guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

September 2009

Eric Shanower & Skottie Young,
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Marvel, 2009). $29.99, hardcover.

By Elizabeth Hewitt

When I discovered that Marvel Classics was doing a version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz I made a sacred pledge that I would renounce, boycott, and curse Marvel unless they hired Eric Shanower for the project. Shanower, after all, has for two decades devoted his considerable talents to all things Oz, including his beautiful Oz stories, which only 3 years ago, were reprinted in the exquisite book, Adventures in Oz. Thus, when I heard they had hired Skottie Young to illustrate the series, I began to haul up timber and comics for the big bonfire. Luckily before the incendiary moment began, my youngest child rushed in with the news that Shanower would be writing the comic. I still grumbled, but when we picked up the freebie comic Marvel released last year describing the project and giving glimpses of Young’s sketches as he was developing his characters, I became a believer. These sketches (and Shanower’s commentary about them) are included at the end of the beautiful hardcover edition of the whole series just released as trade hardcover. They reveal how much consideration Young put into his rendering of the archetypal four travelers to Emerald City. He did not choose to work in the style of W.W. Denslow or John R. Neill—and there is not even a hint of visual nostalgia for fin de siècle style. And, yet, thankfully, there is also nothing new-fashioned about his illustrations: he does not make Dorothy and Co. hip and happening with goth stylings. Instead he has produced the most adorable little Dorothy, the schlumpiest Scarecrow, the most fragile Tin Man, and the rolly polliest Lion. The illustrations are truly beautiful. And given the importance of palette to the tale—not only in the paradigmatic turn to Technicolor in the MGM movie, but also the book , since Baum tells us that were it not for Toto, Dorothy would grow as gray as her surroundings—the colorist, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, deserves special commendation.

And so, despite my initial resistance, I have been eagerly waiting for the publication of the collected series for months now. Shanower’s pitch-perfect rendering of Baum’s novel is not at all surprising: he knows the world of Oz better than almost anyone and captures the lightness and precision of Baum’s prose beautifully. Because the novel is so episodic, and because almost all readers are familiar with the plot that has so saturated American culture, it would have been easy for the graphic version to plod along. After all, so much of the story consists of embedded narratives in which the characters in turn reveal their tales to Dorothy. But with Shanower’s brilliant capture of dialogue and chronicle and the insane charm of Young’s drawings, even the most wizened reader can experience Oz as a wide-eyed naif.

And perhaps the best news of all was saved for last, as the volume promised that starting in November we will be treated to Shanower and Young’s adaptation of The Marvelous Land of Oz. This time I won’t be patient enough to wait for the hardcover.