14 August 2006

Eric Shanower and the Empire State

I did a most uncharacteristic thing at the Munchkin Convention last weekend. I bought a collection of material that I already owned. I bought a special hardcover edition of a book on sale for significantly less in paperback. I bought a book that weighs as much as a laptop. I hardly ever do this. But then I hardly ever see a book as crowded with gorgeous art as Adventures in Oz, by Eric Shanower. And my copy now includes an extra picture of the Scarecrow, hand-drawn on the title page. (No, not by me! By Eric.)

You, too, can buy Adventures in Oz and have it autographed this Wednesday, 16 August, at Jim Hanley's Universe in Manhattan, across from the Empire State Building. The store seems to be promoting this as a visit from Eric Shanower, author-illustrator of the Age of Bronze series, published by Image. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I don't see the event on Image Comics's website and it's prominent on Adventures in Oz publisher IDW's website, so if there's any co-op money changing hands I have a good guess about which publisher it's coming from.

But enough about an event I'll miss. Back to me. I bought the deluxe edition of Adventures in Oz for the extra signatures in the back, which contain Eric's essay about how he came to write and illustrate his Oz graphic novels of the 1980s, as well as early versions of the stories, character sketches and color studies, undeveloped scripts, other miscellaneous Oz art, and many other goodies. Both paperback and hardcover editions offer excellent printing of those graphic novels, with strong colors on high-quality paper to match the painstaking draftsmanship.

Nearly a decade ago now, when Eric was still co-editing the anthology Oz-Story, I sent him a manuscript for a short Oz comic. But I didn't know the format for comic scripts. I'd grown up reading Stan Lee's ever-buoyant descriptions of the "Marvel method," which I now understand to have been Lee spinning out ideas in his office while Kirby or Ditka takes notes, then goes back to his desk to lay out the story in panels and solve plot holes, gradually becoming possessive and resentful of the whole product. I was also used to the rules in picture-book publishing: author is responsible for text only, and cannot communicate graphic ideas directly with illustrator on pain of excommunication. So I made sure not to assign dialogue to panels or describe more than the most minimal of actions.

Eric set me straight, and through a chain of circumstances, foreseen and unforeseen, ended up drawing a couple of illustrations for my story "Jack Pumpkinhead's Day in Court" in Oz-Story 5. Now, in Adventures in Oz, I can study some scripts linked to the best Oz comic stories around. If only I could draw.

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