By: Nicole D’Andria
From the mind behind Spencer & Locke and Going to the Chapel, David Pepose presents the fantasy classic of Oz reimagined as a war-torn land in The O.Z. Pepose talks about the importance of mental health in comics as well as why you’ll want to join the over 800 backers already part of this super-successful Kickstarter!
Dorothy vanquishes the Wicked Witch of the West, unaware her actions have started a civil war. Her legacy continues with her granddaughter, also named Dorothy, an Iraq war veteran with disillusionment and PTSD. After a tornado strikes her home and sends Dorothy to Oz, she discovers the warring factions led by the Tin Soldier, the Scarecrow, and the Courageous Lion. Will Dorothy finally bring peace to Oz or will this be a never-ending cycle?
This Kickstarter for The O.Z. features the first 44-page chapter, which asks the question: “What if The Hurt Locker took place in The Wizard of Oz?” Writer David Pepose works with artist Ruben Rojas, colorist Whitney Cogar, and letterer DC Hopkins, to bring the world of Oz to comic book readers in an all-new way.
The project, which aimed to raise $6,000 by September 16, 2020, at 10:31 AM EDT, has already amassed over $33,000, unlocking some fun stretch goals. Rewards include digital copies of Spencer & Locke #1 and Going to the Chapel #1 ($5), plus a digital copy of The O.Z. #1 with a behind-the-scenes look at David Pepose’s script ($10), along with a physical copy of The O.Z. #1 ($20). You can also get a special variant cover of your choice ($25). Options include the DEATH FROM ABOVE cover from the unstoppable Maan House (Godkillers, Spencer & Locke), the APOCALYPSE OZ variant from Rio Burton (Lucid Dreaming, Destiny, NY), and the HIT-AND-RUN Akira homage variant cover from Kenneth Wagnon (Hearts Full of Sand). All this and more are available on the Kickstarter page here.
I spoke in-depth with David Pepose about his latest comic book project. He’s well-acquainted with the industry as a Ringo Award-nominated writer who worked for a decade as a Reviews Editor at the Eisner Award-winning comic news site Newsarama.
Me: What are some of your favorite aspects from The Wizard of Oz and how have you incorporated them into your own work?
Pepose: I couldn’t articulate it as a kid, but I loved the archetypes of the core quartet and their dynamic as a team. Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion… each of them had a really strong design, personality, goals, and character arc individually, but you put them in the same room? That’s when the sparks start to fly.
And as far as The O.Z. is concerned, I’m really happy with how we were able to take these iconic characters and remix them, while still staying true to those core qualities from the original L. Frank Baum novels. The Tin Soldier now stands as this towering war machine, but he’s also struggling with how to keep his heart intact after years of watching his friends die. The Scarecrow wanted to be the smart one, but what happens when he’s confronted with a problem that even he can’t solve? Or the Lion, who’s learned that the calculus of bravery changes dramatically when you’re not just fighting for yourself, but as the king of the Animal Kingdom?
But that’s life in The O.Z. — it’s a place that looks familiar, but when you look at it closely, you’ll see this is a land that has teeth. It takes a certain type of hero to survive…
Me: When talking about the book on Kickstarter, you describe it as if “The Hurt Locker took place in The Wizard of Oz”. What inspired you to marry these two very different works?
Pepose: I had really wanted to do a big-swing fantasy series after the first volume of Spencer & Locke debuted, and so I had written down some of the literary classics I had read growing up. Lord of the Rings, Lloyd Alexander, Piers Anthony, Harry Potter… and The Wizard of Oz. As my cursor flashed on the word “Oz,” I started playing around with some word association — I saw the word “Oz” as short but instantly iconic and realized it could be an acronym for something. I thought of the series DMZ, and realized it could stand for the Occupied Zone — that’s when it hit me that this book wasn’t just a fantasy story, but a war story as well.
It also helps that L. Frank Baum’s original source material supported my thesis. The O.Z. recasts Dorothy Gale killing the Wicked Witch as a botched regime change, and when she returned home to Kansas, she inadvertently left Oz in a power vacuum leading to years of brutal civil war. So having Dorothy’s granddaughter as a disillusioned Iraq war veteran who finds herself trapped in the war-torn land of Oz made perfect sense — while the original novels or the Judy Garland film tried to wrap up Dorothy’s adventures with a neat little bow, as someone who grew up during the Invasion of Iraq, I think the fallout of Oz would look a lot more like Baghdad.
Me: You also mention The O.Z. will be enjoyed by fans of Mad Max, The Old Guard, and Fables. What about each of these works, in particular, are reflected in The O.Z.?
Pepose: Mad Max: Fury Road really informed the aesthetic of our book, and this sort of heightened reality version of war-torn combat — if you liked Furiosa, you’re going to love Dorothy. Similarly, The Old Guard’s fantasy-infused twist on military action definitely is reflected in The O.Z., and if you enjoyed the recent Charlize Theron Netflix film of the same name, you’ll definitely get the same sense of camaraderie with Dorothy’s army of four. Fables, being a twist on literary classics, has always been part of my creative DNA — without the series remixing children’s fairy tales as a detective story, The O.Z. wouldn’t exist as military fantasy.
Me: Psychological elements play an important part in your books like Spencer & Locke and now The O.Z. For instance, the main character of The O.Z., Dorothy, suffers from disillusionment and PTSD. Why do you believe these are important issues to talk about through comic books?
Pepose: For me, trauma is a powerful theme to explore no matter what the medium. We’ve all been shaped by it to some degree, and I think the scars we’ve sustained in our pasts wind up becoming the prevailing themes of our lives. We always circle back, sometimes every once in a while, sometimes with great frequency — but the idea that we can confront these traumas, and even overcome them? That’s something that can be inspiring and cathartic to everyone.
Me: For people who wish to talk about mental illness and other psychological concepts in comics, how would you recommend respectfully going about this?
Pepose: I think it’s always about being compassionate, and remembering there are real people who deal with mental illness every single day — you never want to make it a punchline or titillating or some kind of joke. If you show your characters empathy, dignity, and respect, you’re ultimately showing your readers empathy, dignity, and respect.
Me: You’re working with a new artist, Ruben Rojas. How did you two connect and why did you decide this was the best artist for your book?
Pepose: Honestly, it was all Ruben’s decision. (Laughs) I found him on Twitter answering a call for artists, and I was immediately blown away by his talent. I actually offered Ruben three different pitches, and as a fan of fantasy and post-apocalyptic stories, he immediately gravitated to The O.Z.
And I’m so glad he did — Ruben’s not only a truly talented composer when it comes to how he paces his panels, but he’s one of the most gifted designers I’ve ever worked with. He adds so much detail to the land of Oz and the characters that reside there — from the Tin Soldier to the Scarecrow to the Lion, Ruben’s characters look downright incredible, and we’ve really inspired each other to each bring our A-game for every single issue.
Me: What about the rest of your creative team? What struck a chord with you about their work that made them a perfect fit for The O.Z.?
Pepose: Colorist Whitney Cogar is our secret weapon for the book — she adds so much energy and atmosphere to every page, and she really elevates Ruben’s impeccable line art to the next level. I’ve always believed that art makes or breaks a comic — and it’s the colors that make or break your art. Whitney and I talked a lot about what the Mad Max version of Star Wars would look like, in terms of capturing that grittiness and intensity while still maintaining that magical otherworldliness of Oz. And I truly think Whitney has nailed that balance here.
DC Hopkins, meanwhile, is the ultimate team player as our letterer — he’s so careful and deliberate with how his work interacts with Ruben and Whitney’s, but he’s also such a gracious and generous collaborator to boot. Dave and I talk regularly about how to best work my dialogue into the mix — sometimes cutting out half a line when I realize I’m blocking too much art. He’s really the center of calm to our whole operation and such an asset to making sure the final “cut” of our narrative is at its most effective.
Me: You’ve shot past your $6,000 goal, raising over $30,000 and counting. First of all, congratulations! Second, what is the biggest piece of advice you can give to Kickstarter creators when running their campaigns?
Pepose: Thank you! Honestly, I couldn’t be more blown away. I think for first-time Kickstarter creators, it’s a matter of keeping your campaign sustainable — our campaign wasn’t built up over just a few weeks, but over the course of several years, building off my three previous books. But every creator can start building their platform, no matter how many comics they’ve previously launched — I recommend reaching out to anyone else running a campaign to cross-promote, any peers or friends to help spread the word, friends and family… leave no stone unturned.
Me: Having done this Kickstarter during a pandemic, what are some things that came up during your campaign that were unexpected? Is there anything you think creators planning on doing a crowdfunding project should be aware of before launching due to the current climate?
Pepose: The good news is that by all accounts, Kickstarter is going strong through the pandemic — I think there are people who are still looking for quality content, particularly through online vending. There’s a whole demographic of people who buy their books primarily through crowdfunding rather than Amazon or the Direct Market, and given that people aren’t spending money on restaurants or movie theaters, the idea that there is no disposable income for entertainment might be an overstatement.
For me, the biggest surprise of our campaign was having to shift gears from a mindset of whether or not we would get funded, to a mindset of what can we do to increase value for our book and offer rewards without delaying the series or blowing up our shipping budget. We’ve had to be creative in ways to enhance our book, like pin-ups and enhanced covers; offering add-ons that fit in our Gemini mailers like comic-sized prints and stickers; and digitally distributing rewards like our Digital Comics Extravaganza.
Me: What is the number one reason why people should pledge money to your project?
Pepose: Honestly, the artwork. I think this is some of my best writing, but Ruben Rojas and Whitney Cogar make The O.Z. stand toe-to-toe visually with any book in the Direct Market. If you think our preview pages look incredible, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Me: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring comic book writers?
Pepose: Start small, get your reps in, be patient with yourself, and don’t wait for permission to create. There are a lot of aspiring comic creators who feel this pressure to be an overnight success, but that’s never the case — I’ve been in the periphery of the industry for over a decade, and I’m only now starting to gain traction as a creator. But if you persevere and keep improving upon your craft — and honestly, you can do that by writing a six-pager every day for a month, you don’t have to even show it off to anyone — you will find that success you’re looking for.
Me: Thanks for sharing some of your imagination with us, David! If you’re reading this and interested in seeing a war-torn Oz, check out The O.Z. Kickstarter.
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