For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in mythology. Comics are the perfect vehicle for the telling of myths. After all, anything can happen in a comic as long as a writer can think it up and an artist can draw it.
That makes the mix of comic books and mythology a natural. Most would agree that superhero tales are a sort of modern mythology. In most comic-book universes there’s even mythological gods running around.
My interest in myths was probably sparked by my love of comics. Over time, my interest grew beyond the standard set of Greek and Norse myths that are exploited by the likes of Marvel and DC.
Over time, I began to wonder about other types of myths, namely fairy tales and American tall tales. The simplicity of these stories appeals to me. Sure, there’s strange things like giant-sized blue oxes and dwarves who make straw into gold, but really how different are those from giant-sized teleporting bulldogs and escape artists born of the gods and assisted by the super-hero equivalent of a cellphone.
It’s the kind of similarities that make me wonder, why aren’t fairy tales mined for comic stories more often?
“Fables,” Bill Willingham’s Vertigo Comic that focuses on the modern lives of fairy-tale characters, certainly does a fantastic modern and adult take on the European fairy tale.
But here in America, the tall tales are largely ignored. There’s no superhero verision of Pecos Bill. There’s no Paul Bunyan.
OVER THE RAINBOW
The traditional American folklore aside, there’s one slice of American mythology that is ripe for picking. One that’s ingrained in the popular culture and has already been embraced by stage, screen, TV and modern literature. I’m talking about the The Land of Oz.
No, I’m not talking about the world-famous movie starring Judy Garland.
Instead I’m looking at the books the movie was based on. Originally written by L. Frank Baum, the Oz books feature a huge cast of characters in a bizarre world.
Even more interesting, several Oz books are in the public domain, which means that anyone can publish them and anyone can use the characters for their own purposes. And that means that anyone can turn them into comic books — and believe me, it’s happened a lot.
Marvel’s done them. DC’s done them.
Small press publishers have done them.
And each time they’re a little bit of a different take.
“Oz Squad” for example showed a grown-up Dorothy Gale leading a special missions force charged with protecting the land against the forces that work against it.
Just plain old “Oz” took a grim and gritty approach to the stories.
FRENCH-FRIED OZOne of the most recent Oz comics was produced by two French creators in 2005. For that, they won the 2005 Grand Prix de La Ville De Lyon Award of Illustration, and now Image Comics has translated that work back into English and offered it as a graphic novel in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
The new Image graphic novel is a closer adaptation of the original book than the beloved MGM movie. It includes things you might not ever have heard of: An army of field mice, the magic Golden Cap of the Flying Monkeys, the attack of the Hammer-Heads and what really makes the Emerald City green.
All in all, it’s a stunningly beautiful book with interesting character designs, a true faithfulness to the original story and an appealing look that’s bound to enthrall youngsters.
OZ IZ ALIVE
Since so many of the Oz books (but not all!) are in the public domain, there’s a cottage industry in writing new Oz books. Eric Shanower of “Age of Bronze” fame is one of such creator, having worked as an illustrator on a number of the new books. He’s even written a few graphic novels himself.
But he isn’t the only one out there doing it.
Dozens of unofficial Oz books have come out over the years. Some good, many bad, but the great thing about the original Oz books is that consistency isn’t exactly their trademark. Don’t fret about staying consistent, says Eric Gvojagg, owner of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz Website, “It is a difficult enough task to just gather (all the novels) together and read them, and most Oz fans don’t have them all anyway. Don’t worry about it, and don’t let continuity or canonicity straitjacket you.”
Another little rule of Oz is that anything goes. If you want a sex-pot Dorothy, do it. If you want the Emerald City to be green from gamma radiation, write it up. Most Oz fans, who favor a kid-friendly version of Oz, aren’t exactly thrilled with those stories, but you just might find a fan base.
Another thing that’s sure to appeal to comic book fans is that, like the big Marvel and DC Comic universes, Oz boasts a positively huge cast of characters. Like those comic book worlds, the Oz publishers even put out a Who’s Who in Oz — back in the 1950s.
In other words, it’s a wanna-be comic-book creator’s dream. It’s an untapped chance to shine. It’s a rights-free* shared universe with brand-name recognition and dozens of characters with extensive, but not overbearing histories.
It’s a world of stories and visuals that’s just waiting for you. Are you up to the challenge?
For a through rundown of Oz-based comics — and believe me, I didn’t mention a bunch — visit this site: http://sentient39.comicgenesis.com/ozcomics.html
If you’re interested in creating your own Oz stories, visit this site: http://www.eskimo.com/~tiktok/faq08.html
Want to read about the dozens of characters in the Oz Universe, then visit this site: http://www.halcyon.com/piglet/ozozite.htm
Erik Larsen answers “Why bring back Oz?”: http://www.comicbookresources.com/columns/index.cgi?column=ofo&article=2622
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* But be careful, there are many Oz books and characters that aren’t in the public domain!