18 July 2006

Iz Abadazad a new Oz?

Monica Edinger, award-winning teacher at the Dalton School in New York, asked me through the Child_Lit listserv about the fantasy series Abadazad, by writer J. M. DeMatteis, illustrator Mike Ploog, and colorist Nick Bell [no relation].

Abadazad was first a line of comic books, now a shorter series of longer graphic novels from Hyperion, the publishing wing of Disney. Monica wrote, "I read the first one and it struck me as playing off the whole Oz phenomena in some very interesting ways." Her three major points of similarity:

1. Kate's diary with a typical snarky teen voice to it. But with stuff like, "You've heard of Abadazad, right? I mean .... duh...who hasn't.....But, just in case you're totally clueless: The first book, Little Martha, was written in 1898 by this guy named Franklin O. Davies...Davies wrote, I dunno, nineteen or twenty Abadazad books that were all published between 1898 and 1942....Well, I think you get the idea. After Franklin O. died, his daughter P.J. Davies wrote fifteen more...."
That bit of fictional publishing history certainly could be inspired by the Oz series--as well as the Stratemeyer Syndicate that generated the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, which was taken over by the founder's daughters. Three of L. Frank Baum's four sons tried to write stories in his mode, but none was successful or stuck it out for more than a title or two. But Ruth Plumly Thompson, who did take over the official series and wrote, "I dunno, nineteen or twenty" books, was bothered throughout her career by rumors that she was Baum's niece or some other relation. (They never met.)

2. A comic which, along with the diary, is the story of Kate going into Abadazad looking for her missing little brother.
To my eyes, this plot-starter makes the Abadazad stories different from the Oz stories in a mighty significant way. Rescuing a little sibling is the starter for other going-into-a-strange-land stories, from A Wrinkle in Time to Labyrinth (which Ploog worked on as a storyboard artist), but the child-protagonists who have adventures in Oz are remarkably sibling-free. Not until Number Nine and Twink and Tom in the 1940s do those children have any siblings at all, much less siblings who need rescuing. Dorothy, Tip, Inga, etc.--they're all only children.

3. Pages from an actual Abadazad book with bits like, "You are a very bad man!" Little Martha exclaimed. "Indeed I am," sneered the Lanky Man, incredibly pleased with himself.
And again that seems like a parodic echo of an exchange from Baum's Wizard of Oz that was plucked whole into the MGM movie:
"I think you are a very bad man," said Dorothy.

"Oh, no, my dear; I'm really a very good man, but I'm a very bad Wizard, I must admit."
To Monica's points, I can add some graphic similarities, such as this big head of a man with a fringe of hair.

Now it might be that we view all "child goes to fairyland" stories through the lens of our favorite examples of that genre. Kevenn T. Smith, an illustrator in last year's issue of Oziana, and pioneer Oz blogger Eric Gjovaag noted echoes of Oz in the Abadazad comics back in 2004 on the Oz Club bulletin board. But in the same year, All Ages wrote of Abadazad as "in the vein of Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe." (All Ages also anguished that something would be lost in the shift from comic pages to hardcover.)

To that point, it seems significant that Monica calls herself a "Carrollian," and isn't claiming to see Alice here. She wrote, "I found it quite fun and intriguing. I thought they would be of particular interest to Oz folks just as we Carrollians are always interested in parodies of Wonderland." So how about it, folks? What do people think of Abadazad in comparison with the Oz books? On its own? And does the shift to the new book format make it more or less reminiscent of Oz as the comics?


AMWise said...

I find the new format for Abadazad makes the story more opaque than the comic did; we're now too lodged into Kate's head to experience the wonder along with her because she's so determined to negate everything in her surly teen voice. I found the comic more enjoyable because it gave both Kate's voice and the omniscient view of the illustration which gave the reader a better idea of Kate's fallibility as a narrator.

As for Abadazad being an homage to Oz, I think I remember reading that the comic was originally planned to be just that, but the creators decided to create their own fairyland to broaden the appeal of the series. In any event, it seems to me that the lightly comic tone of snippets of Barrie's books we get are a kind of imitation of Baum's Oz books, although the country itself seems more like Carroll's Wonderland.

J. L. Bell said...

Graphic novels/comics have indeed managed to avoid the modern novel's insistence on a narrow point of view.