Monday, April 12, 2021

Quadruple Your Oz Pleasure

Volume Two
Volume Three
Volumes Two and Three of Marvel Comics's Oz: The Complete Collection bring you loads of Ozzy fun and adventure.

Volume Two contains the full comics adaptations of Ozma of Oz and Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. 

Volume Three contains the full comics adaptations of The Road to Oz and The Emerald City of Oz.

I adapted the scripts from L. Frank Baum's classic children's book series. Skottie Young drew all the artwork. Jean-Francois Beaulieu colored it all. And Jeff Eckleberry lettered it all. These four stories were previously published as comic book series and as single volume graphic novels. Oz: The Complete Collection brings you two stories per volume.

Volume One of Oz: The Complete Collection is also still available. I posted about it earlier here.

While Ozma of Oz is perhaps my favorite of L. Frank Baum's Oz books, I want to say that I loved Skottie's and my adaptation of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, the fourth Oz book. While it was the first of our adaptations to not become a best-seller, I felt Skottie brought a renewed energy to the art and to the bizarre and menacing characters that infest the story. Baum wrote an unsettling, surreal journey featuring vegetable people who walk on air and live in a city of glass, a land of invisible killer bears, and silent wooden gargoyles with detachable wings. The creepy weirdness just doesn't stop till Dorothy and friends reach the Emerald City, where all the old familiar Oz weirdos conduct a ridiculous murder trial. Does that sound too odd, even for Oz? Well, you can see it all in glorious full color in Volume Two of Oz: The Complete Collection.

Skottie Young cuts loose with the character design in The Road to Oz, particularly at Ozma's spectacular birthday party. I love Skottie's version of Polychrome, the Rainbow's Daughter. We stopped with the sixth book, The Emerald City of Oz. If any spot was a logical place to stop adapting the Oz books (if one isn't going to adapt all forty), that one's it. But I still wish we'd been able to continue beyond six books. 

Copyright © 2021 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Remembering the Mushroom Planet

At eight years old I read for the first time Eleanor Cameron's 1954 science fiction children's book The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. The book drew me in as only the best books can. I wanted to be one of the characters and go on that wonderful space flight. And while I read the book, that's who I was and what I was doing.

Afterward, I read the sequels, though none of them manages to capture the power or produce the intense longing of the first book. In fact, though I tried as a child, I couldn't get all the way through the final book in the series, Time and Mr. Bass. That had to wait until I was an adult.

Through a mutual friend, I met Eleanor Cameron for the first time in 1985 at an Oz convention. Though she wasn't particularly an Oz fan, our mutual friend was, and she lived in the next town from the convention facility.

I went to her house only once, after both she and her son
David, the model for the hero of the Mushroom Planet series, died. Our mutual friend as David's executor took me and my partner there to a meeting with Eleanor's executor and to help clean out some of her final belongings still remaining in the house.

Eleanor's papers went to the Kerlan Collection, the University of Minnesota's children's literature branch. Those papers included a sixth Mushroom Planet manuscript. The mutual friend arranged for me to read a copy of this manuscript with the intention of determining whether I could shape it for publication. And if so, I would get the job of illustrating it, too.

I was excited, hopeful, and a little intimidated.

I plowed through the entire published series once again, then read the unpublished manuscript. Parts of it are delightful. But my overall reaction was disappointment. Even granting a twenty-five year gap since the previous Mushroom Planet book, I found some of Eleanor's choices confusing, even troubling. For instance, aspects of the manuscript indicate that the action takes place shortly following the final book in the series, which would be during the 1960s. But the manuscript also contains contemporary mid-1990s references, such as a mention of CNN. Eleanor left a list of notes addressing problems with the manuscript. She clearly recognized some of the manuscript's deficiencies, including the confused time period, but many of her notes don't even hint at possible solutions or suggestions for revisions.

In my opinion, the story needed re-thinking, re-shaping, a tremendous amount of foundational work before it might be brought into shape as a worthy addition to Cameron's Mushroom Planet series. I didn't feel competent to perform that work. In my opinion, someone far more in tune with Eleanor Cameron's creative thinking should be the one to do it, if, indeed, such work could ever be done by someone not Eleanor herself. So that was that.

A few years ago, I received an e-mail out of the blue from Paul V. Allen, then working on a biography of Eleanor Cameron. He'd run across a comment I'd written online. Mari Ness on her tor.com blog posted her delightful analyses of the Mushroom Planet books. There I'd mentioned some of my interactions with Eleanor and her work. For Paul I expanded on that info and put him in contact with the mutual friend who'd facilitated my meeting Eleanor in the first place.

Then I pretty much forgot about Paul's Cameron biography.

A few years later I got an e-mail from Paul announcing the book: Eleanor Cameron: Dimensions of Amazement. It's a well-put-together, readable biography. Eleanor Cameron gave children's literature far more than just the Mushroom Planet books, although Wonderful Flight still holds a special place, not just in my reading history, but in the memories of many readers.

The biography delves into Cameron's philosophy as a writer. She held definite ideas about writing for children. She practiced those ideas in her own projects and spoke out on them, too, famously criticizing Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a book that gave my childhood a similar sort of immersive experience as had Wonderful Flight.

 Paul V. Allen mentions me in the course of the biography. I find that slightly embarrassing. I feel like such a minuscule part of Cameron's life, the tiniest of endnotes at most. Still, I'm happy to be included as a part of the life of Eleanor Cameron. What I've enjoyed the most about the book, though, is learning more background about the Mushroom Planet series.

If you've ever enjoyed any of Eleanor Cameron's books--any of the Mushroom Planet series, the Julia Redfern series, or books such as A Spell is Cast and The Terrible Churnadryne--you would probably enjoy Eleanor Cameron: Dimensions of Amazement by Paul V. Allen. You can order it directly from the publisher, University of Mississippi Press, at this link:

https://www.upress.state.ms.us/Books/E/Eleanor-Cameron

Copyright © 2021 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Casper's Epic Adventure in Space

The four issues of the new series Casper's Spooksville contain a continuing story. Casper the Friendly Ghost and his friends--Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost, Wendy the Good Little Witch, and Hot Stuff the Little Devil--journey to another solar system on a planet-hopping adventure.

Mike Wolfer wrote it and I drew it. American Mythology published it.

In all, I drew the exploits of Casper and his friends of the Enchanted Forest for three and a half years. That phase of my career ended when American Mythology chose not to renew the Casper license for Casper due to disappointing sales.

Drawing Mike Wolfer's scripts always gave me pleasure. He managed to re-capture the right tone of the old Harvey Comics Casper in the character's heyday without being slavishly imitative.

I tried my best to capture the look of those comics, attempting to channel the essences of cartoonists Warren Kremer and Howard Post. My attempts stumbled at times when I started, but I got closer the more Casper stories I drew.

When the Casper Spooksville series began as sort of a capper to American Mythology's Casper run--kind of our attempt to go out with a bang--Mike asked me if I had any ideas for stories. Back in Casper's original Harvey Comics series, the character regularly had adventures with aliens or ventured into outer space. For awhile one Harvey series was titled Casper Spaceship (later changing to Casper in Space).

I suggested to Mike that we continue that tradition by sending Casper and his friends on a space adventure. Mike asked me what I thought such a story might be like. I scribbled down a few ideas, formed them into something more coherent, and sent it to Mike. He used some of it as a framework for the grand space adventure that resulted.

One thing I realized while drawing a long, multi-part story featuring Casper, Spooky, Wendy, and Hot Stuff: to be careful when drawing all four as a group. I needed to make sure the two white characters weren't next to each other and make sure the two red characters weren't next to each other, in order to keep them all clearly separated when the story was printed in color.

In addition to the main storyline in each issue, I drew a short 5-page back-up story for each, also written by Mike Wolfer. These back-ups stand alone, though they're loosely connected.

The first back-up story features Hot Stuff the Little Devil and the mischievous Spook-cats, a couple of old single-appearance Harvey Comics characters that Mike resurrected.

The second issue features a back-up starring Wendy the Good Little Witch and the Witch Widow, another old single-appearance character Mike brought back. Instead of a broom, the Witch Widow rode a 1950s-style vacuum cleaner. I updated the vacuum cleaner's look for the new story.

The third issue features Hot Stuff again, this time exploring an ancient Egyptian tomb, and brings back another old character, this one from the 1970s, Cinders the girl devil.

The fourth and final issue features a contest between Hot Stuff and the Spook-cats. Every major character and some minor characters from Casper's supporting cast show up, including Nightmare the Galloping Ghost, the Ghostly Trio, Dumbella, Pearl, the Witch Sisters--even Gnorm Gnome. Just about the only character I didn't manage to fit in was Stumbo the Giant. You can see the original art for page one of this story below.

I'm proud of the Casper Spooksville series. Issues are still available to order here from American Mythology. And you can read it here digitally through Comixology. I hope readers enjoy it.

Copyright © 2021 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Shakespeare in Troy

I entered a portion of Age of Bronze in the Third Graphic Shakespeare Competition, which honors comics adaptations of William Shakespeare's works. When I first heard about this competition, I didn't plan to enter it. I sent an e-mail about it to Nicole Galland, an author I'd met at the Key West Literary Seminar in January 2019. Nicki is a Shakespeare expert and once ran by me the idea of collaborating on Shakespeare comics adaptations. I didn't take her up on that, but thought she might be interested in this Shakespeare comics competition.

She didn't plan to enter, but asked whether I planned to. When I told her "no," she suggested I enter some of the Troilus and Cressida material that I'd adapted from Shakespeare into Age of Bronze.

At first I decided my use of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida transformed the material too radically and incorporated material from too many non-Shakespeare sources to really be called a Shakespeare adaptation. But the rules for the competition didn't specify a rigid adherence to Shakespeare's words. According to the rules, any sort of comics adaptation seemed eligible. In fact, the rules went so far as to specify the eligibility of adaptations using none of Shakespeare's words.

The maximum length for entries was eight pages. I looked over my Age of Bronze scenes featuring Troilus and Cressida's separation and correlated them with scenes from Shakespeare's play. I was surprised to find that I hadn't strayed as far from Shakespeare as I thought I had. I selected some pages, cropped a few panels to fit within the proper length for the competition and sent them in.

After that, I didn't think about the competition for a while. For several reasons, I figured I didn't have much chance of winning. I suspected that calling my work an "adaptation" of Shakespeare stretched the point. Past winners of the competition seemed much more experimental in their cartooning that I usually am in Age of Bronze. And my entry wasn't in color, while past winners made beautiful use of color.

To my surprise I received an e-mail months later informing me that my entry had been chosen as one of the runners up in the "creators over 25" category. I was surprised, to say the least. I was also delighted.

Here are all the awardees:

Over 25 years old category:

Winner:

Edouard Lekston, "Harry and Jack": King Henry IV, Part 1 (Act 2, Scene 4)

Runners Up:

Eric Shanower, "Troilus and Cressida"

Kathryn Briggs, "Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 5"

The 15 to 25 years old category:

Winner:

Naz Baquiran, "Wicked Encounter"

Runners Up:

Annie Holley, "Two Blushing Pilgrims"

Boglarka Littner, "Nostalgia"

The judges were: Paul Gravett, Fionnuala Doran, Harumo Sanazaki, Hu Rong, Jang Hyun Nam, and Ronan Paterson.

One of my pages. Click to enlarge.
The whole shebang was run by Yukari Yoshihara, who did an excellent job in my opinion.

The awards were announced in November 2020 at the 4th Conference of the Asian Shakespeare Association in Seoul, Korea. That was so far away from me that, even if Covid hadn't taken possession of the planet, I had no plans to attend. However, I sent in a short video accepting as a runner up. I thanked Yukari Yoshihara and the judges--as well as Nicki Galland for prompting me to enter in the first place.

The competition published a beautiful, full-color booklet featuring all the winners. You can read the whole book here: http://asianshakespeare.org/2020/11/02/graphic-shakespeare-competition-3/

Copyright © 2021 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Savagery

Back in the late 1960s, cartoonist Gil Kane created the international spy thriller His Name is . . . Savage! A few years ago I was approached to do a cover for a new His Name is . . . Savage! series. The project didn't have a publisher at the time, but eventually, over a year ago, Paper Movies released it.

Although I was told that the project found a publisher, no one told me when it came out. And I've never actually seen it. I did the cover I was contracted for, and was pretty proud of it (below right). But now that I'm trying to catch up on posts detailing recent (and not-so-recent) projects, I thought I ought to mention this Savage project.

I found it for sale online, but it looks as if it was published only in the graphic novel format, not as a comics book series. You can see the published cover to the left. Unfortunately, the book doesn't include my cover. So I've included it here, on the right.

This recent iteration of Kane's His Name is . . . Savage! boasts a script by Steven Grant and art by Jesus Antonio Hernandez Portaveritas. I read the whole project as background for creating my cover, and I really liked it. I've long admired Steven Grant's comics stories. This one thrills as much as his work has ever done. So I'm disappointed the book doesn't even print my cover in a gallery of covers in the back of the book. I mean, they paid me for it AND the book has a blank page at the end.

Copyright © 2021 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.



Monday, March 8, 2021

Classic Comedy Teams

Which classic movie comedy team do you like better? Laurel and Hardy? Or the Three Stooges?

Well, you don't have to choose in Laurel and Hardy Meet the Three Stooges #1 from American Mythology. I drew the cover for this mash-up of these screwballs.

That's not the only cover I've drawn for either of these comedy teams. How about Laurel and Hardy's Christmas Follies #1? And then there's The Three Stooges Thru the Ages #1.

Cover art has never been my strong point. I think I'm far better at panel-to-panel story-telling than I am at creating splashy single images. But I've had fun drawing these. On the whole I like the way they turned out, particularly the first two. The stylization the colorist introduced into the Christmas image was a pleasant surprise.

The Stooges covers don't end here. I've drawn several more since these issues were published. They've got a couple special twists to them. One twist is that they're all parodies of well-know super-hero comic book covers. I'll show them to you when they're published.

Copyright © 2021 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.



 

Monday, March 1, 2021

Amateur Status

I haven't posted any news in a while. Stuff has been piling up to announce. Within the next several weeks or so, I plan to post about a backlog of projects and announce upcoming projects, too.

I drew a few jobs for Shelly Bond when she was an editor at DC under that publisher's Vertigo imprint. More recently Shelly became an editor at IDW. Hey, Amateur! is the result of her idea for a wide range of cartoonists, who happen to also be experts in a variety of disciplines, to pass on their specialized knowledge in a collection of single-page comics stories.

Shelly asked me to contribute. I wracked my brain to come up with something to communicate that seemed visual (it would be a comics story, after all) and that I could write about with some modicum of authority. Most of my life has been dedicated to writing and drawing. I don't think I'm particularly limited in my experiences outside of those creative efforts, but I wasn't sure I could speak with as an expert about much.

One panel from my story.
I threw a few ideas at Shelly. She picked "How to Perform an En Dehors Pirouette."

I'm no dance expert, but it's one of my hobbies. So that was it. My story for Hey, Amateur! explains in detail the pirouette "to the outside."

The book also explains how to accomplish approximately twelve dozen other tasks, such as decorating a cake, keeping a band together forever, making a proper cup of tea, and surviving in the woods with a knife and a rabbit. All these concepts are detailed and drawn by "your favorite" cartoonists, including Michael Allred, Gene Ha, Peter Bagge, Paul Pope, Simon Bisley--the list goes on.


Hey, Amateur!
is published by Black Crown and distributed by IDW and Penguin Random House.

Copyright © 2021 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.