The Wizard's Wireless
Interviews with People Inspired by Oz
Hosted by The Daily Ozmapolitan

The Royal Illustrator of Oz
A Conversation with Eric Shanower

Eric Shanower is a familiar name to Oz fans.  In December 2008, Marvel Comics debuted a comic book version of L. Frank Baum's first Oz story scripted by Eric, and illustrated by Skottie Young.  I asked Eric about the new series...

WW: What are your expectations for the new Marvel Oz title?  Would you like to see it as an ongoing series covering all of Baum's books?

My expectation is for everyone who likes Oz to buy this series. I’m already working on the script for the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, which will also be eight issues. The artist, Skottie Young, is really enthusiastic about drawing at least the rest of the Baum Oz books, so as long as it keeps selling, I suppose Marvel will keep the series going. I hope that will be for a good long while. I’m not as interested in doing Baum’s non-Oz books in comic book form. Afraid I can’t muster a whole lot of enthusiasm for The Boy Fortune Hunters in Panama as a graphic novel. And  I don’t know whether I could force myself to adapt The Wogglebug Book. But I’d certainly love to do The Sea Fairies and Sky Island.

What was the hardest part of writing the script for this project?  

ES: The most difficult scene to write was the one where Toto bites the Wicked Witch of the West. Baum’s text attributes no reaction to the Witch, so I had to figure out a way to incorporate the material without making something up and without letting it just fall flat.

    Figuring out how to get rid of the mark left on Dorothy’s forehead by the Good Witch of the North was also a problem. But I think I came up with a reasonable solution.

    Another difficult thing about this Marvel Oz project is that when I doing the word balloon and caption placements on Skottie’s artwork, I have to cover up parts of his gorgeous visuals.

WW: Having worked with several publishers over the years, how has Marvel been to work with in terms of creative freedom?

ES: Absolutely fine. They’re confident that I know what I’m doing, so they have let me adapt the story as I think best. The editorial input has all been reasonable and amicable. We’re all working toward putting out the best comics adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that we can. Everybody seems mutually dedicated to that goal.

WW: Was it hard for you to turn over the illustration duties to another artist?

ES: No. I didn’t have much of a choice, anyway. It was Marvel Comics’s decision. My choice was either to be involved as the writer or not at all. And that was fine with me, since I don’t have time in my schedule to draw the project.

    Before I accepted the job, I did have to consciously erect a wall in my head between my scripting and whatever the art would look like. I had no idea while writing the adaptation what Skottie’s take would be, so I very deliberately made myself face the fact that I might end up hating the artwork. Fortunately I think Skottie’s work is excellent. So while it’s certainly not what I’d have done—I’d have stayed much closer to Neill’s depictions of Oz and referenced Denslow to whatever appropriate degree—basically how my Oz art usually looks—I think Skottie’s work is quite a treat and a valid, vibrant new way to see Oz.

WW: This may be an unfair question, but if given the chance who would you like to work with on future Oz projects?

ES: Skottie Young has been producing gorgeous work so far and the colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu enhances it wonderfully. I don’t want to lose this team for Marvel’s Oz series.

    But for a completely different Oz project, I’d of course love to illustrate an Oz story by Lauren Lynn McGraw, the last living author of the original Oz books.

    I’d also be more than willing to work with Edward Einhorn again. I’m really proud of Paradox in Oz and The Living House of Oz.

WW: What are some of your frustrations in working on this project?

ES: So far there hasn’t been any problem large enough to label a frustration. If I had to come up with something, I guess I could say that there are some minor ways in which Skottie has taken liberties—for instance, he has the Scarecrow sit down during the night spent in the Tin Woodman’s hut rather than stand. But I think that Skottie’s artwork is terrific and brings so much new life to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that these small descrepancies count for nothing. After all, Neill took far more liberties in illustrating the Oz books than Skottie’s taking, and I worship Neill’s illustrations.

WW: Any "easter eggs" or inside jokes that Oz fans might look for in the artwork or text?

ES: I don’t thing there’s anything you could exactly call an inside joke. Of course, in my script the Green Girl is named Jellia Jamb, the Soldier with the Green Whiskers is named Omby Amby, and the Guardian of the Gates plays a mouth harp. But since Baum didn’t reference these things in Wizard and our adaptation is faithful to the book, they won’t show up on the printed page. I certainly approached the text of Wizard with the idea of the Oz books as a whole and the intention to minimize any contradictions with other Oz books. I’m not sure how evident that will be in the final product. Where appropriate I used Baum’s later rewrites of episodes from Wizard—such as material from Baum’s Juvenile Speaker—so I hope that’ll provide something fresh to people who know Wizard really well.

WW: What is your favorite Oz book and why?

ES: I can’t say I really have a favorite. I like different Oz books for different reasons. When I was younger my favorite was Ozma of Oz because I find the story captivating and I love John R. Neill’s illustrations. I also love The Road to Oz because of John R. Neill’s fantastic illustrations and because it was the first Oz book I had read to me.  But I also really like The Patchwork Girl of Oz, The Magic of Oz, and Merry Go Round in Oz. Really, there are things I love in all the Baum Oz books—well, except for The Wogglebug Book, I guess, if you consider that an Oz book.

WW: The feedback has been hugely positive for this project.  Who do you hope to please the most with this work?

ES: I certainly hope to please each and every person who reads the comic book. I hope to please both Oz fans and people who know little or nothing about Oz. I hope to please Skottie Young, the editorial team at Marvel, and Marvel’s accounting department. But I guess the people I hope to please the most are other cartoonists.

WW: Moving out of the world of publishing, what do you consider the best version of Oz on film? (This can include anything from the 1915 films up to the recent Sci-Fi Network's Tin Man miniseries).

ES: I guess I’d have to say the 1939 MGM version of The Wizard of Oz. As much as it diverges from my vision of Oz, it’s an excellent film for the most part. But, you know, it doesn’t really have a lot of heavy competition—so many Oz movies are pretty awful—from the 1925 silent version through the movie version of The Wiz. But I do need to add that the The Wiz on stage—when done right—is the best stage version of Oz I know of, beating Wicked hands down and every single other stage version of The Wizard of Oz I’ve seen.

WW: How do you feel about the "Dark Oz" comics that have come out in the past decade?

ES: Some of them I like. Some of them I don’t.

WW: Any chance of getting Harlan Ellison to write an Oz story?

ES: He loves Oz. He once told me an idea he had for a sequel to the MGM film, but I don’t think it ever went further than an idea.

WW: Who are some of the cartoonists you most admire?

ES: Current cartoonists whose work I admire are Jaime Hernandez and Lynda Barry. I also really like the writing of Alan Moore and Ed Brubaker and the artwork of Moebius, Loisel, and P. Craig Russell. Those are just the ones I think of at the moment. There are many, many others whose work I enjoy greatly. And there are many cartoonists of the past whose work I love, such as Carl Barks, Walt Kelly, Winsor McCay, Milton Caniff, Bill Watterson, Jack Kirby, Tove Jansson, Kurt Schaffenberger, C. C. Beck, Herge, the list goes on.

WW: What would you like your Ozian legacy to be?  You've certainly contributed a lot of material both written and illustrated over the years.

ES: I’d like all my Oz work to be my Ozian legacy, but if I had to choose just one thing, it would be my Oz graphic novel series. That’s what I would like to have live on.

WW: What are some of the other projects you're currently working on that you'd like to let our readers know about?

ES: There’s Age of Bronze, of course, my ongoing comic book series telling the complete story of the Trojan War. That’s the main thing I do.

    I wrote and drew a short comics piece on creating Age of Bronze for a collection of essays on the use of Greek and Roman classics and mythology in comics, tentatively titled Classics and Comics, but I don’t think there’s a publisher attached yet.

    I’m illustrating a mini-comic written by my friend zan about Achilles’s grandfather Aeacus.

    Other work that’s in progress or soon to see print includes a short Uncle Scrooge story that I wrote and am drawing for Gemstone Comics.  I wrote and drew a short comics story for a Young Adult anthology of mostly prose LGBT stories edited by Michael Cart, titled How Beautiful the Ordinary and scheduled from HarperCollins in Sept. 2009.

    I’m writing a couple essays for a complete reprinting in color and at newspaper size of L. Frank Baum’s and Walt McDougall’s 1904-05 comic page Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz, coming from Sunday Press in 2009.

    And I’m working on a short dance piece for the 2009 (International Wizard of Oz Club's) Winkie Convention next July in Pacific Grove, California.

WW: Last question: If there was a Celebrity Deathmatch between L. Frank Baum and W.W. Denslow, who would win?

ES: I had to look up Celebrity Deathmatch to find out what it is. I think Denslow, considering his wild west period, would beat Baum, especially if there’s any truth to the Baum family tradition of Baum’s weak heart. But they both smoked cigars, so I wonder if either would last till the end of the match. I can see them both stumbling around each other, mustaches dripping with sweat, both of them wheezing and gasping for breath. I bet Ruth Plumly Thompson could have knocked them both cold.

Eric Shanower lives in San Diego, CA and has been reading Oz books since he was six years old.  He has authored and illustrated several Oz books, and is considered one of the Royal Illustrators of Oz.  He is also the recipient of an Eisner Award for his work on Age of Bronze.  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; Dec 14 & 16, 2008

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