Shanower, Eric James 1963–
Shanower, Eric James 1963–
PERSONAL: Born October 23, 1963, in Key West, FL; son of James Lowell and Karen Elizabeth (Hietanen) Shanower; partner of David Maxine (a record producer, musical theater historian, and artist). Education: Jo Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, graduated 1984.
CAREER: Independent artist, graphic novelist, cartoonist, and illustrator, 1984–. First Comics, letterer, inker, and illustrator, 1984–90, working on Warp, Nexus, Badger, and Starslayer comics; DC Comics, illustrator, 1985–90, letterer, penciler, inker, and illustrator, working on Conqueror of the Barren Earth, Talent Showcase, Who's Who in the DC Universe, Prez: Smells like Teen President, and others; Epic Comics, illustrator, 1990, working on The Elsewhere Prince; Dark Horse Comics, 1992–98, inker and illustrator working on Dark Horse Presents, Medal of Honor, Star Wars: The Last Command, Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor, King Tiger & Motorhead, and others. Founder, with partner David Maxine, of Hungry Tiger Press, San Diego, CA, 1994. Exhibitions: Group exhibitions include Queer Cartoons, A Different Light, New York, NY, 1995; New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship exhibition, 1996, 1997; and Jersey City Museum, Jersey City, NJ, 1998.
AWARDS, HONORS: Will Eisner Comics Industry Award for Best Writer/Artist, and named to NinthArt Lighthouse Award Roll of Honour for Best Bookshelf Comic, both 2001, both for Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships; special guest at ComicCon International convention, San Diego, CA, 2002; Will Eisner Comics Industry Award for Best Writer/Artist, 2003, for Age of Bronze series.
GRAPHIC NOVELS; AND ILLUSTRATOR
The Enchanted Apples of Oz, First Comics (Chicago, IL), 1986.
The Secret Island of Oz, First Comics (Chicago, IL), 1986.
The Ice King of Oz, First Comics (Chicago, IL), 1987.
The Forgotten Forest of Oz, First Comics (Chicago, IL), 1988.
The Blue Witch of Oz, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1992.
The Giant Garden of Oz, Emerald City Press (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Ed Brubaker) An Accidental Death, Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 1993.
Age of Bronze: The Story of the Trojan War: A Thousand Ships (originally published in comic-book format), Image Comics (Orange, CA), 2001.
The Salt Sorcerer of Oz and Other Stories, Hungry Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 2003.
Age of Bronze: The Story of the Trojan War: Sacrifice (originally published in comic-book format), Image Comics (Orange, CA), 2004.
L. Frank Baum, The Third Book of Oz: The Collected and Complete Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz and the Woggle-Bug Book, edited by Martin Williams, Armstrong State College Press, 1986, new edition, Buckethead Enterprises of Oz (Albuquerque, NM), 1989.
Virginia Wauchope-Bass and Robert Wauchope, Invisible Inzi of Oz, Buckethead Enterprises of Oz (Albuquerque, NM), 1993.
Rachel Cosgrove Payes, The Wicked Witch of Oz, International Wizard of Oz Club (Kinderhook, IL), 1993, new edition, Hungry Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1999.
(And editor) John R. Neill, The Runaway in Oz, Books of Wonder (New York, NY), 1995.
Jack Snow, Spectral Snow: The Dark Fantasies of Jack Snow, afterword by David Maxine, Hungry Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1996.
Bram Stoker, Dracula's Guest, Books of Wonder (New York, NY), 1997.
Edward Einhorn, Paradox in Oz, Hungry Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 2000.
Eloise Jarvis McGraw, The Rundelstone of Oz, Hungry Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 2001.
Contributor of stories and illustrations to periodicals, including Oziana, Baum Bugle, Oz Observer, Ozmapolitan, Bean Home Newsletter, and others. Contributor of illustration to tribute anthology Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman, Abiogenesis Press, 2003. Illustrator and writer for books and coloring books, magazines, non-sports trading cards (including Wildstorms, Spawn, and WildC.A.T.s), newsletters, apparel, cards, calendars, and catalogs.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Continuing work on Age of Bronze series.
SIDELIGHTS: American cartoonist, illustrator, and graphic novelist Eric James Shanower was interested in drawing, comics, and L. Frank Baum's "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" stories from an early age. His parents saw that he took art lessons as often as possible, and, in an online interview with Katherine Keller for Sequential Tart, he especially credited teacher Ed Mori-arty for helping him develop his talent for drawing comics. He also said the original "Oz" illustrations by John R. Neill were "a factor impossible to underestimate in my attraction to the Oz books and as an influence on my career." In an online interview with Smoky Man for Ultrazine, Shanower named other influences on his art: the nineteenth-century illustrators Charles Dana Gibson, Maxfield Parish, and Alphonse Mucha, and the cartoonists Winsor McCay, Charles Burns, Milton Caniff, Dave Sim, Walt Kelly, Carl Barks, and others.
On graduation from high school, Shanower entered the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, New Jersey. He began working in the comics industry right after graduation, in 1984, and has since written and/or illustrated for most of the major American comics publishers as an independent artist.
Shanower is best known for his "Oz" comic-book series of graphic novels, written and illustrated between 1986 and 1991, which continue the stories written by Baum, and for his Age of Bronze comic-book series, an epic retelling of the Trojan War legends. As of December of 2003, issues 1-9 had been collected into a graphic novel, Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships. Issues 10-18 of Volume 2, Age of Bronze: Sacrifice have also been completed. Shanower has also illustrated Oz books by other authors, bringing to new life stories written decades ago. A prolific illustrator, he has also contributed work to magazines and newsletters, advertisements, and other media.
Shanower told Smoky Man that he developed a desire to write and draw "Oz" books after his parents read The Road to Oz to him as a six year old. He told Keller that his interest in the stories was sparked by "the strange and exciting adventures, the unusual and grotesque characters, the child protagonists," and by Baum's "ability to gently lead the reader into impossible settings and make them absolutely believable."
The Forgotten Forest of Oz, Shanower's fourth graphic novel in his series continuing Baum's stories, brings Dorothy and her friends into a magical forest after the dryad Nelanthe has married a troll king and war has been declared against the forest wood nymphs. Gregory Walker, in a review for Booklist, called Shanower's art "striking" and commented that he has "produced stories closer to the Baum magic than previous efforts of stage, screen, or prose." In The Giant Garden of Oz, sixth in the series, Dorothy's Uncle Henry and Aunt Em find giant vegetables overtaking their garden, and Dorothy discovers that spells cast by the witch Old Magda are responsible for the behemoth crop. All turns out well in the end, however, and Dorothy befriends a cow named Imogene. Patricia A. Dollisch, in a review for School Library Journal, found the story line and character development "weak" and the whimsy "forced," although Don D'Ammassa, in Science Fiction Chronicle, noted that Shanower captures Baum's tone "reasonably well."
Shanower provided the illustrations for books about the "Oz" world by other authors. Rachel Cosgrove Payes's The Wicked Witch of Oz, her second "Oz" book, written half a century before Shanower's newly illustrated 1993 version. It introduces the Wicked Witch of the South, Singra, who wakes after a 100-year nap and plots to turn Dorothy into a piece of cheese. The Scarecrow and other familiar characters are in the story, but Payes also introduces Dorothy's new friends Percy the Giant White Rat and Leon the Neon, who is made from neon tubing. They hope to defeat Singra before she can carry out her plans.
Shanower also illustrated and edited John R. Neill's 1943 manuscript, The Runaway in Oz, Neill's fourth "Oz" story. The main character is Scraps, the rambunctious Patchwork Girl of Oz, who, after getting her feelings hurt by Queen Ozma, tries to run away from Oz. She needs a little help from her new friends Popla and Twinkler, though, especially when they encounter Fanny the Weather Witch. Dollisch, in a School Library Journal review, commented that the characters "have a great deal of trouble hanging onto the very thin plot," although Shanower does a "competent" job with the black-and-white illustrations.
When the residents of Oz begin aging in Edward Einhorn's Paradox in Oz, Ozma consults Glinda the good witch and then begins her adventures to restore the magical land to youth as she travels on the back of the Parrot-Ox Tempus, a sort of flying time machine. She uncovers a secret answer in the witch Mombi and the Man Who Lives Backwards. Dollisch, in School Library Journal, described Tempus as "chock-full of personality," the writing as "crisp," and Shanower's art as "charming."
Shanower told Keller that he was inspired to embark on the Age of Bronze comic-book series in 1991, after reading the chapter on Troy in Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. In addition, he had read Greek mythology as a student and had enjoyed Mary Renault's retellings of the Theseus story in the late 1980s, as well as Gore Vidal's historical novels. He had originally planned to do a comic set in ancient Egypt, but when his interest was sparked by the Trojan War, he changed his focus. It took seven years to research and promote the Age of Bronze comics, and the first installment appeared in 1998.
In the interview with Keller, Shanower said: "One of the reasons I'm attracted to the Trojan War is because of the range of human drama and human interaction. Anything that happens in anybody's life happens in this story, every situation, every emotion is on display to maximum effect." Shanower remarked that his goal with the series is to show every detail with as much current archaeological accuracy as possible and to blend the many, often conflicting, versions of the Trojan War legend into one seamless version. He also strives to reveal the human concerns that are in conflict and to explore why the characters do what they do. His primary sources for the comic are Homer's Iliad, classical Greek and Roman texts, medieval European sources, and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. He also relies on archaeological data from ancient Mycenae, Knossos, Pylos, and Troy. His research has been so thorough that he even has college professors advising him on, for example, the appearance of ships from the bronze age. Each issue takes about three months to complete.
The first nine issues of the comic-book series were published together as the Eisner Award-winning graphic novel Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships. The story opens as the young man Paris leaves home to compete in the games at Troy. When he wins the games it is revealed that he is the son of King Priam. The story of the milk-white bull, the kidnapping of Helen, the start of the war, and the introduction of the young Achilles follow. Francisca Goldsmith, of Booklist, was pleased with the book's appended material—a genealogy chart, glossary, explanations of variant spelling, and lengthy bibliography. She also thought Shanower's black-and-white artwork "carries the story." A Publishers Weekly contributor was equally pleased with Shanower's research and called the result "a fantastically rich narrative" with settings that "look like Bronze Age artifacts" and drawings that evoke "woodcuts and classical paintings."
Kat Kan commented on the sexual element in the Age of Bronze comic-book series in a review for Voice of Youth Advocates, saying that "Shanower's tale is very sensual; he doesn't shy away from portraying people's physical lust, managing to convey their almost palpable feelings without graphic detail." In the interview with Keller, Shanower commented on the sexual aspect: "You can't get away from the sex in the Trojan War. I mean, that's why the war happened…. I had to show that. It's the human dimension." Sex continues its importance in further installments in the comic-book series, collected in book form as Age of Bronze: Sacrifice. Shanower chooses to follow a version of the epic that depicts Achilles and Patroklus as gay lovers before Patroklus is killed by the Trojans, causing Achilles to seek vengeance. In issue 14, they share a first kiss, and Achilles is surprised by what he feels.
Randy Lander, in an online review for the Fourth Rail, concluded that Age of Bronze "remains a unique book in the industry, both in terms of the subject matter it tackles and the way that the creator handles it." Don MacPherson, also in the Fourth Rail, wrote that Shanower 's "soft, realistic artwork, meticulous research and remarkable level of accessibility make for a thoroughly satisfying read…. This book could easily have been a stilted, yawn-inducing series, but there's a sense of fun, adventure and intelligence to it instead." Classical archaeology professor John G. Younger, in a review for Archeology, praised Shanower's research and accurate archaeological detail, down to the artist's decision to make the Trojans an Anatolian people in keeping with findings made during the 1990s excavation at the site of Troy. Younger called the research "almost impeccable," concluding: "Shanower 's comic book series is destined, I think, to become a staple in many college courses. Besides being beautifully drawn and intelligently, even intellectually, composed, it is archaeologically accurate—by those qualities it's better than any film I've ever seen on Bronze Age Greece…. I have already spent hours pondering some of Shanower's more interesting archaeological choices, and I am eager to be challenged by those yet to come."
In an interview with Michael Cart for Booklist, Shanower said he believes comics "are as valid an aesthetic experience as any other art form. What the creator brings to the reader to observe can be as rich and fulfilling as any other aesthetic experience." He continued, "There are some absolute gems that if folks don't experience, their lives will be less rich."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Archaeology, September, 2001, John G. Younger, "Hoppin' Hittites, Hector! A Comic Book Series Revisits the Trojan War," p. 72.
Booklist, April 1, 1989, Gregory Walker, review of The Forgotten Forest of Oz, p. 1372; September 15, 2001, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships, p. 214; December 15, 2002, Michael Cart, "Carte Blanche: Got Graphic?," p. 750.
Locus, August, 1993, Charles N. Brown and Scott Winnett, review of The Giant Garden of Oz, p. 47.
Publishers Weekly, September 3, 2001, review of Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships, p. 68; September 24, 2001, Douglas Wolk, review of Age of Bronze series, p. 26.
School Library Journal, October, 1993, Patricia A. Dollisch, review of The Giant Garden of Oz, p. 130; October 5, 1995, Patricia A. Dollisch, review of The Runaway in Oz, p. 138; August, 2000, Patricia A. Dollisch, review of Paradox in Oz, p. 180.
Science Fiction Chronicle, October, 1993, Don D'Ammassa, review of The Giant Garden of Oz, p. 38.
Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 2002, Kat Kan, review of Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships, pp. 430-431.
Wilson Library Bulletin, February, 1988, Patty Campbell, review of The Ice King of Oz, p. 81.
Age of Bronze Home Page, http://age-of-bronze.com/ (December 9, 2003), "Issues," "Our Story So Far," "Books."
Eric Shanower Official Home Page, http://www.eric shanower.com (October 2, 2003).
Flooby, http://www.flooby.com/ (August 19, 2003), review of Age of Bronze, issues 1 and 2.
Fourth Rail, http://www.thefourthrail.com/ (July 31, 2002), Don MacPherson, review of Age of Bronze, issue 13 and Age of Bronze: Behind the Scenes, issue 1; (August 21, 2002) Randy Lander, review of Age of Bronze, issue 14.
Hollywood Comics Web site, http://www.hollywoodcomics.com/ (August 19, 2003) "Eric Shanower."
Hungry Tiger Press Web site, http://www.hungrytigerpress.com/ (August 19, 2003).
SD Buzz: The Ultimate Gay Guide to San Diego, http://www.sdbuzz.com/ (August 19, 2003), J. Nathaniel Moore, "Comics Come of Age."
Sequential Tart, http://www.sequentialtart.com/ (August 19, 2003) Katherine Keller, "The Wizard of Bronze: An Epic Interview with Eric Shanower."
Ultrazine, http://www.ultrazine.org/ (August 19, 2003), Smoky Man, "An Interview with Eric Shanower: Be Charmed by Myth."