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Marvel Comics Takes on the Great and Powerful Oz: An Interview with Eric Shanower and Skottie Young

No caption.Since its original publication in 1900, L. Frank Baum and W.W. Denslow’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz has captured the imagination of countless readers and seen life through many different kinds of media. Recently, Marvel Comics has produced a handsome adaptation of the American-flavored fairy tale, with the aim of bringing the original story to a new generation.

We spoke to writer Eric Shanower and artist Skottie Young about the challenge of creating a faithful adaptation while also presenting something new, the reintroduction of elements of the story left out of the MGM film, and future projects in the Land of Oz.

BookShelf: How did you both get involved in this project? What is your collaborative process?

Eric Shanower: More than two years ago Chris Allo, Talent Liaison at Marvel, sent me an e-mail message to ask whether I’d be interested in writing the script for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz adaptation. I did have some hesitation about accepting, since I had no idea what the art would end up looking like, but I decided I couldn’t worry too much about that. I’m glad I did accept the job. It’s been really fun, and I think Skottie’s art and Jean-François’s colors are beautiful.

Skottie and I don’t really have much actual communication about the work. I write the scripts and he draws them. He has leeway to interpret as he chooses, but I guess I’m doing my job well enough, since he usually follows the scripts closely. I sometimes have a few comments on his art during the process, but not many. He knows what he’s doing and does it well.

Skottie Young: It was a simple as Marvel's Chris Allo calling me up and asking me to illustrate an adaption of Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Eric wasn't attached yet, so it was still very open, but I was very excited. 

I was working on New X-Men at the time so while I was finishing that and designing the characters for Oz, Eric went to work on the scripts. He was almost done with the whole eight issue run when I finally was able to start on issue one. He was so detailed in his descriptions of things and how Baum and company approached things that I had a ton to soak in. Eric gave me enough information to use or go another way with that the collaboration was very fun and easy.

No caption.BookShelf: How have you chosen to remain faithful to Baum and Denslow’s original text and illustrations, and where have you made changes?

Eric Shanower: I’ve been pretty faithful to Baum’s original text. That approach sort of came with the job since this project was originally under the Marvel Illustrated imprint, their comic book adaptations of classic literature. It’s also the approach I prefer—to be faithful—since I think the source material is very strong and deserves a chance to shine in an adaptation. One thing that often disappoints me in adaptations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is when parts are left out. Of course, sometimes incidents in the story that read interestingly as prose don’t easily translate into an interesting comic book. So it can be a challenge to figure out how to retain the essence but transform it so that it works as a comic book.

Skottie hasn’t been faithful to Denslow’s illustrations. Obviously that was a smart move on his part, since the art is what has really struck readers about this project. In adapting the story, though, I certainly looked at Denslow’s illustrations and took them into consideration. Baum and Denslow were partners in the creation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, so they’re both responsible for aspects of it. My approach to adapting the Oz books is far-reaching when it comes to source material, so it was a no-brainer to consider Denslow’s work when adapting the story.

I’m also considering John R. Neill’s illustrations in adapting the sequel, though Neill was simply hired by the publisher to illustrate the later Oz books. Baum and Neill didn’t have the sort of partnership the Baum and Denslow did.

Skottie Young: I looked at Denslow's images at first but quickly decided to try and use the material in the script as my inspiration. I wanted to treat as if it was being written for me to create and not that we were "re-doing" someone else's vision. I wanted to pretend that Baum used Eric to explain the story to me and sent me off to create a visual world.

BookShelf: This year is the 70th anniversary of the MGM film and the 109th anniversary of the original book. In that time, many illustrators have taken on the original story, and it’s also seen adaptations for the stage, television, comic books, comic strips, prose - you name it. What is it about this story that invites so many retellings and interpretations?

No caption.Eric Shanower: The story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a good one that resonates with a lot of people. The story has been analyzed to death by every different camp of thought, and I’m just not going to go into all that here because it’d be boring. People can look up all of that if they’re interested. But I think that the story of a child with little power in an exciting land of wonders, a child who finds that her decisions and actions have consequences—though not necessarily control—is part of what makes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz lasting.

Skottie Young: It's an adventure that I think we all can relate to. It's a journey that we all take in one way or another through our lives. The fact that we're all exposed to this tale as young kids, it becomes the measure for most of the stories we hear or read for the rest of our lives. At least that's my take. Or it could as simple as it's just plain fun. A little girl meets a few bizarre and lovable characters and they go on an adventure. Who wouldn't love that?

BookShelf: What, in your experience, can you do with a comic book adaptation that you can’t necessarily do in other mediums?

Eric Shanower: The visual experience is more immediate than prose and poetry. The vision is more unified than stage and screen. It’s faster than sculpture and prettier than radio.

Skottie Young: We have an unlimited budget to show you the worlds, characters, and adventures that we want to show you. We don't need to figure a way to explain what you should picture in your mind like novels nor do we need to think about how we're going to put a man in a suit made of tin. Whatever the script says, we can do. I think that's one of the little secrets that we have in the world of comic books, the freedom to do what ever we want.

BookShelf: What does this adaptation have to offer to both long-time Oz enthusiasts and readers who are encountering Oz for the first time?

Eric Shanower: We offer thrills and enjoyment. We offer a new vision of Oz in a faithful retelling. We offer the Good Witch of the North’s kiss and the Dainty China Country, both of which are usually dropped from adaptations.

Skottie Young: I'd like to think that this fleshes Baum's story out to a degree that not many people have seen before. As the novels were filled with spot illustrations of various moments, Eric and I get to fill in all the blanks and breathe life into the entire land.

BookShelf: We hear you’ve been working on adapting the MarvelousLand of Oz – Baum’s sequel to the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. What can you tell us about that? Will you be adapting more of the Oz series?

Eric Shanower: I’m more than halfway through the script for MarvelousLand. It’ll be eight issues, just like Wonderful Wizard. I believe it’s scheduled to start publication before the end of 2009. It introduces new characters like Jack Pumpkinhead and the Woggle-Bug and brings back old friends like the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman. There’s also a boy named Tip who has a mysterious past. The villains are Mombi, a witch, and General Jinjur, a young woman who gets up an army of girls to take over Oz.

And, yes, we’ll keep adapting the Oz books into comics as long as readers keep buying them.

Skottie Young: I'm in the middle of designing the characters now and can't wait to get into this one. This book will be new to a lot of people that may only be familiar with the movie and that's very exciting. It's inspiring to be involved with introducing the extended land of Oz to new readers of the series. 

As long as Marvel is producing Oz adaptations, I'll be there to illustrate them.