In 1900, the children’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum could be purchased for $1.50. Today, a first edition of the book sells for $40,000 and up, a reflection of the cultural significance of Baum’s creation.
For more than 100 years, the Oz characters have spawned spinoffs, from the iconic 1939 film starring Judy Garland to the novel and musical “Wicked.”
They also are in comics, which date back as early as the original “Oz” books. Some of those images are on view at the Cartoon Art Museum in a show called “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
Chaotic scenes full of fantastical characters such as Jack Pumpkinhead, Saw-Horse, Scarecrow, Woggle-Bug and the Gump — a cobbled-together creature made of a moose head, sleigh, palm frond wings and a broom tail — fill frames. Accompanied by several paragraphs of text, the images are the size of a full newspaper page.
Most of the vintage clippings in the show are from the series “Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz,” which Baum authored in 1904 to promote the first of his 13 Oz sequels.
Political cartoonist Walt McDougall illustrated the strip, continuing Baum’s pattern of collaborating with various illustrators, including W.W. Denslow and John R. Neill.
McDougall’s strips are full of swift movement and tangible emotion. Often a motley cavalcade of characters find themselves in crises: The Tin Woodman falls into rushing water, only to be kept afloat by Jack Pumpkinhead’s detached noggin.
The collision between what’s beautiful and what’s grotesque permeates the Oz world. Baum’s bizarre, often clunky characters — a spectrum of strange creatures — created a new myth that inspired stories for future generations of artists, as did Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
Baum, while lacking Carroll’s literary cachet, shares his penchant for nonsense and surrealism, which created fertile ground for artists to exercise reinvention.
Eric Shanower, an artist known for his “Age of Bronze” series, has been invested in the Oz lineage for 26 years, starting with the “Enchanted Apples of Oz” comic in 1986. Examples in the show prove how Baum’s characters and settings remain appealing and relevant.
IF YOU GO
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Where: Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission St., San Francisco
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; closes April 15
Tickets: $3 to $7
Contact: (415) CAR-TOON, www.cartoonart.org