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West of Oz and Middlewest take Cu Denver to Emerald City

Illustrator Jorge Corona talks about his comic book Middlewest.
Photo: Alex Predmore · The Sentry

On Oct. 9, CU Denver Professor Andrew Scahill, who teaches literature with an emphasis in film, held an event for two comic book creators, where students were able to ask questions and listen about their creative processes. The creators who were invited included Sean Benner, author of West of Oz, and Jorge Corona, illustrator of Middlewest. Both take the classic novel of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz and twist it with their own creative storytelling.  

West of Oz by Sean Benner is an adaptation taking everything students know about Dorothy Gale and her friends into an 80s intertextuality. With references to Scooby Doo, The Beatles, and Masters of the Universe, West of Oz reminds readers of the classic nostalgia they long for.

Sean Benner started this comic as a parody of the original story with his partner Nick Winland. As the two got deeper into writing, they decided to develop the comic as a full-length graphic novel for all ages to enjoy.  

The story mixes expectations and surprises. Dorothy Gale is still traveling through Oz to get back home; however, she is no longer small and meek. Her design is comparable to a “bounty hunter” in a western setting. It borrows tropes from Tomb Raider in order to give readers a fresh interpretation of Dorothy as a fighter. 

Middlewest strays away from the clear references to Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. It focuses on a young boy named Abel living in an old land full of plains and hills. According to Corona, he wanted to “represent [the] midwest as this vast land.” Abel is challenged with the relationship between him and his father, embarking on a journey to find what it means to be his true self. 

Corona wanted to change the meaning of home in his own work. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s goal is to return home where she felt a belonging. However, Abel’s home seems to be somewhere other than where he grew up. His relationship with his new companions, one of which is a witty fox with a tongue as sharp as his senses, drive the story rather than enhancing the situation they are in. Some people may describe Fox as an anti-hero of the story, becoming a characterized Toto. 

Towards the end of the event, audience members were able to participate in a Q&A session. There, the three guests helped the audience gain a better understanding of the business of comic books, with much of the conversation centered around working for major companies versus working on Kickstarter. When asked what he was hoping the students would get out of this event, Scahill said, “Comics are often derided as a frivolous or simplistic medium. I hope that students are able to better appreciate comics as a complex and unique mode of storytelling.”

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