Like all good Americans of a certain age, my childhood was filled with annual viewings of The Wizard of Oz. I say “of a certain age,” because kids today have no idea what it’s like to wait a whole year to see a movie on TV. Today, everything is available everywhere, all the time, on demand. Annual events like crowding around the TV to watch a special movie have sadly gone the way of barn raisings and witch burnings.
I bring up this little history lesson for a reason. For several generations, The Wizard of Oz seeped into our DNA, becoming part of our national identity and collective subconscious. Oz is a classic hero’s journey, after all, just with witches and rainbows and fabulous shoes. It’s because of this ozmosis that artists continue to use this story in their work, as both an entry to and commentary on a universally shared story about home, identity and friendship.
The story has been used so often in such wildly diverse ways, I have to wonder what’s left to say. That’s actually the first thought that came to mind when I picked up Friend of Dorothy, Brian Andersen’s new Oz-themed miniseries. In the interest of full disclosure, comic book creator Brian Andersen and I became somewhat friendly after spending three days at Wondercon sharing two feet of table space together. He has since become a friend and frequent contributor to Fanboys of the Universe. (You should definitely check out his reviews in the Comics Load.) Having said all that, he is a comic book creator and I am a writer, so I’m going to approach this review like any other and hope he still speaks to me tomorrow.
I’m happy to report that there is still life in the Oz mythos. Andersen isn’t retelling or reimagining the story as much as he’s taking the symbols of the tale and giving them new life, with a new protagonist. We are introduced to our hero, Scott-John, in two pages: gray, wordless, but full of visual clues to who he is and how he got into the predicament we find him in. Namely, lying motionless in bed, with a suspicious bottle of pills spilled off to the side. What happened exactly? How did he get there? Like I said, there are clues, but Andersen doesn’t give the reader more than a second to take it all in, before the action begins and our hero is suddenly awakened to a new (possibly imagined) Technicolor world where he’s given strength, weapons and, arguably, a reason to live.
The story, introductions and exposition are told at breakneck speed, which is understandable for a three-issue miniseries. What Andersen is so good at, though, has nothing to do with tapping into the Oz mythos, and everything to do with tapping into the gay mythos. In his work in So Super Duper and here, in Friend of Dorothy, Andersen creates and invokes moments drawing on the shared gay experience. Whether it’s coming out, dealing with bullies or the symbolic death and resurrection of personal and sexual identity, these are universal, yet primal and very personal experiences for gay readers. So, Andersen offers up the clues, the moments and the id, then lets readers fill in the rest based on the power of our shared gay mythos. Whether the hero in Friend of Dorothy is really dying or just dying of a broken heart, we recognize that pain immediately and can’t help but relate, hoping and praying that there really is a place over the rainbow we can all escape to.
As much as I love independent comics and treasure the fact that I’m getting the creator’s vision, without the assistance of a committee of editors and marketing people, I do believe that Andersen could benefit from working with an editor. With so much story to tell in such a limited amount of space, every single word must count. Don’t repeat something you just told us; tell us something new. But this is a minor quibble.
Neftali Centeno‘s artwork is raw, with occasional flashes of sophistication, especially in angles and staging. However, the raw tone works well, conveying the world and age of Scott-John. Falecia Woods does double duty on lettering and coloring and deserves recognition for both. The lettering matches the style and mood of Centeno’s work very well, while the colors add the kind of rich color palette you would expect in an Oz book.
I’m looking forward to more Friend of Dorothy and trust that Andersen will continue to bring the Oz mythos, the gay mythos and the wide range of interpretation and emotional investment each offers to the rest of the series. The first issue of Friend of Dorothy is available at select comic book stores and online at IndyPlanet.com. You can find out more about Brian Andersen and his work at SoSuperDuper.com.