I understand The Royal Historian of Oz #2 comes out today, so I thought I'd take a moment to review issue #1 to catch everyone up to speed. (That, plus I don't actually have #2 yet!)
The story starts "sometime in the broke-down, weary future." Although no date is given, it's noted that the last "official" writer of Oz books died around 2050 but Frank Fizzle's dad Jasper is determined to be the next "Royal Historian of Oz" -- a title L. Frank Baum first bestowed upon himself oh-so-many years ago. The problem, though, is that Jasper isn't a very good writer. His work doesn't sell, so Jasper continues to support them on his dead wife's now nearly depleted savings. I don't want to give away the full plot of the issue, but suffice it to say that Jasper finds out that Oz is indeed real, and returns with proof which he plans to use to help him tell more Oz stories. It turns out, however, that Princess Ozma isn't exactly happy with Jasper's actions and decides to send four of her familiar subjects to "bargain" with him.
Let me start by saying that I'm not a huge Oz fan. Nothing wrong with the stories; they just never grabbed me. I think I've read maybe eight or ten of the Oz books, so I am decidedly more familiar with them than just what's presented in the MGM movie. But I'm sure a lot of the Oz references presented with Royal Historian go over my head. However, whatever continuity nods to previous Oz stories are in the comic, they seem to be done as background filler for sharp-eyed enthusiasts and don't hang up the pace of the storytelling at all. In fact, I daresay that you could read this book without any knowledge of the Oz story at all and not have any issues following along.
The only possible point of contention I can see anyone having, actually, is that Jasper finds Dorothy's magical slippers, noting their silver color. (The book is in black and white.) If you were ONLY familiar with the movie, you might argue that the slippers should be ruby red. I'll just reiterate here then that the slippers were silver in the books and changed to red for the movie because somebody thought it would show off the Technicolor better.
What all this should suggest to you is that the comic is very well done. Despite tackling a subject with literally a century of history, author Tommy Kovac (who also penned Slave Labor's excellent Wonderland comic) does a fine job of bringing the reader into the story and catching them up to speed seemingly without being saddled by continuity. He does this by focusing on Jasper and Frank, and the relationship they are trying to work through. There's a real sense Jasper's idealism and Frank's loving acceptance of that impracticality and how he might help the two of them to continue living somewhat comfortably despite it. The scene where Frank finds his father trying on the silver slippers is emblematic of their relationship, and touchingly (and realistically) well executed.
Andy Hirsch turns in solid artwork as well. The characters are all well-designed, and the storytelling flows smoothly. The Oz inhabitants in particular are intriguing as they seem to fit well with Baum's original descriptions (from what I can recall of them) but do not seem to be tied to either the theatrical interpretations nor W.W. Denslow's original illustrations. Further, Hirsch seems to use an ever-so-slightly thicker pen line for all the characters, which helps separate them from the background. My only real complaint about his art was in his rendering of the cage Jasper keeps a flying monkey in. It wasn't bad, but the actual rendering of it didn't seem to stylistically tie in with how the rest of the book was inked. It was just enough for me to be a tad distracting in those handful of pages where it appears.
Overall, I found the book charmingly well done. It's not one that requires any previous knowledge of Oz lore or, indeed, any prior appreciation of Baum's creation. It's just a well-done comic, and I'm looking forward to picking up the whole series.
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