Sunday, September 5, 2010

Public Domain Wizard of Oz Comics

While at HeroesCon this year, I visited the MacFarland Publishing booth. If you aren't familiar with MacFarland Publishing, let me introduce them with this blurb I've appropriated from their website:

McFarland is a leading U.S. publisher of scholarly, reference and academic books. Located in Jefferson, North Carolina (in the Appalachian Mountains), McFarland publishes books that can be found in libraries worldwide.

And while that sounds pretty damn dry, and I can already feel a number of you getting ready to click to your link to Bleeding Cool or Newsarama, you might be interested in seeing the type of scholarly books they put out - check out this awesome Doc Savage tome!

I actually own a copy of the above Doc Savage book (which I got from Amazon) and was so impressed with it, that I was pretty happy to see MacFarland's booth at HeroesCon - they have a wide range of other books on a lot of varying subjects. At that point, I had spent a lot of money at the con, but I did see one thing I wanted, which may surprise you. The Wizard of Oz Catalog.

Now I don't know where you stand on the Wizard of Oz, and to be honest, as a kid and teenager, I never thought about it much. However, in college, I gained an appreciation for the original Frank L. Baum/William Denslow editions of Oz via way of Dr. Ashley, a Oz Knowledgeable English professor who also turned me onto Frank Herbert's Dune. (I now wonder if he just liked authors named Frank...)

When most people think of The Wizard of Oz, they tend to think exclusively of the Judy Garland movie, but that is the tip of the iceberg as far as the Oz Mythos goes. The novels (and there are a scores of them) were hugely popular when they were originally published. So popular that Oz illustrator William Denslow was able to buy an entire island in Bermuda with the money he made off the series!

On the comics side, several publishers reprinted the Oz newspapers strips during the Golden Age (Dell's The Funnies and Hawley Press' Hi Spot Comics)

Bronze Age Oz Comics Fact 1: THE comic below was the FIRST collaborative publication by Marvel and DC!

It was the success of this comic that led to the classic Superman/Spider-man comic in 1976.

The Oz mythos has always struck me as one of those real Odd Duck literary creations, seeming to borrow some elements from European fairytales as it does, but using a longer narrative than those stories. The plots are much more direct than the Literary Nonsense works of Lewis Carroll, but seem to be influenced by that movements sense of whimsy.

Bronze Age Oz Comics Fact 2: The Superman character Vartox owes his existence to the Oz books.

Vartox, who will go down in history as Superman's Hairiest opponent, was inspired by the Sean Connery science fiction movie Zardoz. In the movie we discover that there is a critical connection between the name Zardoz and the book Wizard of Oz. I'll refrain from telling you more, lest I ruin the movie for you!

In the Golden Age Comics, The Oz stories that appeared in the Dell Comics were reprints of newspaper strips illustrated by Walt Sprouse. While not quite the stylist Denslow was, Sprouse managed to capture quite a bit of Denslow's original feel. They featured the adventures of a young lad named Tip.

Bronze Age Oz Comics Fact 3: The Superfriends once visited Oz. I don't know that this episode has ever made it to DVD, but you can check out the cartoon on Youtube:

Anyway, back the MacFarland book which started off this whole thing. It clued me onto which Golden Age comics reprinted the old Sprouse Oz strips, but it didn't have the exact numbers. So after much downloading at the totally awesome Golden Age Comics, I was able to pin down the issues to Dell's The Funnies 21-29 which were printed in 1938. Other issues after 29 may have included the strips, but there is a gap in the run at GAUK.

So today, I'm happy to present the first two issues of The Funnies to include the Sprouse Oz newspaper strips. (Note: 22 does not include a cover, so I made one for the purpose of linking here.)

[ The Funnies 21 ]

[ The Funnies 22 ]


- Jim


Trey said...

McFarland is a great publisher. They had a booth at Comic-Con and I ordered four books from them--though, tragically all but Joshi's The Modern Weird Tale are still on backorder.

I think Oz is to be appreciated as part of a truly American fantasy tradition--something with old world anecedents, but but as derivative as the Tolkien-inspired works that currently dominate the genre.

Reno said...

I suspected there was a Zardoz-Vartox connection. Thanks for confirming it. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of McFarland. It was, in part, a very badly-written book they published that inspired my thesis, enabling me to get my English MA.

Their catalogs are like a grown-up version of a Sears Wishbook for me. I gaze lovingly at the pages, going "someday... maybe for Christmas..."

Jim Shelley said...

@Trey - yeah, the Oz/LotR parallels struck me as well when I was writing the article. It made me wonder why the Oz books didn't inspire as many imitators as the Tolkien books. I suspect its because the Baum books are aimed at a younger audience (or at least that is how they have come to be viewed.)

Jim Shelley said...

@Reno - I can't take much credit for spotting the connection. I actually read about that in the Krypton Companion in an interview with Elliot S. Maggin, writer of many Superman stories at DC.

Jim Shelley said...

@lukeblast - yeah, I've thought about submitting to McFarland a couple of times with some topics I thought might be of interest, but I always find the actual idea of compiling and writing such books a little daunting.

I'm curious about your MA in English. I started that program and bailed. I'd be curious what your experience was. Give me a shout at

ericshanower said...

The majority of Walt Spouse's Wonderland of Oz is in print from Hungry Tiger Press.

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