A Visual Wizard of Oz

A review of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz graphic novel adapted by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young (Marvel Comics, 2011)

By Derek Newman-Stille

L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an intensely visual tale, evoking the wonders of sights unseen except in the strangest imaginings of the oddest dreams. It makes sense to adapt the tale into a visual medium, and the comic has a history of pushing the boundaries of expected sights. Skottie Young and Eric Shanower were able to construct an adaptation that brings through all of Baum’s wonder, and, yes, all of his terror as well. 

Skottie Young illustrates the comics with a sense of whimsy, creating a Dorothy who wears a dress like a bell, evoking the girl’s role as a person who gets swept up by the winds and dropped off into a strange world. Her dress is mirrored in the clothing of the Witch of the North who similarly resembles a bell flower tossed on the breeze, creating a parallel between these two figures of transformation. 

Young’s Scarecrow evokes a Tim Burton-esque style with deep circles around his eyes and a twisted, turning mouth. He is a figure that is awkward in movement and his body reflects this with a bulbous middle and twiggish arms and legs. His Tin Woodsman resembles a dwarf given metallic form, strong, stout, and possessing an antiquity in his gaze. His Cowardly Lion is a figure who is completely made up of balls of fur, with small, unthreatening, worried eyes, a completely round face, and sheathed claws.

Young’s wicked witches are figures out of horror, contrasting with the bell-shaped figures of the protagonists by being figures of distortion, scribbled together with awkward joints, features hidden by twisted rags, and generally evoking an uncertainty of movement. Their panels tend toward Sepia tones, lending them an antiquity. 

The magic of Young’s illustrations are the ability to make Dorothy appear to be constantly both part of the imagery of the page and somehow distant from it, evoking her role as an outsider who has come to a new place and yet is able to change it. She is both of the world of the comic and outside of it. 
To discover more about the graphic novel version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, visit Marvel Comics at http://marvel.com/comics/series/6314/the_wonderful_wizard_of_oz_2008_-_2009 

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Ozpressed

Ozpressed
A review of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (ReganBooks, 1995)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Gregory Maguire’s Wicked is a tale of oppression and marginalisation. Maguire centralises his narrative on the life of the Wicked Witch of the West from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, giving readers the opportunity to question the singular portrayal of a narrative and opening up the possibility that any narrative only speaks one truth among many. Maguire explores the Wicked Witch’s life from her own perspective, giving new context to her tale and examining her as a marginalised figure.

Like many figures who have been socially assigned to the category of “problem”, Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, had characteristics that others could point to as “different”. She was the only green skinned person in Oz, making her a target for discrimination, assumptions about her origins, and threats to her safety. Even her own father thought that she was a physical manifestation of his own sin, illustrating the compulsion to moralize difference.

Elphaba’s birth and life come at a time when the social political situation of Oz is already uncertain. The citizens of Oz have sat by while the Wizard of Oz has exploited the existing discriminatory attitudes of the citizens to launch campaigns of rights denial, ghettoisation, and ultimately extermination for Oz’s marginalized populations. Elphaba, a person who has lived her entire life through the lens of discrimination, launches a campaign of freedom fighting against the Wizard, seeking to find a place for herself in the world by getting rid of the horrors of the world.

Steeped in philosophical debate about the nature of evil, battles of political discrimination, and, of course, fairy tale battles against those who inherit the title “witch”, Maguire’s tale is fundamentally one about belonging. It is about the desire for home, and the question of whether a home can be made or something one has to be born into. It is about what constitutes belonging and who doesn’t belong when we create barriers around belonging. And, of course, it is about the horrors visited on those who the people in power decide don’t belong.

To discover more about Gregory Maguire, visit http://gregorymaguire.com