The Wizard's Wireless
Interviews with People Inspired by The Wizard of Oz

Journey of Discovery
A Chat with Graham Rawle

Graham Rawle is the illustrator of an astonishing new edition of The Wizard of Oz.  Using mixed media, Rawle has created a fantasy world that uses everyday objects in unexpected ways.  A long-time artist for the  British papers, The Weekend Guardian, The Observer, and the Sunday Telegraph Magazine, Rawle is now branching out into the phenomenon that is Oz. To begin, I asked him...

WW: Why a new version of the Wizard of Oz?

GR: I’ve always loved The Wizard of Oz and considered it to be one of the all-time great stories, but this view was based on countless viewings the 1939 movie; I’d never actually read the book. I was fascinated by what I found in the original text: numerous characters and scenes that never made it to the movie and lots of backstory that add depth to the characters. You find out the history of the Winged Monkeys and how the Tin Man came to be made of tin. I don’t think you can top the movie; it’s utterly brilliant, but I thought there was room for a visual reinterpretation of Baum’s original text. I’ve remained loyal to the original story, but my own vision of Oz comes through and I hope my pictures highlight other dimensions in the story.

WW: As someone from the U.K., how does an American fairy tale resonate with you?

GR: It has incredible psychological depth and has, at its heart a wonderful message and a valuable life lesson: that we all need to go on a journey of discovery before we can become complete. That’s why it resonates with the whole world. Though its theme is universal, I like the fact that it is firmly rooted in American soil of the Kansas prairie because though by contrast the wonderful land of Oz is so spectacular, it is still governed by the ideals of a real world.

WW: How many of the Oz books have you read?

GR: I decided that while I was working on this book I wouldn’t read any of the others. I didn’t want to be influenced by facts that might inform or change my take on the original story. Now, after two years my book is finished, I am free to sit down and read them all at my leisure. Baum was a great writer.

WW: Assuming you’ve read a few of the others by now, have you found any other characters that you’d enjoy creating models for?

GR: Baum invents and designs wonderful characters. From a purely visual point of view, characters like the Saw Horse and The Gump from The Marvelous Land of Oz. An animal with a hunting trophy as a head is a genius idea and I wish I’d thought of it.

WW: Who are the people portrayed as the Wizard and the Good Witch?

GR: The Good Witch of the North is the late Hattie Summers-Ehasz, a nice-looking lady I found on a photo library site. I contacted the family to check that they were happy for me to use the picture. The Wizard is from a similar site, but there was no way to contact him. Glinda, the Good Witch of the South’s face is made from half a dozen Hollywood film stars, but everyone seems to be able to see one in particular, Elizabeth Taylor, even though I only used her nose and forehead.

WW: Did you happen to use any features of Billie Burke or Margaret Hamilton by chance?

GR: No, nothing nearly so clever, I’m afraid.

WW: Who are some of the artists you admire?

GR: It would be too hard to start listing them, but I am inspired by a broad range of art and artists. My pictures for Oz are perhaps more influenced by cinema than illustration. Building the sets characters, costumes and props for Oz was rather like making a movie (or creating movie stills) in miniature.

WW: You use a lot of found items in your work.  What one item excited you the most for this project?

GR: Dorothy. She’s a doll I used in another book and she has such a lovely face. The original doll (then called Gloria) was much too grown up so her body had to be replaced, but now she seems so perfect as Dorothy, I think she’ll stay that way. I was also very excited to find my Cowardly Lion, who I discovered after a very long search in a junk store in Minneapolis. He’s a bit moth-eaten and he’s lost his growl and his teeth and he looks permanently nervous. Perfect for the role. As a sitting wind-up toy, he has no lower legs, so these had to be created digitally for each shot.

WW: You obviously put a lot of thought and research into your creations.  Is there a message you want to convey through your art?

GR: I think my approach is always the same. I do the work first and foremost to please myself, but I agonize over everything until it feels right. (I spent six months building an Emerald City; I didn’t like the end result so I scrapped the whole thing and started again). Everything I do seems somehow related to my childhood in an attempt to recapture something from it that I
feel was lost, so it seems like it’s a part of me, and that hopefully gives it authenticity. I’m also a great believer in the idea that the greater the constraints of an exercise, the more inventive you become. I often impose such rules on myself.

WW: The animated trailer is quite interesting.  Tell me more about your experience in directing it and working with Pete Mellor.

GR: Pete Mellor is brilliant. He’s a good friend and a very clever animator; we’ve been trying to work on something together for years. With very little money and very little time, he managed to get my pictures moving, usually with nothing more than the flat finished photograph to work from. Though he works digitally, we were careful to maintain the hand-made feel of the pictures. I particularly enjoyed assembling the soundtrack from dozens of tiny fragments of found music. Now we’re hoping for funding to embark on animating the whole story as a film.

WW: Oz seems to be enjoying a renaissance in popular media lately.  There are a few versions of a darker Oz like “Tin Man” and “Apocalypse Oz” as well as Disney’s sequel “Return to Oz”.  If you do pursue a film with Pete Mellor, what direction do you think you would take?

GR: As with the book, I’d want to remain faithful to the original story, though of course it would need serious editing; what works on the page won’t necessarily work on the screen. I think of my version as strange and (hopefully) magical, rather than particularly dark. There is a lot of potential humour that I would want to exploit. The trailer was partly an experiment to see how the book images would translate to the screen and I really like the feel of it.

WW: Can you name some of your favorite movies besides The Wizard of Oz?

GR: If you’re talking about visually inspiring movies, it’s hard to top The Wizard of Oz, but The 10,000 Fingers of Doctor T has some extraordinary design in it. I’m generally interested in great stories so the films I watch over and over again are often cinema classics: Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, Some Like it Hot, Double Indemnity.
    I love It’s a Wonderful Life. Hitchcock: Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest. For sheer indulgence I’m also very fond of British comedies from the early sixties (probably a childhood thing) as well as the grittier films from that period, Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, A Kind of Loving etc. I have modern favourites too: Fargo, Pulp Fiction…Little Miss Sunshine is a great film. I could go on, but the list only highlights those I leave out.

WW: Do you have any plans for illustrating another classic children's book?

GR: This was the first time I’d ever illustrated someone else’s text. I normally prefer to write my own stories, but I decided that if I were ever to work on someone else’s, it would be The Wizard of Oz. Now it’s done, I’m back to writing a novel that got put on hold while I did Oz. I loved doing Oz, but I can’t imagine I’ll do another children’s book, but who knows?

WW: Do you find that your work on The Wizard of Oz has influenced your new novel in any way?

GR: At the moment I’m at the stage where I’m trying to wrestle my unwieldy plot into some shape, but it is a quest story so structurally has similarities with The Wizard of Oz, the perfect model of The Hero’s Journey. To keep mine on track I keep reminding myself of the central question: what does my character want/need, does he get it, and assuming he does, what does he need to sacrifice/learn in order to do so? Makes it sound so easy, doesn’t it?

WW: What question would you ask L. Frank Baum if he were alive today?

GR: ‘Can you ever forgive me for putting Toto on wheels?’ No, I wouldn’t ask that. He’d understand my thinking, I hope. Unlike the film where Toto is instrumental in much of the plot, in the book he doesn’t do very much, so it seemed appropriate (and funny) to make him a push-along toy. It also tells us something about Dorothy’s take on reality and therefore paints the picture of Oz in a different light.
    What would I really ask? I suppose I’d be interested in his reaction to other interpretations of his story. Mine in particular, obviously, but wouldn’t it be great to sit him down to watch the 1939 MGM movie and then ask him what he thought about it? For once, I’d be very happy to turn my back to the screen as the film played, just to watch his face.

Graham Rawle lives in London, U.K. and is a lecturer on the Sequential Design and Illustration MA at Brighton.  He has authored several books for adults and children.  He can be reached at

Blair Frodelius lives in upstate New York and is the editor of The International Wizard of Oz Club's Website; The Daily Ozmapolitan; and  He can be reached at

--Interviewed by Blair Frodelius; Nov 17 & 24, 2008

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