We’d like to give a huge welcome to David Pepose on behalf of all of us at On Comics Ground. David is a Ringo-nominated writer, best known for his work on Spencer & Locke, Going to the Chapel, Grand Theft Astro, and now The O.Z., respectively.
Once again, welcome to On Comics Ground, David, and thank you for taking the time to discuss your new Kickstarter project, The O.Z.!
Alec Thorn: Right off the bat, what made you want to do a take like this on the world of The Wizard of Oz?
David Pepose: For me, I’ve always got ideas of territory I want to explore — then it’s a matter of finding imagery that sticks in my brain. In the case of The O.Z., after Spencer & Locke was released, I knew I wanted to try a mashup involving fantasy. So I went back to my roots looking for inspiration with Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Piers Antony…
But when I thought of The Wizard of Oz, something clicked. The word “Oz” is short but instantly iconic — and it hit me that it could be an acronym. “The Occupied Zone.” And from there, the image hit me a lightning bolt — this war-torn, post-apocalyptic Oz, with the granddaughter of Dorothy as a disillusioned soldier, and the Tin Man rebuilt as a living war machine. With a central image like that, I was hooked — I had to write this book.
AT: You told me how this new comic was a spiritual successor to Spencer & Locke. Now I’m able to see you meant that not just in concept, but in themes too, such as mental health. What are you looking to explore this time around when it comes to that theme?
DP: That’s a great question — honestly, I think The O.Z. takes that intimate scope of Spencer & Locke and explores trauma on a much larger scale, with commensurate stakes to match. Because war has effects on everyone pulled into its wake — so while Dorothy’s granddaughter grapples with her own scars as a soldier, we also see how the battlefield of Oz has affected the Tin Soldier, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow. While we’re definitely inside Dorothy’s head throughout The O.Z., this wouldn’t be an Oz story if it wasn’t an ensemble piece.
I think Spencer & Locke, for better or for worse, was living with your scars — but for The O.Z., I think our story is about having to confront those traumas and violent patterns head-on. The stakes are too high — there’s too many lives at stake — and so much of Dorothy’s arc will be about realizing that waging war and establishing peace aren’t always on the same track. There’s a lot of growth to be had from all our characters, to be honest.
AT: Our main character, the granddaughter of Dorothy, is a veteran who served in the war in Iraq. It’s very clear that being home is a never-ending struggle for her. What drew you to the idea of taking the legacy of an iconic character in this direction?
DP: Our new Dorothy is the granddaughter and namesake of the original protagonist of The Wizard of Oz — but instead of being a wide-eyed girl from Kansas, this Dorothy is a world-weary Army veteran recently returned from her tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. For me, it made perfect sense to recast what had traditionally been such an innocent and sometimes naive character, and to let her evolve into a protagonist who can absolutely take care of herself in a fight.
Dorothy, in a lot of ways, is the engine that makes The O.Z. work. Because of her training and her situational awareness, Dorothy doesn’t just see the land of Oz as the magical land from her grandmother’s tall tales — she sees weapons to bring the fight back to the enemy. She’s really the prism through which our mashup works, being able to bring that military angle to the magical world we’ve all grown up with. It’s because of Dorothy that we learn that Oz has teeth.
AT: The story is not shying away at all from being a direct parallel to the war in Iraq. What kinds of issues do you hope to bring to light and discuss through this take on the world of Oz?
DP: We’re definitely not shying away from the parallels here. To be honest, that was really the appeal of this project to me, even more than the themes I’ve come to explore. Everyone knows the story of The Wizard of Oz — Dorothy Gale gets swept up by a tornado, crash-lands in Oz, meets three extraordinary friends, and kills the Wicked Witch of the West. And then she clicks her heels three times, goes home to Kansas, and lives happily ever after, right?
Except I grew up during the Invasion of Iraq, and the parallels felt inescapable to me. Dorothy’s hit-and-run arc felt to me a lot like plenty of other U.S.-directed regime changes — it naturally invites a power vacuum, and stirs up brutal civil war as various factions try to amass power for themselves. It’s very Game of Thrones, but that’s the ugly truth about despots — they’re not just powerful people, but they exercise iron control in a very centralized fashion. And as we’ve seen historically, it takes a lot more power to restore order than it does to destroy it in the first place.
But with some of the veterans I’ve spoken with for this book, we talked about the conditions of war, and why might these conflicts persist as long as they do. There’s a lot of psychology about powerful figures — and being the granddaughter of the legendary Dorothy Gale absolutely merits in this case — and how the responsibility of leadership sometimes coincides and sometimes differs wildly from the expectations of being a soldier.
AT: This year has undoubtedly been hard for many of us, especially for those working in the comics industry. What made you and the team behind this book decide now was the time to get the ball rolling?
DP: I’ve been looking at Kickstarter for a long time, since I’m friends with a lot of creators in Los Angeles who have had a lot of success on the platform — people like Charlie Stickney from White Ash, Rylend Grant from The Jump, Russell Nohelty from Cthulhu is Hard to Spell, and many more. Because there are a lot of people who buy their comics primarily from Kickstarter, just like there are plenty of people who buy their comics through their comics shop or Amazon, and I’ve always been about inviting more people to the table and building a wider consensus.
But I definitely think covid has crystallized my line of thinking. With the temporary Diamond shutdowns and many publishers staggering their release schedules over the next few years, I realized I was tired of asking for permission to create. We had two chapters of The O.Z. fully ready, and when you have a book that looks that beautiful, you don’t want to wait another two or three years for it to come out — and that made me realize I could solve one problem with another. I get to release The O.Z. the way I want it, and I get to introduce myself to the Kickstarter community by delivering some of our best work.
It’s really empowering as a creator, and I’m really excited to show readers what rewards we have in store for them. For starters, we have a trio of incredible variant covers to go with Ruben Rojas’ main cover, with artists like Maan House, Rio Burton and Kenneth Wagnon each bringing their A-game to The O.Z. We’ve also got tons of behind-the-scenes materials including scripts and untouched inks and colors, original art and opportunities to be drawn into the book… we’ve even got a trio of handmade, ultra-limited edition Spencer & Locke plushies I had made for my creative team as a thank-you gift. We know there’s a lot of competition for readers’ attention, and we at The O.Z. are prepared to go the extra mile to justify your faith in us.
AT: One last question: where can we expect the adventures of this Dorothy to go in The O.Z.?
DP: Tonally, I consider The O.Z. to be somewhere between Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: Rogue One. Dorothy and her makeshift army of four aren’t going to be shying away from conflict, but they’re always going to be asking themselves about the moral decisions of war — how can you make the most ethical decision, when every choice you make can wind up with someone’s blood on your hands?
But similar to my work in Spencer & Locke, The O.Z. isn’t meant to be an oppressive slog — there’s so much wonder to the land of Oz, even in its war-torn state, and much of the excitement and even absurdity of this book stems from its larger-than-life setting. I mention Star Wars on purpose, because I think Oz has that same sense of scale, with every setting having its own unique temperature and tone and internal high concept. Whether it’s fighting in the Deadly Desert or staging a daring mission across the mountaintops of Ix, Dorothy is going to put every bit of her training to the test — and that’s before we include our brand-new takes on the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion to the mix.
Once you see the overlap between the fantasy and war genres, it’s hard not to see how The O.Z. was born — and once you see how these classic heroes have changed over the years, you’re going to fall in love with them all over again. I don’t write these stories for the sake of shock value — I only pursue these books if I think there’s legitimate characterization and themes to explore. The O.Z. is some of the best work I’ve ever produced, and working with Ruben, Whitney and DC, it’s some of the most beautiful work I’ve ever been a part of
Once again, thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure to have you here on our site. To everyone reading, follow him on Twitter at @Peposed for more info about The O.Z., and be sure to check out the official Kickstarter page!
And for those interested, we highly recommend checking out Spencer & Locke, Spencer & Locke 2, and Going to the Chapel, all available now from Action Lab: Danger Zone!