What if Dorothy’s twister was a wormhole, and the Land of Oz was another planet? What would ‘Planet Oz’ be like today? And why on earth is it running out of oxygen? These are some of the what-if questions I worked with when I created my comic book, The Wizard of O2.
As with any contemporary retelling, I needed a reason to revisit the Land of Oz, other than my own fandom since discovering Judy Garland’s 1939 movie as a kid: Why tell the tale again, and why do it now? L. Frank Baum’s original novel was published back in 1900 and, more than a century later, the book has entered the public domain. The world has also changed a great deal. I realized the time was right to not only revisit the material, but to do it through an environmental lens that would make the story even more pertinent in our current, climate-changed times.
With The Wizard of O2 , I wanted to bring kids and grown-ups back to the Land of Oz and to re-imagine the classic tale for a 21st-century adventure in science and magic, creating space for humor and hope in the face of the climate crisis.
Because I come from a screenwriting background, the project began as a screenplay for an animated short film, which I wrote ‘on spec’ to later pitch to film studios and production companies. I envisioned a charming animation with cute and colorful artwork worthy of a Pixar movie, and the climate narrative behind it would function by, first, connecting with audiences through an affectionate parody of Baum’s much-loved work. If the aim of the project is to get mainstream audiences thinking about something as depressing and anxiety-inducing as global warming, I wanted to make it easy for them to go there. I wanted to engage them on the issue by making it familiar, entertaining and, yes, fun.
Of course, not every climate story needs to riff off a pre-existing work. In the case of this project, I found that the original Oz material lent itself so well to an environmentalist’s reinterpretation that the satirical opportunities were too delightful to resist. For example, Emerald City has been renamed “Green City” in my story: Having adopted the optimistic philosophy and aesthetics of solarpunk, the Wizard’s society now runs on clean energy and coexists with abundant plant life, as illustrated in the artwork below.
On discovering the prohibitive cost of making an animation and the current dearth of producers willing to back an animated short, I opted to adapt my Oz satire into a comic book first. A comic was something I could manage myself while remaining in the pop-cultural category of mediums, which also includes television shows and video games. This was a parameter I had set for the project because, given the urgency of the climate crisis, I wanted the story to have as much reach as possible. The visual medium of comics would also convey a brand of charm and whimsy that I thought was crucial to this project.
As many have said, climate stories don’t all need to be apocalyptic dystopias filled with doom and gloom. There’s a place for dark and gritty perspectives and, indeed, there are many climate storytellers producing valuable work in this space. But there’s also a place for whimsy, humor and hope, even in the face of climate catastrophe. With the Oz story as my vehicle, I embraced comedy and eccentricity as a route into people’s hearts and minds. As shown in the panel below, climate deniers are depicted as obese, tree-logging Munchkins in carbon(ara)-excreting robotic suits, which allow them to move and work faster. Crucially, instead of being demonized, these beings are shown to be capable of redemption by the end.
Despite my general aversion to doom and gloom, extreme weather does make an appearance in the climax of my story, not only as a symbol of climate change but as the main antagonist, shown anthropomorphized in the splash page below. However, with a moniker like the “Wicked Weather of the West” and as an echo of Dorothy’s tornado from the original Oz tale, climate change is reframed in a meta-fictional light and with enough self-referential humor that audiences won’t recoil from didacticism and will instead be more deeply engaged with the story’s satirical point-of-view.
My hope for The Wizard of O2 is that it reaches many people as a form of popular entertainment and, thereby, brings the climate cause to a new and wider audience. The comic is now published under my imprint, Truth/Dare Media: We’re a publishing startup that focuses on telling important stories through comics, audiobooks and other popular mediums. And our mission is simple: To help save the world through pop culture.
I must thank the many readers who read my drafts and provided feedback along the way, including the climate storytelling team behind the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Rewrite the Future initiative. NRDC helped with script development early on, when The Wizard of O2 only existed as a screenplay. With deforestation as a key plot point in the story, we’ve also teamed up for the book’s impact campaign with a call-to-action to protect Canada’s boreal forest – the so-called ‘Amazon of the North’ which helps to regulate our global climate. So if you enjoy my book, please join me in supporting our cause!
Quentin D. Young is an emerging comic creator and a represented script writer whose screenplays have been accepted for submission by leading Hollywood companies including Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Studios (formerly Fox), and Participant Media. Formerly an environmental engineer, Quentin writes entertaining stories to reach mainstream audiences while also raising awareness and inspiring action on the climate crisis. The Wizard of O2 is published by Truth/Dare Media and is currently available as a digital comic from Amazon’s Comixology, Apple Books, Google Play and other major outlets. You can find out more about the book here.