Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the launch of your Kickstarter campaign for your new comic book series, The O.Z. For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of this new project?
David Pepose: The O.Z. is like what if Mad Max or the Hurt Locker took place in the Wizard of Oz — it’s our reimagining of the classic L. Frank Baum Oz mythology, but filtering it through the lens of trauma, hope, and morality during wartime. Our story reframes Dorothy Gale’s defeat of the Wicked Witch of the West as something not unlike a botched regime change — and when Dorothy clicked her heels three times and went back to Kansas, she unwittingly left the nation of Oz in a horrific power vacuum that led to decades of bloody civil war.
The O.Z. picks up a generation later, when we meet Dorothy’s granddaughter and namesake, a disillusioned Iraq war veteran. This new Dorothy is struggling to find purpose after what she experienced overseas, but when she’ll discover her ailing grandmother’s tall tales were all too real when she’s dropped into this devastating magical battlefield. Dorothy will have to face her past and navigate her grandmother’s former friends if she ever hopes to bring peace to the Occupied Zone… or as the locals call it, The O.Z.
People ask me all the time why I like to work with these twisted takes on childhood nostalgia, and I think at least part of that is because there’s a universality to it — nostalgia is almost a collective memory of when the world was a simpler place, so it’s populated with these archetypes that lend themselves to so much reinterpretation. Not only does that let us tackle heavier themes to a wider audience, but I think we get to play with readers’ expectations — once you reconnect with characters like Dorothy Gale, the Tin Soldier, the Scarecrow, or the Courageous Lion, you’re going to find there’s a lot of new depth to explore.
BD: How would you describe your shared creative process in collaborating with the talented members of the creative team? Likewise, what (or who) were some of your creative influences for this story?
DP: I’m working with such a talented creative team for The O.Z., particularly with artist Ruben Rojas, who is just a tremendously gifted storyteller and designer. No matter what I throw at Ruben, he always finds a way to one-up what I’ve given him — he’s just the perfect partner in crime, he goes so far above and beyond but is still so gracious and open to collaboration. We talked a lot about meshing the aesthetics of Mad Max with real-life military designs, since Dorothy as a trained soldier would naturally gravitate towards using familiar tactics and equipment. He’s able to shift gears from ultra-complicated to strikingly streamlined without skipping a beat.
And our crew is rounded out by colorist Whitney Cogar and letterer DC Hopkins, both of whom are just top-tier creators in their own right. As someone who’s very exacting when it comes to colors, Whitney is just a godsend. When we were putting this book together, we talked a lot about filtering that dustiness of a Mad Max or The Hurt Locker with the elasticity of a Star Wars — you know just bouncing from Hoth to Endor to Tatooine to Coruscant, Star Wars has so much range in terms of settings and palettes and color temperatures, and that sense of scale was something that I really wanted to add to The O.Z., since the land of Oz is just as wide-ranging.
DC Hopkins, meanwhile, is one of the most patient and generous collaborators I’ve ever worked with — he’s really my safety rail in terms of keeping our dialogue flowing and not crowding Ruben and Whitney’s gorgeous artwork. Lettering, in a lot of ways, is the comics equivalent to film editing — there’s the story you write, the story you shoot (or in this case, draw), and then there’s the story you letter, and Dave is the guy that makes everything click together.
But yes, as far as influences go, I’m always kind of a grabbag of different elements — Mad Max: Fury Road and The Old Guard were definitely part of The O.Z.’s DNA, iconic war movies like The Hurt Locker, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Jarhead… not to mention classic Vertigo titles like Fables and DMZ. But even my own previous work played a big role — I was developing The O.Z. concurrently with my military-oriented work on Spencer & Locke 2, and I feel like this book was the other side of that coin.
BD: For fans of your previous work on Spencer & Locke and Going to the Chapel, do you feel that The O.Z. will be similar in tone and style — therefore, a must-have on their to-read list?
DP: From the beginning, I’ve considered The O.Z. to be the spiritual successor to Spencer & Locke, both in terms of our general mashup high concept and the themes we’re exploring, so anyone who’s enjoyed that series will love what we’re doing here. But similar to Going to the Chapel, we wanted The O.Z. to be a series that had a wider sense of scale, with a bigger, character-driven cast all led by an awesome action heroine.
So, I think The O.Z. very much hits the sweet spot in between my two previous books, but reimagines it through this twist on the fantasy and war genres — but at its core, it’s ultimately a comic about someone having to face up to the scars of their past, and try to make things right for the future. Whereas Spencer & Locke was about trauma and mental illness and Going to the Chapel was about dysfunction and commitment, The O.Z. really focuses on leadership and the impossible choices we make in war — what’s considered the moral imperative when every decision you make winds up with someone’s blood on your hands?
But at the same time, fans of my work know that I love balancing character work and action, and so we’ve got those kinds of over-the-top set pieces that make this series bridge the gap between epics like Mad Max and Star Wars. While there’s definitely some heavy themes to this book, our goal is to strike that balance so we’re never wallowing too long in bleakness — and I think when readers get to meet characters like the Tin Soldier or the Wizard of Oz, they’ll get that same sort of sweet-and-spicy flavor that permeates much of my previous work.
BD: In light of the Kickstarter launch, what are some of the fun backer rewards that are available to those who contribute to your campaign?
DP: I’m very excited about the backer rewards for The O.Z. In addition to Ruben’s spectacular main cover, we’ve also got a trio of incredible variant covers, including our “Death From Above” Winged Monkey cover from Spencer & Locke’s Maan House, our breathtaking “Apocalypse OZ” cover from Rio Burton, and our downright bananas “Hit and Run” cover from Kenneth Wagnon. (Honestly, I was so blown away by Kenneth’s cover that I immediately bought the original art.)
Meanwhile, because I’m keenly aware that there can be a divide between people who buy their books exclusively through the Direct Market and those who buy exclusively on Kickstarter, we have a lot of cross-pollination with my previous books Spencer & Locke and Going to the Chapel, so there are plenty of opportunities to get caught up with my whole body of work.
Finally, we’ve got a bunch of big ticket items for the people who are really gung-ho about The O.Z. — we’ve got original art from artist Ruben Rojas, some opportunities to be drawn into the book, and even an opportunity for me to do a post-pandemic signing at a comic shop of your choosing anywhere in the continental United States. But maybe my favorite reward has to be our “King of the Jungle” tier — we have three leftover Spencer & Locke plushies that I had hand-commissioned for our creative team, and this is your chance to have one.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that The O.Z.’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
DP: That’s a great question — because to be honest, when I first thought about the core concept of The O.Z., even I was a little skeptical. I didn’t want to just dive into the same waters as Spencer & Locke — I would only do the dark nostalgia thing again if I felt like I had something unique and different to say. But as I began to explore the idea further, I quickly fell in love with it, thanks to it being so different in its themes and its overall execution — and that was before the artwork started coming in. The O.Z. is its own animal, and one of the most beautiful projects I’ve ever had the fortune of working on — that’s always been my goal, is to work with artists whose work is so unimpeachable that my storytelling is almost secondary. And let me tell you, as the writer, it certainly takes the pressure off! (Laughs)
But I think by virtue of this being a reimagining of the fantasy genre, The O.Z. is a book that’s got a wide potential readership, and I think we’re making important steps in terms of representation by casting our heroine as a woman of color — because at this point, I feel like that’s our responsibility as creators to diversify our heroes and open the table up for everyone. It just makes sense from a moral, creative, and financial standpoint. Between that and tackling heavy themes like morality during warfare, I think we’re able to offer readers a book that isn’t about shock value — it’s about seeing beloved characters in a new light, and using that universal iconography to really interrogate some of the major issues of the day.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
DP: I’ve got a few irons in the fire! I’ve written a handful of anthology stories during the pandemic that will hopefully be announced and out in the world by the end of the year — two of them are finished, and two of them are in production with the art now, and I’m really happy I’ve been able to bounce from slice-of-life to a creepy spin on crime to horror mash-ups… and finally, a one-shot where I tackle superheroes for the first time. It’s very exciting.
Beyond that, without giving too much away, I do have another unannounced book on the docket that I believe will be hitting stores sometime next year — I can’t talk too much about it yet, but it’s a surprising twist on the coming-of-age genre, a look at truth and reconciliation when you unexpectedly lose your religion. It’s a book that speaks a lot about my own spiritual journey and my relationship with Judaism, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. More to come soon!
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find out more about The O.Z. and its Kickstarter campaign?
DP: Definitely! The O.Z.’s Kickstarter campaign will be live from August 17 through September 18, which you can visit here. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @peposed, or on Facebook at @DavidPeposeComics — finally, you can follow The O.Z.’s pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @TheOZComic.
Like all Kickstarter campaigns, every backer counts, and we’ve got tons of rewards for every level of commitment, for print and digital readers alike — I always treat every book like it’s my first, and so I always want to go above and beyond to earn our readers’ trust. And I think with a book as sweeping and heartfelt as The O.Z., fans are going to be blown away — to be honest, that’s one of the many reasons we took this route in the first place was because I refused to wait any longer for the world to see Ruben, Whitney, and DC’s masterful work.
You might think you know the story of the Wizard of Oz — but this is the story of what comes next. And after working on this book for so long, I honestly can’t wait for readers to join us in the trenches of The O.Z.