Shanower's "Little Adventures in Oz"

"Age of Bronze" creator Eric Shanower's original graphic novels set in the L. Frank Baum's "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" universe receive a new, compact presentation in January, courtesy of IDW Publishing. While IDW previously published an omnibus edition of all 5 books included in Shanower's "Oz" cycle, originally published by First Comics in the late 1980s, "Little Adventures in Oz" Book 1 collects two of the stories in a smaller format. CBR News spoke with Shanower about the land of Oz and how his original graphic novels differ from the adaptations he's writing for Marvel.

Though L. Frank Baum wrote more than a dozen Oz novels, and others after him later picked up the baton, many people are only familiar with the first book, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," and the Judy Garland movie. However, many subsequent adventures followed Dorothy and other characters through the greater landscape of the Oz world, including kingdoms other than Oz itself. Shanower explained what he enjoys about the books and his own path toward creating new stories in Baum's world.

"The Oz books are exciting, funny, and slightly absurd adventure stories. I suppose that's not a very interesting thing to say - one really has to read the stories themselves to get the full effect," Shanower said. "The illustrations by John R. Neill are also wonderful, especially during the period from 1907 to 1914. For those who only know the first story, the rest of Baum's Oz books are just as inventive and engaging as the first. The Judy Garland version was my favorite movie when I was a child, but I've always liked the books better. When I first saw an Oz book, the list of all the titles in the series at the front of the book showed me that many writers had written Oz books, so I decided I would write and illustrate Oz books, too. I started when I was about seven years old, and I kept writing and illustrating Oz books until I became a professional cartoonist and my Oz books became Oz comics. That's how the Oz graphic novel series came to be.

Both Shanower's Oz books and his ongoing "Age of Bronze" epic involve a high level of scholarship, though the nature of each is quite different - "Age of Bronze" requires a thorough knowledge of historical places, persons, and the clothes they wore and tools they used, while "Oz" is set in its own fictional universe, albeit one with a particular set of established rules and conventions. "At the end of the day, it's the stories that I enjoy - the Oz books by L. Frank Baum and the story of the Trojan War," Shanower said. "I didn't set out to have my major professional projects be to play with toys created by others, but somehow it's seemed to work out that way. I enjoy these stories and want to spread that enjoyment to others through the lens of my own creativity."

"Age of Bronze" has allowed Shanower the opportunity to travel for parts of his research, but the author said that his work on the "Oz" books has also taken him to strange and exciting places. "Oz has led me to more interesting people and places than I could count. Even one of my paths to 'Age of Bronze' started in Oz. One of my earliest adventures was when I was in fifth grade and I would visit a book collector in Norfolk, Virginia, who had stacks and stacks of books all over his house, shelves nailed up everywhere, even in the bathroom," Shanower said. "That was remarkable to me then, although as I grow older, my home grows more and more to resemble his. One of the latest places Oz has taken me was to Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, to speak with Skottie Young to an Oz convention presented by their Children's Literature Department.

"When I started going to Oz conventions as a teenager, many different worlds became accessible. I began meeting and visiting all sorts of people with a whole variety of interests. It's hard for me to explain concisely all the avenues Oz has opened to me since so many aspects of my life began with something to do with Oz, even though they may have ended up far from Oz. I also met my partner David because of Oz."

The republication of his original "Little Adventures in Oz" comes as Shanower is also enjoying success with direct adaptations of Baum's books for Marvel Comics. "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," scripted by Shanower with art by Skottie Young, is available in a hardcover collected edition, and "The Marvelous Land of Oz" is at the beginning of it's run. "The adaptations with Skottie for Marvel are very different animals than my original 'Oz' graphic novels. Adapting a story requires a few different tools than creating a new one," Shanower said. "Of course, with Oz, the characters and underlying concepts are the same, whether adapting Baum's books or writing new ones. The rewards and pitfalls are two sides of the same coin - a coin named limitations. With the adaptations, I'm limited by the established story, but I also know that I'm not in danger of straying too far. Adapting prose to comics contains one large pitfall to avoid in that it's translating one medium into another. It's my job to navigate that journey, and I need to be pretty fluent in both prose and comics.

"I insist to myself that the Marvel adaptations be faithful to Baum's material, and at the same time they must be good comics," he continued. "That's always in the forefront of my mind while working on that project. The pitfalls of writing new Oz stories is that I have to retain the sensibility of what's come before, yet inject enough that's new so that it doesn't seem like a pale rehash. I don't have the comfort of a predetermined story, but I also have the freedom to create more on my own. But the long view of all of this is that I'm just trying to do the best job I can. The only way I know how to do that is to keep going over the material until it's as strong as I can make it. I have grown as a cartoonist in that way since the days of the 'Oz' graphic novels - I can tell a lot more readily now when my material is strong. That was a lot harder for me years ago. But I had to do all that work then in order to get to where I am now - the way it is with anything. This isn't to claim that my current work is perfect, far from it - just that it's easier for me to spot weaknesses and know what to try in order to fix them."

Shanower said that, although he doesn't believe his storytelling style has changed substantially in the twenty-plus years since "The Enchanted Apples of Oz" was first published, he does hope that his style has matured. "It doesn't feel any different when I sit down to draw a page," he said. "Of course, every project requires its own way of being told. But I wouldn't call anything I do now a change from the days I was doing the Oz graphic novel series."

The new IDW edition collects the first and third of Shanower's "Oz graphic novels, "The Enchanted Apples of Oz" and "The Ice King of Oz, though IDW first collected all five together into one volume in 2006. "The major advantage is that it's less expensive for the purchaser. It fits on shelves better. And it's more in line with the formats of current graphic novels," Shanower said of "Little Adventures in Oz's" latest format. "Remember the days when graphic novels were nearly always magazine size or larger? My 'Oz' graphic novel series dates from then and was intended to be reproduced at that size. I'm glad IDW produced the deluxe omnibus edition at the original size a couple years ago. But I'm also very happy they're repackaging the material now at a current popular size to attract a wider audience. IDW's reproduction is so good that the artwork virtually loses nothing in the smaller size."

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