Nearly a year ago, writer David Pepose launched a Kickstarter for a new series set in the world of The Wizard of Oz. Always intended as a three-issue series, the second issue is now available to back on Kickstarter.
Titled The O.Z., this series is set around a wonderful universe and story starring Dorothy Gale’s granddaughter. An Iraq war veteran, she’s swept up by a similar tornado, only to land in the war-torn land of Oz. It’s a story that was inspired by the disastrous idea of Oz’s regime-change after Dorothy leaves behind a power vacuum and a civil war of horrific scale.
Pepose spoke to me at length about the exciting first issue and the project at-large upon its initial launch. As we reconvene to discuss issue #2, we addressed its themes of guerilla warfare and revolution, how he approaches writing the series, and much, much more.
AIPT: It’s been a year since the first The O.Z. Kickstarter, has life in the last year shifted what was in store for issue #2 now live on Kickstarter, or have you held true to the original vision?
David Pepose: Time sure does fly, huh? For the most part, the vision of The O.Z. has remained the same, although we’ve taken some time to hear what readers were asking for in our last Kickstarter and to see how we can incorporate them accordingly — I can’t tell you how many people asked me if we had any Wheelers in the last campaign, so I can assure you all they make a fun appearance in Issue #2. (Laughs)
Really the last year has also just been about giving this book the runway I think it deserves — with COVID, our production schedule needed a little bit more time to get all our pages together, and with my AfterShock series Scout’s Honor taking off in the first half of the year, I didn’t want to have either book in a position where it seemed like they were cannibalizing one another. But by having a year to give artist Ruben Rojas, colorist Whitney Cogar and letterer DC Hopkins to really cut loose, I think people will find the second issue of The O.Z. is definitely worth the wait.
AIPT: There are themes like guerrilla warfare and revolutionaries in this series, where do readers find the characters at the start of this second issue Kickstarter?
DP: The first issue of The O.Z. was all about establishing Dorothy Gale’s life as a veteran and a soldier, as well as showing how far the magical land of Oz has fallen since her grandmother killed the Wicked Witch of the West. Now that Dorothy has joined the Resistance against the Scarecrow’s ruthless regime, she’s realizing that this is not necessarily a one-for-one analogue to her time in Iraq and Afghanistan. When she was in the Middle East, there was a degree of anonymity, that Dorothy was just one part of a larger force — but given her grandmother’s legacy, everyone in Oz is looking to Dorothy for answers. And as we drop into this second issue, we’ll discover the Scarecrow has found the location of the all-powerful Silver Slippers he needs to invade our world — which means that for Dorothy, the stakes are higher than ever, as she embarks on a dangerous mission to save the only homes she’s ever known.
AIPT: I understand this is a three-issue series. Is the hope to have the series picked up by a publisher or to wrap the series on Kickstarter with the third issue in a year?
The Kickstarter community was the first to believe in The O.Z., and we’re fully committed to finishing the entire series on the Kickstarter platform with a third Kickstarter in 2022. We have no plans at the moment with any Direct Market publishers, but if that changed, that’d just be the cherry on top. But my ultimate goal for The O.Z. was to reach out to a vibrant and passionate readership I hadn’t served previously by publishing solely in the Direct Market — I see Kickstarter as a platform I’ll be utilizing for the foreseeable future for projects including and beyond The O.Z., so I want to make sure we’re doing right by those fans first and foremost.
AIPT: Now that you’re two issues into the series, is there a character or moment that has become your favorite?
DP: Boy, is that a tough question… Dorothy is obviously the soul of the book, and her voice is something I spent a long time trying to cultivate. I see her as a spiritual cousin to Detective Locke from my breakout series Spencer & Locke, so I’m always going to be a little biased towards her. But as far as writing goes, I feel like it’s a toss-up between Toto and Jack Pumpkinhead.
Toto’s role was expanded dramatically as we performed end-of-life care for our previous terrier Holly in the back half of 2019, and the absurdity of the character just reminds us that the land of Oz is supposed to have some whimsy amidst all the hardship and violence. But in terms of his actual voice, Jack Pumpkinhead was so much fun to write — he reminds me a lot of Taskmaster from Marvel, just this very blue-collar, rough-around-the-edges mercenary with just this very dark sense of humor. He was the character I was able to be the loosest with in terms of his dialogue, so he always popped off the page for me, even back in the scripting stage.
AIPT: I spoke to Scott Snyder once about how you need to pace big reveals and twists in a series, and this series seems to have lots of those! When plotting the book do you outline these moments?
DP: That’s a great question — yeah, I’m always plotting my series around where’s the twist at the end of each issue, just to give readers a reason to stick around for the next installment. The best analogy I can think of is playing a game of Mario Kart — you’re always trying to spot where the speed strips are that’ll ramp up your momentum to the next leg of the race. I will say that I think The O.Z. has some of the best twists I’ve written in a book so far, and Dorothy is going to have to think on her feet with every single one of them…
AIPT: The first, and the preview for issue two, have scenes reminiscent of films set during the Iraq war. Aside from that war influencing this work, are there any films that may have spurred on inspiration as far as locations or atmosphere in this work?
DP: I drew a ton of inspiration from a lot of different places. The Hurt Locker, Jarhead, and American Sniper are three movies that immediately spring to mind — but there are surprisingly some big influences from X-Men 2 in the mix, so I clearly contain multitudes. (Laughs)
Mad Max: Fury Road is another huge influence on the book, on everything from the design to the tone to how we paced and choreographed all the action. Honestly, Star Wars is a big one, too, just in terms of spanning so many different locations and being so larger-than-life.
And while I know you asked about movies, I took some inspiration from gaming as well — the team dynamics were absolutely informed by Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII, so if you like either of those games, you’ll definitely dig what we have planned for Dorothy and her ever-expanding crew.
AIPT: From our interview about the first issue, you mentioned certain elements like the Ruby Slippers had to change due to Silver Slippers not being under copyright, might there be new elements in issue two that had to shift away from what was in the Wizard of Oz film?
DP: Yeah, using the novel-accurate Silver Slippers versus the Judy Garland Ruby Slippers was the big thing to avoid for legal purposes — thankfully, beyond that, we’ve been able to find a lot of common ground between the novel and the film, so we haven’t had to veer away from too much stuff.
The first issue we had a more limited playing field, just because we were still establishing Dorothy and the stakes of the series — but with issue #2, we’re exploring so many new settings and territories, each with their own distinct flavor and tone. Since we’re able to get into the mythological weeds a bit more with our second Kickstarter, it’s easier and easier to avoid sticking just to the classics, if that makes sense?
AIPT: This series has living tin men, talking dogs, and scarecrows that are alive. If you lived in this world what creature would bear embody you and your personality?
DP: As far as mythological creatures go, yeah, I think I identify the most with the Tin Soldier. He’s a guy who’s defined by his heart, but has seen — and survived — some truly harrowing experiences, any one of which could destroy that source of inner goodness. But at the end of the day, no matter what happens, the Tin Soldier rebuilds himself and gets back to the fight, every single time. That means something to me. He’s not just an embodiment of wrestling with trauma and tragedy, but recognizing that all these experiences can make you grow as a person, and make you redouble your dedication to your values and your ideals. If I had to pick one member of The O.Z. to join me in the trenches, I think I’d pick him in a heartbeat.
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