Sunday, August 07, 2011

Shanowerthon: The Secret Island of Oz

The world didn't have to wait long for Shanower's next graphic novel venture into Oz! The Secret Island of Oz appeared in October 1986. And this time, Shanower decided to turn to the "quest" type Oz story. After all, similar stories had been done in family-friendly comics before. Take the Uncle Scrooge comics of Carl Barks, for example.

My local library seemed to have many copies of Secret Island, because I seemed to keep finding it in any library that had any of Shanower's graphic novels. One time I had it checked out, but someone literally stole it from our van when I had asked my father to return it on his next visit. We found out who it was and they returned it, since it was a library book, with a page missing and badly taped back together. The library couldn't put it back in circulation, so we got billed for it. (THEY paid for it, though.) And that is how I got my copy of the original. ... Maybe I should replace it.

So, the story opens with the Scarecrow and Dorothy finding the royal gardener crying that he doesn't have a crimson-tailed Quipperug in the royal fish pond. Dorothy decides they'll set off to find one, since she's to be aching to have an adventure. The Cowardly Lion decides to join them when they tell Ozma about it. The Wizard sees it as a chance to have his new Travelling Emergency Magic Kit go on a field test.

Arriving south in the Quadling Forest, Dorothy and company hear that the Quipperug is not only rare but elusive as well, even to other fish. Dorothy also discovers that Eureka has followed them from the Emerald City, looking to get some fresh fish.

A giant bubblefish offers to take the travelers underwater to look for the Quipperug by blowing a bubble around them and carrying them in it. They look around in the pond, which is right by the Mysterious Mountain which occasionally makes strange noises. Under the pond (which is much larger underneath, they see a whirlpool. The bubblefish tries to swim past, but the bubble flies out of its mouth. Dorothy opens the Wizard's kit to find something to help them, but the bubble pops and everyone is caught in the whirlpool.

Dorothy is awakened by Eureka. They are on an island inside the whirlpool, which runs up the inside of the Mysterious Mountain. Dorothy finds a packet from the Wizard's kit: the Powder of Intangibility. She also still has the Magic Wayfinder that was pointing them to the Quipperug, but now she asks it to show her how to find the Scarecrow and Lion.

Along the way, they find a princess named Trinkarinkarina scolding a mechanical (wooden?) boy named Knotboy before storming off. Dorothy and Eureka approach Knotboy, who offers to take them to the king for help leaving the island. However, Dorothy wants to find her friends first.

Knotboy explains that he was made as a companion for Princess Trin (what he calls her for short) when she was a little girl. Now she's a teenager and instead of treating Knotboy as a treasured friend, she ignores him as an obsolete childhood toy. Knotboy says he's all right with this, as long as Trin is happy.

Trin sees Dorothy with Knotboy and, being suspicious, follows quietly as Dorothy follows the Wayfinder to small circular fortress that's been locked. However, the Powder of Intangibility enables them to enter, and inside they find a mound that leads underground. Trin enters and tells Knotboy to come with her. Dorothy and Eureka head into the mound, bringing along Knotboy and Trin follows.

Eureka discovers a tiny pool of water underground. Trin arrives and begins scolding Knotboy. Dorothy argues with her that she should treat her old friend better, but Trin scorns her and accidentally knocks Knotboy into the pool. He discovers it's not water but a thin barrier of a water-like substance that, when passed through, lets you enter an underground where gravity has turned upside down. All pass through, the Wayfinder showing them to a tunnel where something squishy blocks their way.

The Scarecrow and Lion are in an underground where they discover more packets from the kit: Exploding Powder (which falls into the water the Lion drinks, making tiny explosions happen inside of him), a seven-course breakfast (the Lion notes it will come in handy), and Shrinking Powder.

As they explore the cavern, the Scarecrow and Lion meet a giant toad and snake who are certainly intent on eating them, but offer them a sporting chance: if they win three challenges in a contest, they may go. While the snake beats the Lion at racing (by cheating), some Exploding Powder wins the rock-crushing contest. The toad announces that the final challenge is a wrestling match, but he feels something poking him from the mound he's seated on: Knotboy.

The toad jumps away and the two parties are united, but the snake knocks the Scarecrow apart as he prepares to use Shrinking Powder. The Lion pounces on the snake while Dorothy sees the Shrinking Powder and uses it on the snake, allowing the Lion to win the final challenge, thus winning the contest. Not that the toad minds, he's set on eating Trin! Knotboy goes off after him, and manages to tie his tongue around a giant mushroom, freeing Trin.

Everyone hurries to the mound, Knotboy gathering up the Scarecrow, but the Shrinking Powder shrunk the mound, making Dorothy use the Powder of Intangibility again to let them pass just before the toad can pounce on them.

After Dorothy reassembles the Scarecrow, Trin says she's grateful for Knotboy rescuing her, but when he asks if they can be friends again, she breaks down into tears and apologizes to him.

The travelers return to the fortress, where the King and his soldiers await. Trin tells him that Dorothy and her friends are their friends and that Knotboy saved her. The Scarecrow then puts forward a plan for them to escape the mountain: have them ride a boat up the whirlpool and then jump out to the ridge above on the Mysterious Mountain.

This plan is set into motion the next day, and it works. (Remember kids, this can only happen in Oz.) As they head back to the Emerald City, they find a pond and the Quipperug, who graciously rejects the offer to go to the Royal Fish Pond, he's happy where he is.

Shanower has made it no secret that this is his least favorite of the Oz graphic novels, criticizing that the plot didn't really gel and that he didn't do his best at drawing Dorothy this time around.

I suppose he does have a point in that we wander away from the quest for the Quipperug for most of the story, and then the rest is about Dorothy and Eureka reuniting with the Scarecrow and Lion. The only thing is that, storytelling-wise, the strength of what plot is left is found in the story of the strained relationship between Trin and Knotboy, which is actually pretty good. Depending on how deeply you want to read into it, this brings up the issue of what level of respect would manufactured people in Oz deserve, as well as not forsaking your childhood friends. When you grow up, you put away childish actions, not your friends. Trin didn't realize it at first, but her putting Knotboy beneath her because she was a princess is very childish. And when she needed to be rescued, it was Knotboy who saved her. She comes to realize that treating everyone with respect, especially her friends, is part of her duties as a princess.

Shanower also mentioned clarity issues. I suppose I see what he means. For a long time I thought the second time we see Trin in the story, she's going to get him, but no, she's still walking home from the first time we saw her, but she must be a slow walker if Dorothy and Knotboy got ahead of her so easily.

I suppose Knotboy is wood, although he appears to be a solid color with no wood grain detail, but perhaps he is varnished and would appear to be a solid color. Still, he seems to be mechanical somehow, especially since he seems to have an opening panel on his back.

I've never been extremely critical about details in artwork, but I didn't think Dorothy was very "ugly" in the original version, but looking it over and trying to be critical, Shanower definitely had done better in The Enchanted Apples of Oz and would do better in his later work. (He did some minor touch-ups to Dorothy in the Adventures in Oz collection.) I can't really complain about the rest of the art, though.

I suppose some of the best writers and artists may be their own worst critics. Believe me, sometimes I go back over old blogs or my published work and spot errors or things I wish I'd done better on, so even though I might not be as critical of Shanower's work as he is himself, I can understand it.

Overall, The Secret Island of Oz may not be Shanower's best, but it's far from bad!


ericshanower said...

Thanks, Jared.

Nathan said...

Secret Island is probably my least favorite of the five, but that's faint criticism, since I love all of them. I really like the art on the parts with the giant frog and snake. Also, the beginning of this plot was a pretty obvious influence on my own "The Red Desert of Oz," which also starts with some familiar characters going on a quest for a rare specimen for the Royal Gardener.