[Above: Front and rear covers for the first, traditional THE WIZARD OF OZ comic book, published by Dell Junior Treasury, 1956.]
Many of today’s young (or at least fledgling) collectors are intensely interested in any and EVERYTHING Ozzy! Such enthusiasm makes it worthwhile to spotlight and share details about some of the genuinely desirable – if comparatively less-well-known -- Oz ephemera. At times, these items may be difficult to find, but they’re certainly more accessible than first-edition Oz books, Oz movie costumes and props, or one-of-a-kind Oz recreations.
In keeping with the concept of collectability, the two most recent installments of this blog featured a light-hearted look-back at early Oz coloring books and Oz recordings. This month, we segue to another children’s product: Oz comic books! It’s no exaggeration to state that they make for both fascinating reading and viewing; it’s always interesting to note the discrepancies between L. Frank Baum’s original story and its “graphic novel” adaptations, and (even more so) to enjoy the manner in which new-to-Oz artists depict Baum’s characters and scenery.
As has been noted in the past, Baum’s original THE WIZARD OF OZ -- and the personalities as they adventure therein -- went into public domain when the book’s copyright expired in 1956. This meant that any publisher could reprint or retell the saga of Dorothy’s first visit, as long as the finished product didn’t utilize the new plotlines and appearances of characters as featured in the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film. That motion picture was then (and remains today) under copyright.
The first major Oz comic book to appear is shown above and debuted in stores in late spring/early summer 1956. Oddly enough, this version was “authorized” and offered passing credit to Baum, original illustrator W. W. Denslow, Baum’s widow Maud, and book publisher, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. Perhaps the comic’s appearance was spurred by the 1955 theatrical reissue of the MGM film; regardless, the similarities to the story-as-told-by-Baum are respectful, rampant, and rife. In mid-air, Toto falls through the farmhouse trapdoor during the cyclone and is rescued by Dorothy; the girl is greeted on arrival in Oz by the older Good Witch of the North and just three Munchkins. The Witch counsels her and disappears, while the gentlemen advise her to “take the silver shoes!” of the Wicked Witch, which protrude from under the girl’s house. Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion; though they don’t have to traverse large gullies, the Lion does pull them to safety when their river-crossing raft is swept away in a swift current. They reach the poppy field, where the sleeping Dorothy is carried to safety by the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman; when the latter frightens away a menacing wildcat and rescues the Queen of the Field Mice, she commandeers her subjects into pulling the cart that then liberates the Lion from the deadly flowers. All of the principal characters don green glasses when they reach Emerald City and individually visit the Wizard, but only Dorothy’s audience is actually pictured; the Great Oz is drawn as a sort of giant, turbaned mystic. The Wicked Witch sends her wolves and bees to intercept the travelers in the Winkie Country, but it takes the Winged Monkeys to capture Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion – and to destroy the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman. The Witch causes Dorothy to trip over an invisible bar across a threshold; when the girl’s shoe is then accessed by the Witch, Dorothy melts her with a bucket of water – and, in turn, releases the Lion from prison and engages the Winkies to recover the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman. Upon discovery of the Witch’s magic cap, Dorothy re-summons the Monkeys, and they fly the travelers back to the Emerald City; indeed, it’s one of the monkeys whose flapping wings knock over the screen in the throne room to reveal the humbug Wizard. He presents Dorothy’s companions with liquid courage, sawdust brains, and a silken heart; the girl sews the balloon for her anticipated return to Kansas with the Wizard. But Toto runs off after a cat, and the girl and dog are left behind. The Winged Monkeys aren’t able to fly her to Kansas, but they do carry her to see Glinda (who’s pictorially an Ozma-like brunette), and the Good Witch of the South advises Dorothy to use the power of the silver shoes to return home. (Note: No adaptation author or illustrator is credited.)
The release of the Dell Junior Treasury comic predated by five months the TV debut of MGM’s OZ; the release of the next major comic book to appear seemed timed to capitalize on that telecast!
[Above left: The front cover of the 1957 Classics Illustrated Junior retelling of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Above right: The redrawn cover image for a Spanish reissue of the comic book, EL MAGO DE OZ, dated 1974. This specific copy was purchased at an Acapulco newsstand in early 1987.]
The much-reprinted Classics Illustrated Junior edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ carries an original publication date of January 1957. This would have put it in circulation a month or so earlier – coinciding fairly directly with the much-heralded (and, as it turned out, inordinately successful) November 3, 1956, TV premiere of the MGM film as the finale of the monthly FORD STAR JUBILEE CBS series. This comic book was reprinted again and again for decades, seemingly all over the world; while the art generally remained the same, the “conversation balloons” and picture descriptions were reconfigured in such diverse languages as (among others) Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, and possibly Portuguese.
Somewhere along the way, the printing plates apparently took such a cumulative beating that the pictures had to be redrawn – or perhaps hastily traced. (Please see the Spanish reissue cover above; its interior art is even sketchier.)
[Above left: The title page of the Classics Illustrated Junior OZ in Danish (TROLDMANDEN FRA OZ). Here it is laid over the front cover of the same comic book in Finnish (OZ’ IN VELHO). Above right: Interior page of the Classics Illustrated Junior OZ, as Dorothy & Company confront the Wizard – in Norwegian -- in TROLLMANNEN FRA OZ.]
Though the original author and original book receive no copyright notice herein, the plot remains basically Baum. Toto hides under the bed, which means Dorothy is too late to access the cyclone cellar, and they arrive in Oz to be greeted by three little gentlemen and an elderly lady garbed in white, all of whom are identified only as Munchkins. They advise Dorothy to seek the Wizard and then disappear; there is no squashed Witch or pair of shoes – silver or otherwise – in view. Dorothy meets her three companions, and two full pages (and eight illustrations) are devoted to the sequence in which the Tin Woodman bemoans the accidental death of a beetle. The travelers cross two gulfs: once as carried by the Lion and next as traversing a tree that has been felled by the Woodman. There is no river or poppy field, but the protagonists all don green glasses and see the Wizard, who is apparently a genuine sorcerer. He appears to them simultaneously, as himself, and sends them to kill the Witch of the West, who uses her Monkeys to capture the entire troupe. When Toto tries to bite the Witch, she threatens him with her stick; Dorothy throws a bucket of water on the crone to defend her dog, and all that remains are the Witch’s silver shoes and the keys to the prison where Dorothy’s companions have been held hostage. The girl appropriates the shoes, and the five friends walk back to the Emerald City. On their return, the Wizard points out – referencing past story points – that the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion already possess the gifts they’re seeking (a very nice and Baumian touch), but he fulfills his promises to them with bran-brains, a cut-out heart, and a dish of courage. He then instructs the Kansas girl in the powers of the silver shoes; she bids her farewells and is quickly home again with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.
Again, no writer or illustrator is credited, although Dorothy is pictured as more a teen-fashioned Judy Garland than the little girl of the 1956 comic book – or Baum’s stories. Similarly, the 1957 companions and Wizard have vague (if only vague) MGM overtones, as well.
So! Those were the first major Oz comic books, dating back to the 1950s. Each is its own unique adaptation of Baum’s story, and the global availability of the 1957 version certainly extended the saga of Oz to new audiences – and, doubtless, made new fans.
Now . . . is anyone interested in the Oz comics of the 1960s? Among them, they feature Jerry Lewis in Oz. And Daisy Duck in Oz. And Liza Minnelli – plus Tiny Tim, Dustin Hoffman, Pat Boone, George Hamilton, Michael J. Pollard, and Ed Sullivan -- in Oz!
Article by John Fricke