Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shanowerthon! The Enchanted Apples of Oz

Well, the final illustrator of the FF+ who also wrote Oz stories is Eric Shanower. (Wait, what about Rob Roy MacVeigh? Did he write Oz stories? ... The Oz Project says "No." ... Wait, he did do a short story in Oziana 1989! I own that! ... We'll get to that soon.)

Shanower also has the distinction of being the only illustrator who's worked on the original illustrations for FF+ books who is still very much alive. (At least he looked like it when I met him at the Winkie Convention earlier this month.) But he is also the only one who wrote and illustrated Oz stories before his FF+ work.

Shanower is a cartoonist by trade, and studied at The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, and has done many freelance projects for comic publishers. Even when it's not Oz, his drawings of lifelike people are simply amazing.

Shanower's first published Oz work was actually in the 1976 Oziana, and, he notes, heavily rewritten by the  editor. I don't have Oziana 1976 on hand, though... At any rate, his first big Oz publication was The Enchanted Apples of Oz in 1986. It had begun as an idea for an Oz-based comic book series for First Comics, and the original draft featured Trot and Cap'n Bill. However, at the time, Trot and Cap'n Bill's appearances were still protected by copyright. And anyway, Rick Oliver, editor at First Comics, wanted to do graphic novels instead.

Thus, a little series of five Oz graphic novels began, each one featuring Dorothy and the Scarecrow as lead characters. Throughout these graphic novels, and indeed, all of Shanower's Oz art done in his regular style, he used John R. Neill's designs first, and W.W. Denslow's if he had drawn a character Shanower was using that Neill hadn't drawn. Simply, when you take Neill's designs and Shanower's art style, it's an amazing piece of art. Oz fans have called Shanower's work the best since John R. Neill, that it's as good, or even suggesting it surpasses Neill. Shanower commented on this praise:
That's a very flattering statement, but I'm not sure it's actually the case. Neill, of course, is the man. He had a much better facility for illustration than I do. He ignored the rules of perspective quite often, and it's pretty obvious he got somewhat bored with Oz after a few books, but when he was doing his best work, Oz or otherwise, he was glorious. So being compared with Neill is very nice and a little uncomfortable for me.
On the other hand though, with Enchanted Apples, Shanower proved he could spin a tale. Now, keep in mind that this is the comics medium, Shanower's stories are more straightforward than some Oz books. He rarely had alternating plots like many Oz books, and didn't make use of the side-misadventures that help lengthen the page count of so many books.

I was very young when I first saw one of Shanower's graphic novels. It wasn't this one, but although I saw it listed on the back, I never tried to see if the library had it too, because I just found the library's catalog too daunting. Shortly after, my Oz collection was discarded and I lost interest, but when I got back into Oz a number of years later, I read all of Shanower's work the library had right alongside L. Frank Baum's Oz books. I didn't seek out to buy all the individual graphic novels, as when I started to build my collection, a collection of Shanower's graphic novels called Adventures in Oz had been announced. (More on that later.) However, thanks to, I do have the original version as well.

And now let's look at the story...

Dorothy, the Scarecrow and Billina are walking along the Yellow Brick Road, when suddenly a castle appears before them. They approach it and find it is the home of Valynn, a woman who tends the Enchanted Apple Tree of Oz. The Enchanted Apples must remain on the tree for Oz to maintain its magic. Up until now, she has been in Limbo for many years, because a man named Bortag threatened to steal the apples. Finally tiring of the loneliness of Limbo, she decided that Bortag is probably no longer a threat and returned to Oz.

Dorothy decides she and Valynn will go to the Emerald City to tell Ozma of Valynn's plight, and the Scarecrow and Billina are left to watch the tree. Unfortunately, while they are gone, Bortag arrives on a flying swordfish named Drox and steals several apples, along with Billina. (She was attempting to scare him away, but he threw her in a sack and let other apples hit her.)

In the Emerald City, Ozma, Valynn, and Dorothy check the Magic Picture to see the Enchanted Apple Tree. Valynn is horrified to see what has happened, and they watch Bortag fly far to the south of Oz, where he uses an apple to awaken the Wicked Witch of the South!

This is not Singra, the Wicked Witch of Rachel Cosgrove Payes' The Wicked Witch of Oz (which Shanower would illustrate later), but Shanower himself offered an explanation to there being two Wicked Witches of the South in an article in the Winter 2001 Baum Bugle.
Which one can rightfully claim the title of the Wicked Witch of the South?

My answer is simple: they both can. My idea is that they are sisters who practice the same occupation but who have hated each other for many years—along the lines of Ann Landers and Abby Van Buren. These two witches are rivals, each claiming to be the Wicked Witch of the South and hating each other so much that each denies the existence of the other.
The Wicked Witch heads right to the Enchanted Apple Tree, and using the Magic Belt, Ozma, Dorothy, and Valynn head back to the castle themselves.

Bortag begins to walk sullenly to the Deadly Desert, while Billina begins to scold him for letting the Witch go. She convinces Drox and Bortag to go back to the Enchanted Apple Tree to try to stop the Witch, while Bortag explains why he freed her. He's from a town called Glun where everyone is ugly, but he wasn't ugly enough to be accepted into their society, so he tried to learn magic to get revenge, but all his spells somehow resulted in the creation of a potato. (At least he didn't have to go hungry!) Finally, he gave up and went to the Deadly Desert to commit suicide by walking into it.

Near the Desert's edge, he found a hut where the Wicked Witch was in an enchanted sleep. Noting her ugliness, he thought she might prove a kindred spirit. This is what made him decide to get at least one Enchanted Apple to waken her with. So he sneaked into Valynn's palace, but she managed to catch him before he could pick one. After making false threats at Valynn, she goes to Limbo. Still, Bortag vowed that he would someday get an Enchanted Apple.

One day, Drox landed outside the hut, almost dried to death after having flown over the Deady Desert. Bortag nurses Drox back to health, and Drox says that without ocean water, he'll never be strong enough to return to the Nonestic Ocean.

After Bortag finishes his story, Billina suddenly can't speak anymore, and Bortag realizes that thanks to him, Oz really is losing its magic.

At Valynn's castle, Ozma, Dorothy, and Valynn arrive and hurry to the garden, where the Witch compels the Scarecrow to take the Magic Belt from Dorothy and give it to her. (The Belt, Ozma explained, is not affected by Oz magic, since it isn't from Oz.) As the Witch begins to pick a silver apple that ensures Valynn's guardianship of the tree, Valynn starts at her, but the Witch turns her into a statue. Ozma is soon turned into marble and Dorothy into wood.

Bortag arrives and has Drox hook the Magic Belt with his sword-like nose. While this gets the belt off the Witch, it carries her by her feet. The Witch turns Drox into a gray cloud, and she, Bortag, and the Magic Belt fall to earth on top of the Scarecrow, who just came out of his trance. Bortag manages to put on the Belt and turns the Witch into stone. He then uses the Belt to restore Drox, the Scarecrow, Ozma, Valynn, and Dorothy, but then leaves on Drox with the Belt.

Back in the Emerald City, things aren't going well. The Magic of Oz is still weakening, even with some of the apples on the tree. Suddenly, the Scarecrow loses his life and falls over. Just then, Omby Amby announces Bortag and Drox. Bortag is returning the Belt. He took it because he thought it could give him what he wanted, but all he wanted was a true friend, and that's what he already has in Drox.

Ozma uses the Magic Belt to return to Valynn and then uses it to restore the Apple Tree to how it was before Bortag stole the apples. This restores the Magic of Oz full force, and the Scarecrow and Billina instantly recover. Then, Ozma creates a barrier around the tree so that no one except Valynn may touch it. Finally, Ozma grants Bortag's request: to send Drox and himself to a home by the Nonestic Ocean.

As I said, the plot is very straightforward and not very long. Since the graphic novel was still an exciting new format for comics, Shanower didn't try to start up a story arc that would continue through other volumes. For the format, it works quite well. Shanower stays very true to Baum's characters and manages to develop  Valynn, Bortag and Drox very well. I just wish we could have found out more about that Wicked Witch.

Some people don't like the idea that the Magic of Oz is dependent on the safety of an apple tree. I suppose I'm all right with it. I guess it does bring to mind the story of Adam and Eve from the Bible, in which the first man and woman are told they may eat from any tree but one, and the forbidden fruit has since been depicted as an apple. Some Oz fans might not like the Biblical parallel, others might, and some just might not care. It's also worth noting that apples play a big role in mythology as well. If one wants to view Oz as a mythology, then Shanower's apples are not a far cry.

One thing you might notice in Shanower's stories are themes. Here, Ozma spells out one of them to Bortag at the end: "It doesn't matter how the world sees you—it's who you are inside that counts." As readers, we detest Bortag at the beginning, because we think he's the bad guy. Then, we feel sympathy for him when he explains his story. And finally, in his showdown with the Witch, we cheer him on! Another theme, also spelled out at the end by Ozma, is the recurring Ozian theme of contentedness: "I do know that when one's heart is content, true happiness is never far away."

Something I wasn't aware of was the dating of the story. In The Baum Bugle's review of Adventures in Oz, it says that Enchanted Apples occurs during the "several very happy weeks" Dorothy spends in Oz at the end of Ozma of Oz. However, in the revised version of Enchanted Apples in Adventures, that can no longer be the case.

"Revised?" Yes. Rather than do a straight reprint, IDW comics had Shanower on board for their new edition and he oversaw how the art would look in the new collected edition, sometimes changing it to how he wanted it to look, and sometimes revising the art. Thanks to advances in printing technology, the colors are much richer and vibrant in Adventures, while the original edition's colors look a bit faded, sometimes dark (this is most notable in skin tones). Comparing the art, there aren't major differences save one, which we'll show below.
Copyright Eric Shanower
Copyright Eric Shanower
In the original version, Omby Amby's beard is absent, while in Adventures, it's back. Small detail it may be, it actually changes the dating of the story. In The Marvelous Land of Oz, Omby Amby, going as the Soldier with the Green Whiskers, says, "I shall disguise myself by cutting off my lovely green whiskers." In Ozma of Oz, he has been given the position of private in Ozma's army and does not have his whiskers. At the end of the book, he is promoted. In Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, this exchange occurs:
"And the people will not willingly part with her," added a tall soldier in a Captain-General's uniform.

The Wizard turned to look at him.

"Did you not wear green whiskers at one time?" he asked.

"Yes," said the soldier; "but I shaved them off long ago, and since then I have risen from a private to be the Chief General of the Royal Armies."
Omby Amby's whiskers have not grown back until The Patchwork Girl of Oz, meaning the revised version of Enchanted Apples must take place shortly before or after the events of that book.

I wondered at this change and thought about asking Shanower about it at Winkies, but then a thought struck me: not all of Baum's Oz books were public domain in 1986. That accounts for the odd placement. I suppose Shanower didn't want to do that at first, and that is why he restored Omby Amby's beard in the revision.

The Enchanted Apples of Oz was received warmly by Oz fans, and First Comics, the publishers, would go on to print three more of Shanower's Oz graphic novels.

Buy The Enchanted Apples of Oz (original edition)
Buy Adventures in Oz (hardcover)
Buy Adventures in Oz (paperback)
Buy Little Adventures in Oz Vol. 1 (reduced size reprint)

Sam prepared other comparison pictures to show the differences between the original edition of The Enchanted Apples of Oz and the revised version in Adventures in Oz. All images are copyright of Eric Shanower and are used only for the purpose of review.


ericshanower said...

Omby Amby was clean-shaven in the original printing because I was treading carefully around the copyright situation, as you guessed, Jared. The story takes place in 1986, not during the course of Ozma of Oz. I've mentioned this publicly before.

The color reproduction of the original printing was disappointing to me at the time. I was able to compensate somewhat for the limitations of the color repro when I painted the rest of the Oz graphic novels, but I didn't have the knowledge in order to compensate when painting this first one. I am pleased with the reproduction in the IDW printings--thanks to John Uhrich for all his work--and consider Adventures in Oz (and the Little Adventures volumes) definitive.

Following publication of The Enchanted Apples of Oz, I grew rather uncomfortable with the idea of all Oz's magic depending on an apple tree. I encourage readers to ignore Valynn's apple tree outside the confines of the story--like I do for Pyrzqxgl and the Scalawagons.

I certainly intended Valynn's apple tree as a parallel to the tree in Genesis. But there's no explicit Judeo-Christian message in Enchanted Apples, so readers are encouraged to ignore the parallel. It's best viewed as just a standard fantasy trope.

Thanks for the blog, Jared.


Nathan said...

Wasn't The Forbidden Fruit of Oz the working title?

I would say whether Enchanted Apples takes place at the time of Ozma or in 1986 is fairly significant when it comes to the Witch. She's already enchanted when Bortag finds her 100 years in the past. But was this 1886, or the early nineteenth century? If the latter, then she might not have been a contemporary of Singra at all. Since Eric says 1986, though, I guess they were likely contemporaries after all.