*Adventures in Oz — Recommended

The immensely talented Eric Shanower (Age of Bronze) is a long-time fan of the Wizard of Oz books, so much so that he created his own stories with the characters. Adventures in Oz reprints his five out-of-print graphic novels — The Enchanted Apples of Oz, The Secret Island of Oz, The Ice King of Oz, The Forgotten Forest of Oz, and The Blue Witch of Oz — in a rescanned edition that improves upon the original reproduction of the gorgeous painted art.

The oversized paperback, the size of a coffee table book, shows the images to advantage. The opening introduction and map of Oz provides a useful reminder to those readers who may not have read the books recently, establishing the background for the following stories.

Adventures in Oz cover
Adventures in Oz
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In “Enchanted Apples”, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and Billina the talking hen meet the lonely keeper of a tree of magic fruit. She’s protecting them from a thief trying to wake the Wicked Witch of the South with their powers. It’s a simple, classic story, in which our heroes lose the first battle only to win at the end of the day, anchored by a message of redemption and the idea that one should keep trying to do the right thing no matter the obstacles.

Dorothy, Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and Eureka the cat set out to find a rare fish near a mysterious mountain in “The Secret Island”. Their journey leads to a battle with a huge frog and snake as well as a reminder of the importance of friendship. When “The Ice King” kidnaps Ozma, ruler of Oz, Dorothy, Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and a wax candle-man set out for his realm to rescue her.

In “The Forgotten Forest”, a banished wood-nymph becomes queen of the trolls and declares war against her former people. It’s the most complex of the stories due to her characterization, a mixture of despair, longing, envy, nostalgia, and the selfish impulse to destroy what one cannot have. A variety of loyalties conflict as the trolls ally with dragons for battle, and the queen and Dorothy spar over water of forgetfulness, which the nymph wants to soothe her troubled history and conscience.

When Dorothy asks Glinda why there were four evil witches but not as many good witches in Oz’s history, Glinda tells her about “The Blue Witch”. Her story doesn’t yet have an ending, though, so Dorothy and Scarecrow set out to find and rescue her, if necessary. The result is a complicated family piece involving missing children.

These fairy tales extend L. Frank Baum’s series while keeping the mood and feeling of the originals. There are also echoes of well-known antecedents, such as the stories of the Garden of Eden or of Persephone. Imaginative creations, like a flying swordfish or a wooden robot-like boy, share space with old favorites portrayed in ways true to their nature.

Shanower’s art shows expressive characters with realistic movements and expressions. His drawings of the lion are especially charming, but he’s skilled with all kinds of animals. There’s a lot of exciting adventure as Dorothy and her friends take on their quests, all skillfully delineated by a true master. This would make a wonderful addition to any family’s library.

The signed and numbered limited hardcover has an additional 70 pages of background material, including an explanation of Shanower’s history with Oz and information on how the stories developed, character sketches, penciled page layouts, rarely seen promotional pieces, color studies, and alternate endings. There’s more information at the artist’s website.


7 Responses to “*Adventures in Oz — Recommended”

  1. Rivkah Says:

    Oh wow. I didn’t know that these existed! I just bought another graphic novel adaptation of the “Wizard of OZ” for my sister’s two little girls, but I think I’m going to have to pick this one up as well. The art looks absolutely stunning. :)

  2. James Schee Says:

    I really should read the Wizard of Oz books one of these days. I’ve only seen the movie, and read the Wicked book which was interesting. Yet haven’t actually read any of the novels.

  3. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Feb. 12, 2007: Spider-Man’s radioactive sperm, and other atrocities Says:

    [...] Johanna Draper Carlson offers her take on Eric Shanower’s Adventures in Oz. [...]

  4. Scott Says:

    I have this on hold at my local library… and it may be the gateway book to get my kids into comics.

    At the tender ages of 9, they have not had the opportunity to read any graphic novel or comic, but they have read everything Oz.

    Except this.

    So, we shall see what they think of the format.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Oh, please do let us know how they react.

  6. Coming Up in April 2007 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] offers again the limited-edition Adventures in Oz hardcover by Eric Shanower (FEB07 3561, $75). If you didn’t get it the first time around, be [...]

  7. Scott Says:

    Well, Adventures finally came in and both my kids read it. Since they are very fast readers, they had it done in under 40 minutes.

    I asked them what they thought of it after and they said that all of the stories were new and that they enjoyed them.

    However, they didn’t re-read it like they often do with other books they have and really didn’t say much else the next time I asked them.

    So, I guess I’ll take it as a baby step towards including graphic formats in their reading list (which is more that I can say of their mom’s reading list :p).

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