Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Wonderland of Oz

In 1932, Reilly & Lee attempted a new Oz publicity stunt: a comic strip. The Wonderland of Oz was serialized in newspapers through 1932 and 1933 and Reilly and Lee even offered a collector's album for children to put the comic strip. (If anyone has one of these albums, I'd love to see a photo of it.)

Now, these were not comic strips as we know them today, but pictures that told the story with text underneath. Here's an example:
You might note that it says "Based on the stories by L. Frank Baum and Ruth Plumly Thompson." Apparently there were some lofty plans for this series. However, these strips only adapted The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, The Patchwork Girl of Oz and Tik-Tok of Oz. Walt Spouse did the artwork, modelling his designs very much on the illustrations of John R. Neill. It's unclear if he wrote the text himself or if a staff writer did so. As it is, there are some changes that were made to the stories that required new text not found in Baum.

After the series' end, some comics were reprinted in comic magazines like "The Funnies." This time, word balloons with newly written dialogue were sloppily added to the artwork. Example:
And aside from some mentions in The Baum Bugle, the strip languished in obscurity for years until Hungry Tiger Press' first issue of Oz-Story Magazine in 1995. That volume presented a new version the first half of Walt Spouse's The Land of Oz, this time presented as a regular comic. Each panel was carefully redone by Eric Shanower, sometimes adding extra bits of art and writing in new dialogue based closely on Baum's text. Word balloons were carefully placed so as not to interfere with Spouse's original art, which was treated as the actual star of the presentation.
In the remaining five annual issues of Oz-Story Magazine, the rest of The Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, and The Emerald City of Oz were serialized with identical treatment. The final issue announced the remaining stories would be presented in a collected edition of the entire series. Such a volume, however, has yet to emerge. (I think a contributing factor to this is that the guy who did the new adaptation and art restoration is extremely busy with things like Age of Bronze and now adapting the Oz books for a different comic series...)

In 2007, all three completed stories were released in single graphic novel formats with newly colored attractive covers. Since I'd already bought a complete set of Oz-Story Magazine, my interest wasn't too high since I didn't want a lot of duplicates of the same content in my collection, but I eventually picked them up at the Winkie Convention this year. (That anti-duplicate rule, I've given up on.)
Or maybe I'm a sucker for colorful Ozzy covers...
The stories are very faithfully based on Baum and would likely be a nice gift for children who've only begun to read. For experienced Baum and Neill fans, little is offered aside from the few changes (in these three) in the story and scenes that Neill never drew. As a bit of Oz history and quality comics, they're worth it. The Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz contain examples of previous incarnations of the comic strip.

Now, about these changes and things that Neill didn't draw? Well, there's additional moments from the stories that Neill didn't draw, but as Spouse retold the story through drawings, these show up. I'll only mention the most notable below.

The Land of Oz
  • Tip attempts to flee Mombi's house when she tells him she'll transform him into a marble statue. (Then why didn't she lock the door?)
  • The home of the Queen of the Field Mice is shown.
  • All of Mombi's transformations are illustrated. 
Ozma of Oz
  • No real story changes, but we get a comical drawing of the Sawhorse kicking the Nome King!
The Emerald City of Oz
  • The Shaggy Man does not exist in this version of Oz, so all of his scenes that really bear on the story are given to Uncle Henry or the Wizard.
  • The trouble with the bank is made clear not through prose but by a visit by a man from the bank.
  • Toto eats an elocution pill and sings from "The Barber of Seville"
  • Unlike Neill's illustrations, we get to see the Phanfasms in their true forms.
  • The creation of the barrier of invisibility is omitted. Shanower's text accompanying the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Jack Pumpkinhead walking home says, "Come see us soon, for we shall not have any more adventures for awhile." (Come on, Scarecrow, you live in the Land of Oz.)
So, would I recommend buying The Wonderland of Oz? Yes. It's an important part of Oz comics history and Oz art. In addition, if you read them alongside the new Marvel comics, it's fun to see Shanower's different adaptations of Baum's text in The Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. And with Christmas coming up, if you have a kid on your Christmas shopping list who you'd like to introduce to Baum's Oz beyond The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, these would make a nice introduction! And they're not badly priced at $10 each.

You can order the graphic novel collections from Hungry Tiger Press with the links below:
The Land of Oz
Ozma of Oz
The Emerald City of Oz

Here's hoping we might finally get to see Spouse's The Patchwork Girl of Oz and Tik-Tok of Oz!

All images are from the Hungry Tiger Press editions of The Wonderland of Oz. Copyright Hungry Tiger Press.

    1 comment:

    Hungry Tiger Talk said...

    Thanks for the plug, Jared! I really like WONDERLAND OF OZ. I'm not sure if you ever spotted this but we have a five page color sample from the FUNNIES reissue of PATCHWORK GIRL on our website. Here's a link:

    And, BTW, the Shaggy Man is in PATCHWORK and TIK-TOK.