There are some titles that I don’t want to review. I just want to tell you to go buy them, read them, and come back here so we can celebrate them together. Ozma of Oz is definitely one of those books. Eric Shanower and Skottie Young’s continued adaptation of the beloved Frank Baum Oz series proves engrossingly enchanting.
For fans of the film Wizard of Oz, this adaptation of the books brings readers to an entirely new realm, Ev. Dorothy finds herself separated from her beloved uncle by a storm at sea and washed up on an unfamiliar shore. The only being there to greet her is a particularly confident chicken named Bill. Through a chance meeting with a mechanical man named Tik-Tok, Dorothy and Billina (for a chicken with a male name is inexcusable in Dorothy’s eyes) learn the tragedies that befell the Land of Ev. The rest of Dorothy’s adventures involve restoring the rightful royal family while battling new enemies and reuniting with old allies.
Ozma of Oz evokes the classic quality of its source material in all the best possible ways. Most entertaining are the quaint turns of phrases and manner of storytelling that really sells the innocent atmosphere that pervaded so much early 20th century children’s literature. While it’s a seemingly simple choice, this manner of speech gives life to fantastic oddities and tells the reader that a young girl is undoubtedly in charge. Because if the realms of Oz and Ev respond to polite speech, and Dorothy has the most elite of Kansas manners, conversing with chickens and debating with monsters makes sense. It would be unacceptable if Dorothy ignored the Hungry Tiger, so of course she must promptly address his concerns.
Obviously, another remarkable strength of the story is the imagination at play. By directly referencing the pages of Baum, two real strengths emerge: the creatures and the inventive problem solving. All items have a history, whether it’s the lunch pails growing from trees, or the wood horse that you can ride around. With Dorothy in the center of all of this chaos, it might seem improbable that a lone girl should take on a mountain ruler, the Nome King. However, most creatures of Baum do adhere to a form of warped decorum. So a polite person might strike deals and rely on friends and chickens to come together to solve problems and best their enemies. It’s a great story-telling technique that keeps the focus on what Dorothy is going to do next. Even in the company of queens and armies, Dorothy is as capable, if not more so, in finding a solution to any predicament. As all of this adds up to a young female protagonist solving problems with her mind – well, it’s a delectable bonus.
The one element that certainly does not come from the early 19th century is Skottie Young. His ability to bring life to characters that have been reinterpreted longer than he’s been alive is invigorating. He strides the line of the best comic art, where the characters are simple enough in style that they capture more of an emotion and not a laborious reinvention. That style keeps lines on the page sparse, and interpretation by the reader flexible. Speaking of his line work, its economy is striking. Flipping to any panel, there are usually few lines employed. It doesn’t matter if it’s an establishing shot, a battle scene, or two characters talking. They’re placed so well, and weighted just right, that the image is instantly readable. Not only does the technical application of Young’s work perform well, but his talent with a pen threatens to match Baum’s mind. Young doesn’t back away from a challenge. No matter what creature came out of Baum’s story, Young employs the distorted perspective and active pen strokes to match. Even a stationary character seems ready to spring into action with his kinetic pace. Since all characters receive the same treatment, no one looks out of place next to another. So you can have colossal mechanical man next to a barrel-chested lion next to a young girl, and each one look like it belongs.
Not to go on too long about the art, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the greatest things you can do with minimal line art. When you’re working off inks like Young’s, the greatest need is a gifted colorist. The work will sink or swim based on their selection. Fortunately, Jean-Francois Beaulieu employs such a brilliant eye for color, he doesn’t make Young’s work passable, he makes it sing.
There are few people I wouldn’t recommend this book to, but if you’re a fan of the Oz series, or classical stories, you owe it to yourself to seek out a copy.