I’m often surprised at how many people have never read the original novel of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Sure, it seems like almost everyone has seen the MGM film production starring Judy Garland, and that movie is after all an absolute classic. But the novel itself, published in 1900, is a fantastic piece of work in its own right. It’s also very different in places from the movie (as books and their adaptations often do), and people are definitely missing out by not experiencing the original as well.
When it comes to comic creators and the Oz books, Eric Shanower is the perfect person to adapt “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” into comics. He’s written and drawn five Oz graphic novels of his own (and if you haven’t read them, they’re not only great Oz stories, but just excellent pieces of art on their own as well), plus having worked on all sorts of other Oz projects over the years. The end result is a script that faithfully follows L. Frank Baum’s original text, with all of its little quirks of both story and language. So while this is only the second of eight issues, Dorothy has already met all three of her traveling companions (Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion) because Shanower knows just how much more there is still to tell.
At the same time, though, Shanower isn’t rushing through the original novel. All of the little pieces that I remember from reading this years ago are still there. The most notable one here is the Tin Man’s story of how he became a man entirely out of tin; it’s a creepy little story involving a witch and a cursed axe, and if you’re looking for any sort of sign that “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is a little different than “The Wizard of Oz” film, this is it. Shanower keeps this story as unnerving and surprising as I remembered it, and I love that he isn’t afraid to keep it in an all-ages comic.
Skottie Young provides the art for Shanower’s script, and it’s beautiful. I love how he draws the Lion’s massive mane, making the Lion appear both huge and puny at the same time as you stare at how far the hair protrudes from his actual head. Scarecrow looks like the ragamuffin that the book’s text made him out to be, with different shaped eyes and a stitched mouth. Dorothy herself looks innocent and young, a perfect contrast to the very creepy and dark forest that she and Toto are traveling through. Add in some well-matched colors from Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and this is one seriously handsome book.
When this adaptation is complete, I hope it’s going to end up as a gift for a lot of readers; Shanower and Young just don’t do Baum’s book justice, they in some ways make it even better. I absolutely adore this adaptation, and give high marks for all involved.