Monday, April 2, 2007

Adventures in Oz

Adventures in Oz, by Eric Shanower (IDW)

Eric Shanower’s Adventures in Oz is so beautiful that I can’t take my eyes off of it. I find myself trying to work on other things only to have my gaze drift back to the cover, and soon I’m lost in Oz again. It’s kind of like having a bowl of jelly beans on your desk – you just keep taking another one and another one and another one…. Sometimes I even run through the pages like a flip book, just to see the colors go by.

This is a reprinted, collected edition of five of Shanower’s original Oz tales: “The Enchanted Apples of Oz,” “The Secret Island of Oz,” “The Ice King of Oz,” “The Forgotten Forest of Oz,” and “The Blue Witch of Oz.” The loving care that Shanower and the publisher have put into this edition is readily evident on every page, with Shanower having final approval over everything. The jaw-dropping colors alone make this book worth the price tag, and the large format really shows off the work to its best advantage. I recommend reading about the publishing process and at the IDW site – this was truly a labor of love.

I think I read a few of the original L. Frank Baum stories when I was little, and of course I grew up with the movie, but Oz just never captivated me – until now. These stories are odd and quirky, very much in the spirit of the originals, and there are a lot of deux ex machina moments, but I really don’t care because it’s the visual feast that keeps me coming back for more. Trying to choose pages to scan for this column was like trying to choose flavors of ice cream – I wanted them all.

This might not be for young children who are easily frightened because some of the stories include “mild peril” and scary-looking trolls, but beyond that Adventures in Oz is wonderful all ages literature. My only disappointment is that I don’t have the hardcover edition with 70 pages of sketches and extra goodies. Hmmm, something for my Christmas list.

On a side note, here’s a link to Shanower’s great (if short) list of his favorite all ages titles. This paragraph, appearing at the end of the list, beautifully sums up the magic of comics:

“The idea I want to leave you with, what I think is the most important concept for you to understand, is that the medium of comic books and graphic novels is a valid artform unto itself. The goal of literacy isn’t solely to achieve the ability to read, important as that is. It’s to gain the ability to use what we read in order to learn, to think, to understand the world around us, to understand other humans, to understand ourselves. When you read a graphic novel, you’re experiencing how someone else sees the world. Just as travel in the physical world is broadening, so is travel into the minds and hearts of our fellow humans. And this, really, is what makes the best graphic novels worthwhile—not as collectibles, not as bridges to reading so-called “real” books—but for the sake of how deeply each cartoonist’s vision touches the common humanity in each of us. Graphic novels allow us--more directly than the written word alone and more intimately than images on film--to travel on journeys--to experience tangible expressions of creators who have dug down into their hearts and souls and carefully arranged what they found there for the rest of the world to see. As far as I can tell, that’s what art is for. That’s the power of comic books and graphic novels.”


Sarah says: I love this book. It’s about Dorothy, Scarecrow, and all the other people from the Oz books. Sometimes the stories made sense and sometimes you wouldn’t know what was going to happen next. But sometimes they have too much luck and it just doesn’t feel right. I think this book is for six and older because sometimes there’s some blood and scary stuff. The pictures are completely amazing because the artist puts so much detail in them. I want to count all the circles on the dragons but I think there are too many. Eric likes to draw lots and lots of heavy clothing and it looks very realistic when he does that. The art makes it feel like what Oz would be if there really was one.

Shelby says: I love Adventures in Oz. It’s got the best art in any comic books. It is because of the color and shading and the expressions on the faces of the characters. The funny thing is, the art in the very first story is different from the other stories because it’s more flat shapes and objects without as much shading. When you get farther into the story, the art gets better. As I get older, my art gets better and better, so maybe in the first story the artist was still learning. The details are great because there’s a lot going on in the dragons and the trees and the clothes and anything else you can imagine. The stories are also good because they are still very magical like the Wizard of Oz movie but there are more characters and more things that happen. Some of the stories are interesting but some are a little bit too weird for my taste, like when a wood nymph gets kicked out of the forest and then joins the trolls and becomes the troll queen. I didn’t get why she wanted to kill the other wood nymphs just because they kicked her out. But I liked it anyway because the art is awesome. Little kids would like the art, but they might be scared of some of the stories. This is not just a children’s book, it’s for grown-ups too, if they like imagination. You can certainly find imagination in this book – that’s all it is! It’s one of my favorite books.


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