books and started filming them.

Jack asks…Do you have any upcoming projects, either with Marvel or independently?

Thanks for asking, Jack. My upcoming projects include continuing Age of Bronze (Image Comics), my retelling of the complete Trojan War story. I’ve contributed a short comics story to a Young Adult anthology edited by Michael Cart and titled How Beautiful the Ordinary to be published in October 2009 by HarperTeen. Classics and Comics will tentatively be out in 2010, published by Oxford University Press, and among a number of essays about the use of Classical literature in comic books, will include a short comics story by me about creating Age of Bronze. I’ve also got some smaller projects with undetermined publication schedules, including a pamphlet for Aeacus-creator zan, detailing the life of Aeacus, the grandfather of Achilles. And a book cover for a dark fantasy titled Hunting the Moon Tribe by David Agranoff. Just published is Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum with art by Walt McDougall (Sunday Press Books), a complete reprinting of the Oz Sunday comic page from 1904-05, for which I wrote a couple essays. I just wrote a new introduction for the hardcover graphic novel collection of Marvel’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as well as a new introduction for the Spanish translation of the first Age of Bronze volume (Azake Ediciones).

Jared Davis asks…Eric, you’ve done Oz comics before. What about this series has made it stand out from your previous work?

What’s made this series stand out for me from other Oz comics I’ve done, Jared, is that I’m adapting Baum’s original text directly, not writing my own Oz stories based on his established characters and concepts. Even in Age of Bronze, my comics retelling of the Trojan War, in which I draw from hundreds of sources both written and otherwise, I’m not adapting so directly as I am from Baum’s Oz books in this Marvel project.

J.L. Bell asks…As you plan out your Oz adaptations, are there any episodes, characters, or details you’re glad to have the opportunity to leave out?

Oz005_coverRGB
Cover art to WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ #5

I’m not supposed to leave any episodes, characters, or details out, J. L., since these adaptations are intended to be faithful to the source material. I’ll tell you, though, I would have liked to have left out the instance in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz where Toto bites the Wicked Witch of the West. Baum’s text isolates that action in an unspecific time and location, and it was difficult to work it into a comics adaptation without creating a jarring shift for the reader. I think I succeeded in inserting it smoothly.

Aaron Solomon Adelman asks…What is the meaning of life, the Universe, and everything?

Oh, c’mon, Aaron. Isn’t it forty-two?

Dennis Salzman asks….Where do you think the “World of Oz” will be in the public conciseness in 100 years from now?

I couldn’t really predict such a thing, Dennis. Oz has been going strong since 1900, with continuations, adaptations, and all sorts of accumulations pouring in from all points of the compass. And it doesn’t seem to be stopping. Maybe Oz will end up being something along the lines of the Trojan War story or Arthurian legend.

Nicholas Allcott asks….Eric with as many current works as there are in the “Oz World” what if anything do you do to make this work uniquely your own? Or if you don’t agree with changing the work to your style what steps do you take to remain true to L. Frank Baum’s original works?

I don’t worry much about making these Oz book adaptations uniquely my own, Nicholas. I’m far more concerned with simply making them good comics. The one step I take to remain true to Baum’s original work is a pretty logical one—it’s to hold an open copy of the Oz book I’m adapting and refer to it continually while I’m writing the script.

Miriam asks…Eric, Your drawings are such a masterful tribute to John R. Neill’s, keeping so much of his character and architecture design in your art. How do you manage to keep your work so true to that design, and yet so unique?

Hi, Miriam. John R. Neill’s illustrations informed my vision of Oz since they accompanied the text of nearly every Oz book I read as a child. I love his work and his versions of the Oz characters are to me the “real” versions. So when I think of the “real” characters, I see them as Neill designed them, and when I draw them, I try to draw them the way Neill drew them because that’s what they look like. If my drawings of the Oz characters are uniquely my own, it must be because I can’t overcome my own style and sensibilities and channel Neill directly.

hardtravelinghero asks….Will there be any great (large) deviations from the source material you’re working with? If so, what do you plan to leave out or add?

Cover art to WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ #7
Cover art to WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ #7

Well, hard, I don’t plan to make any substantial deviations from the source material. There are some changes I’ve already made while adapting Marvelous Land from novel to comics, because Baum referred in this second Oz book to actions in the first Oz book, and somehow got the reference wrong. So I’ve changed that reference to match the story in the first Oz book. Also, the Oz books aren’t my only source material. Baum revised portions of his Oz books for other publications and he wrote theatrical scripts adapting his Oz books. I’m including these other sources in my research and using material from them when appropriate. So every once in a while in Marvel’s Oz comics, there’s a line of dialogue or a scene that’s not in the book but drawn from another source written by Baum.

Michael Painter asks…I have to ask this because I actually took a class on Children’s Literature and the first Oz book was on my syllabus of reading. The first book has a whole lot of material which you were able to miraculously weave in. Is there anything from that first book which you feel is weak story-wise? My professor finds that certain things like the porcelain village really are in there, and really have no purpose to the ultimate end of the story. I like the first Oz book alot, i just wanted to hear your thoughts.

Yes, Michael, the Dainty China Country adds little of consequence to the development of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Many adaptations of the story leave it out. That’s one reason I was determined to keep it in. My approach to adapting that particular episode was to concentrate on the aspects of it that contained suspense or humor. And fortunately Skottie Young is drawing it, so it looks interesting and fun no matter how weak the episode may be in the overall structure. I’ve read negative criticism of the whole journey by Dorothy and her companions to Glinda. And I agree that from a standpoint of literary criticism it has problems. But then I remember the first time I read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and how excited and overjoyed I was that there was so much more story in the book than there was in the MGM movie. When I remember that, I don’t worry too much about literary criticism and I just try to access that excited and overjoyed place in my brain while scripting that material.

Joe asks…How do you illustrate something as iconic as the Wizard of Oz without sh*tting your pants?

Joe, I’m not illustrating this particular Oz project, so my pants have easily remained clean. But I certainly have drawn lots of Oz comics and illustrations in the past—ever since I was six years old—and plan to continue into the future. I can’t remember ever being intimidated by drawing Oz subjects. The characters and stories have been such a close part of my life for so long, it seems a little silly to think of them as iconic. I guess they are, but I know them so well, it’s just not a problem. And really, the answer to your question is just to take a pencil or other drawing implement, set it to paper or other drawing surface, and just start in drawing. It’s that easy.

Sara asks…Eric, have you raised seriously to adapt to comic the rest of the books? For example up to “Emerald City of Oz” or even “Royalbook of oz”?

I’m enjoying writing these Oz scripts and Skottie’s having a ball drawing them, Sara. At this point we’re in for the ride as long as it lasts. While these Oz comics keep selling, I guess that Marvel will keep publishing them.

And now to announce the winners of our WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ #8 contest!  The folks, chosen at random from the entries, winning a signed copy will be ….

  • Blair Frodelius
  • Miriam, and
  • Michael Painter!

Congratulations to all of our winners!  Expect an e-mail later this week with full details!

0 comments on “Interview with Eric Shanower, the Wonderful Writer of Oz!Add yours →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *