06 May 2008

Retracing the Path with Oz: The Manga

Oz: The Manga was written and illustrated by David Hutchison, so it has the same relationship to actual Japanese comics as food in American Chinese restaurants has to actual Chinese food. But I like food in American Chinese restaurants, and I liked this adaptation of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Although it's easy to see the influence of Japanese comics on the book's human characters, format, and pacing, it's also easy to read the book. Panels and pages go from left to right, like regular English books, and the storytelling eschews the more esoteric aspects of manga.

Hutchison's adaptation includes almost all the episodes from that original. Even the China Country is included; that was probably a last-minute insertion by Baum, and many versions leave it out. Moments I missed were Dorothy rescuing Toto after he falls through the storm door during the cyclone, the Scarecrow's meeting with a stork in the middle of a river, Dorothy's first two calls to the Winged Monkeys (leaving it unclear why she can't use the magic cap more often), and the Fighting Trees.

Some readers see the last leg of Dorothy's journey, from the Emerald City to Glinda's palace, as anticlimactic. This version makes those episodes much faster by narrating them with captions rather than dramatizing each through speech balloons.

Apparently for the sake of pacing, Hutchison also moved the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman's backstories to the chapter (or, in the comic's original serial form, the issue) after the Cowardly Lion joins the party. He may also have borrowed a couple of moments from the MGM movie:

  • The Lion flees far away from his first meeting with the Great and Terrible Oz.
  • Our first glimpse of the Wicked Witch of the West comes early on, shortly after Dorothy has taken the Silver Shoes (though she doesn't show herself to Dorothy yet).
Hutchison seems to have imagined a post-industrial Oz. The Tin Woodman has an internal boiler, gauges for eyes, and steam coming from his head. A (broken) pipeline parallels the Yellow Brick Road.

Each part of Oz favors a different form of architecture. Munchkin buildings tend toward the round (as shown here) while the Wicked Witch of the West's castle is a dark, asymmetrical, spiny tower with cranes alongside it. (Think Saruman's castle in The Lord of the Rings.) The Emerald City has all the charm of nuclear plant cooling towers, and Glinda's palace looks like an old sci-fi rocket ship on the launch pad.

Among the interesting touches in characterization, Hutchison's Wizard looks like Mark Twain. The Soldier in the Emerald City isn't tall with a long beard, as Baum described him, but a young, clean-shaven man of ordinary height wearing the number 2. For some reason, the Wicked Witch's crows talk like refugees from P. G. Wodehouse's Drones Club.

TOMORROW: Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West, manga style.


Jay said...

A little look at the first one before the second one comes out, eh?

J. L. Bell said...

That gives me an excuse to show Hutchison's cover art for his Land of Oz adaptation, scheduled for next month.

But I didn't have that timing in mind for this series of Oz: The Manga posts. I've had notes on that paperback on my Palm for months, and only after I was finally polishing them up to share did I discover the next book's pub date.

Nathan said...

Well, Baum does say that the Lion "turned tail and ran from the room" after the Wizard's fireball became too hot. That doesn't necessarily imply a mad dash out like the one in the MGM movie, though.

J. L. Bell said...

Hutchison's lion is outside and still running. But at least he isn't leaping through a candy-glass window.