The most repellent published work with the name Oz in the title I have ever seen.
Steve Teller - Critic and Oz Collector

An Authorized History

Once upon a time, back in the last decade of the twentieth century and early in the so-called black and white explosion, E.Jordan Bojar decided to seek his fortune in publishing. Thus was born Brave New Words, a small comics publisher based in Rhode Island. BNW published a variety of comics by a variety of talents. The best selling of these was a high concept series called Oz Squad. The basic premise was "What if Dorothy and the gang grew up and became secret agents?"

Oz Squad was the brainchild of Steve Ahlquist, inspired by the series of children’s books written by L.Frank Baum. (For a brief history of the original Oz series and an overview of some of the thousands of publications that sprang from it see this listing of Oz related books, stories and articles) The first four issues were written by Ahlquist and illustrated by Andrew Murphy (inked by Ande Parks until issue three). Oz Squad outlived BNW. After the initial miniseries (and an aborted restart at another publisher) Ahlquist formed Patchwork Press, a publishing cooperative, and the last issues of the series (with art by Terry Loh) came out under that banner.

I was involved, ever so slightly in the creation of this first series of Oz Squad. I drew the cover and inked Andrew Murphy’s pencils for the fourth issue. I provided pin-ups for reprints of the first four issues. I was one of the artists involved in the Millenium Special.

I have a fondness for Oz Squad that has nothing to do with my own involvement in its publication,. As kids, my brother, Glenn, and I devoured Baum’s original Oz books and hunted down all the books we could find by other authors. We would compose lists of titles of the Oz books we would write when we got around to it. We were annoyed with the MGM musical because it had the bad taste to declare Oz to be a dream and there to be no place like home. (Duh. That’s why you leave home already.) Glenn grew up to collaborate with Eric Shanower on writing Trot of Oz. (Glenn and I are also ssssllllooowwwwllllyyyyy working on an Oz graphic novel. He’s writing. I’m drawing. We take turns taking forever to get our parts finished.) Having experienced quite a few of the adaptations, sequels, spin-offs, rehashes, reboots and re-imaginations of Oz I’d say that Ahlquist does a lot right. He remembers what a lot of authors forget – Oz is both a whimsical and a dangerous place. And Dorothy kicks ass.

Issue #1
Pencils by Andrew Murphy / Inks by Ande Parks / Additional Art by Mike Sagara

In which Tik-Tok comes to visit the Squad on Earth and discovers that his internal morality spring has run down. Terran existence is too much for his mechanical brain and he goes crazy. Much evil and throwing of babies ensues.

Issue #2
Pencils by Andrew Murphy / Inks by Dan Schaefer

In which the Squad infiltrates Castle Munchausen in order to recover Tik-Tok's blueprints. Rebecca Eastwitch has put them up for sale to the highest bidder. The Squad finds themselves up against winged monkeys, indestructible Chinese agents and Liliputian assassins.

Issue #3
Pencils by Andrew Murphy / Inks by Dan Schaefer

Part two of the Castle Munchausen saga. Scarecrow loses an arm. Hungry Tiger gets torn apart. Nick loses his head. Lion gets a perm. Much mayhem and violence.

Issue #4
Pencils by Andrew Murphy / Inks by David Lee Ingersoll

In which Tik-Tok sets himself up as a crime lord on Earth and the Squad tries to take him down.

Millenium Special
Layouts by Dave Ray / Finished Art by Justin Norman/David Lee Ingersoll/Ron Sutton

In which we learn that Dorothy had an affair with JFK and that God was looking the other way on November 22nd, 1963 so the reality of what happened that day is always in flux.

(Initially Millenium Press was going to be the new publisher of Oz Squad after Brave New Words shut down. They proved to be a poor fit. With a small coalition of friends Ahlquist formed Patchwork Press to continue the series.)

Issue #5
Art by Terry Loh

In which Glinda initiates Dorothy as a Compass Witch. Mombi and Rebecca Eastwitch protest. Ozma throws a party for Dorothy's100th birthday.

Issue #6
Art by Terry Loh

In which the Scarecrow is thrown back in time to 15th century Italy. He seeks help from Leonardo DaVinci and tangles with Jeanne D’Arc (the vampire).

Issue #7
Art by Terry Loh

In which the Squad (minus the Lion) and Ozma take a ride on Smythe & Tinker’s time train and end up trapped in Oz’s past.

Issue #8
Art by Terry Loh

In which Dorothy, unstuck in time and space, meets L.Frank Baum and arrives in the Old West. Liquor swilling, gunplay and spear tossing ensues.

Issue #9
Art by Terry Loh

In which Nick finds himself in his own meat past. We learn the details of his love triangle with Nimee Aimee and Rebecca Eastwitch and a history of the Tin Soldiers.

Issue #10
Art by Terry Loh

In which the witches rebel and the time travel story concludes.

Lil' Oz Squad
Art by Mike Sagara

A comedic take on the Squad is featured in two light-hearted, all-ages stories -
In which the Lil’ Squad takes on Dorothy’s robot double.
In which the Lil’ Squad saves the Ballooniverse from the Pin Cushion Man.

It’s easy to find fault in Oz Squad. No one who worked on the original series (with possible exception of Mike Sagara) was very experienced. The art wasn’t always the best fit for the story. After the first four issues the plotting got either very loose or way too expansive. So what. L.Frank Baum, the Royal Historian himself, was hardly one for consistency in his writing. Get the story moving and keep it moving seems to have been his motto. Oz Squad takes that motto to heart.

The majority of the credit for what worked in Oz Squad rests on Steve Ahlquist’s shoulders. Instead of doing the obvious and just doing a one note grim and gritty Oz characters as superheroes scenario he went world building. There are whole secret/alternate histories of Earth and Fairyland behind his stories. Oz Squad is more Grant Morrison/Doom Patrol than Alan Moore/Watchmen or Frank Miller/Dark Knight Returns. It takes what’s great about Oz for "kids" and transposes it to an "adult" paradigm. It gets and transcends its own joke.

Oz is a weird and creepy and silly and wonderful place. Inanimate things come to life. (In John R. Neil’s books everything – trees, houses and rocks - was alive.) A man chops himself to bits and his bits are replaced by tin. (And later he has a conversation with his own former head.) Monkeys fly. Kalidahs want to eat you. A little girl (get Judy Garland out of your head, Dorothy is about six when she first comes to Oz) has the drive and determination to travel to the Emerald City and out again and back and then off to find Glinda. She might get discouraged but she never gives up. Ahlquist knows this. He gets the simultaneous wonder and absurdity and terror of it all.

Every issue tosses some cool bit of invention and/or smartassedness at you. The diminishing octuplets. Castle Munchausen. The real reason the Scarecrow is alive. Why rich kids get more presents. The time paradoxes. The Cold War Squad. The Lone Gunman and his magic bullet. And so much more.

Oz Squad ceased publication with the tenth issue in 1996. Patchwork Press shut down and Ahlquist moved on to other projects. I gave up trying to have any sort of career in comics. That seemed to be that.

But Oz stays with all who visit it and no one visits just once. The Squad is coming back. Steve and I are working to revive the series. I'm on board as the illustrator. Steve is writing. We've been through one false start so far. (I'll post part of that work as a web gallery at some point). The new Squad will be in color and takes place a few years after the end of the first series.

In the meantime Steve has collected the entire series into a pair of trade paperbacks. The first volume collects issues 1-4, the Millenium Special and Lil' Oz Squad. The second volume completes the set by with issues 5-10. The covers are my work. Follow the links below to order the collections.

The Complete Annotated Oz Squad, Volume One

The Complete Annotated Oz Squad, Volume Two

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four

Oz Squad is copyright 2006 by Steve Ahlquist
Illustrations copyright 2006 by the originating artists
This page was updated 7/13/06

Sentient 39 is copyright 2005 by David Lee Ingersoll
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