17 October 2009

Five Observations on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Comic

As Eric Shanower and Skottie Young’s comics adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz continues its sojourn on the hardcover “graphic novels” bestseller list, I’m sharing some miscellaneous thoughts on how it retells Dorothy’s first adventure.

  • This comic was originally published as eight issues of a magazine, each of which needed its share of satisfying ups and downs to keep readers coming back for more. I read many such comic-book collections, and usually it’s apparent where one installment ends and the next begins (and not just because of a reprinted cover or placeholder page). There’s a shift in rhythm, and often a few panels to catch readers up with the story. I didn’t have that experience this time: the whole book felt seamless. I’m going to have to reread again to figure out how.

  • The only detail from L. Frank Baum’s book that I missed was how the great and powerful Oz is exposed. In this adaptation, the Lion roars so ferociously he blows open a curtain hiding the little man.

    In the book, the Cowardly Lion’s roar is “so fierce and dreadful that Toto jumped away from him in alarm and tipped over the screen” in front of Oz. (In the MGM movie, Toto deliberately pulls open a curtain. Frank Morgan then yanks it back while delivering his immortal “Pay no attention to the man…” line. You can watch Toto get yanked back as well since the curtain was apparently attached to his collar.)

    It may seem illogical for Oz to protect his vital secret with a screen so light that a startled terrier can knock it over. Nevertheless, I like the symbolic aspect of that moment: Toto makes things happen for Dorothy.

  • I saw one addition to this version which seemed to come from the MGM movie. After the Lion’s earlier, solo interview with the Wizard (appearing as a great ball of fire), the frightened beast runs out of the throne room and breaks through a door (“SCRUNCH”!). Quite reminiscent of the candy-pane window that Bert Lahr’s stunt double jumped through. But the book simply says:
    The Lion was angry at this speech, but could say nothing in reply, and while he stood silently gazing at the Ball of Fire it became so furiously hot that he turned tail and rushed from the room. He was glad to find his friends waiting for him, and told them of his terrible interview with the Wizard.
  • There are two double-page spreads in the book, both meaningful. The first comes when Dorothy and her companions are first allowed inside the Emerald City and take in the marvelous capital. Because it’s a walled city, however, the view feels as hemmed-in as it is expansive.

    The second spread comes toward the end of the book as the party approach Glinda’s castle. The MGM movie leaves out that entire leg of Dorothy’s journey, and many adaptations treat it as an anticlimax. But that trip is a very important part of the story. It allows Dorothy’s companions to prove their new abilities, and it’s important for her to reach a place of real magic, not humbuggery. Shanower knows that Glinda and her castle remain major centers of power in the Oz saga, and he scripted a grand entrance for them.

  • Months back, I wrote about how Oz: The Manga used many variations of word balloons for different characters’ speeches. This adaptation is more restrained in that regard. Each of the Wizard’s disguises has a different style of balloon and typography. And the field mice all speak in little letters.
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