Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Winkies/Oz Con International 2015

Jared Davis reports from Winkie Con 51/Oz Con International 2015 in San Diego, featuring assistance from Aaron Pacentine, Sam Milazzo, Colin Ayres, Miriam Goldman, Rachel Anderson, and guest appearances by Eric Shanower and Emma Ridley.

Download this episode (right click and save)

You can also subscribe to the podcast on the podcast website.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Let's go back to Oz!

Hey, it's been awhile since I posted anything...

To be honest, after this year's Winkie Con, I kind of had trouble getting back to my routine. Even my sleeping schedule has suffered. (I was getting up pretty early, then I went to Winkies, and now I just get out of bed in time to get ready.) Also, I had some commitments for The Baum Bugle to rush out. But here we are, so let's get ready to go.

I'm still very excited about NBC's live version of The Wiz debuting December 3. Keep an eye open, because the last two musicals also had a "making of" special that aired a week or two before the production. (They've put these on the DVD as well.)

The entire main cast has been announced:

Dorothy - Shanice Williams
Aunt Em - Stephanie Mills
Addaperle (The Good Witch of the North) - Amber Riley
Scarecrow - Elijah Kelley
Tin Man - Ne-Yo
Cowardly Lion - David Alan Grier
Gatekeeper - Common
The Wiz - Queen Latifah
Evilene (The Wicked Witch of the West) - Mary J. Blige
Glinda - Uzo Aduba

Uncle Henry has not been announced, but he is usually a minor role as it is, and a friend informed me he usually doubles as Evilene's Lord High Underling. I'm looking into doing a special podcast about The Wiz musical in November, so we'll see how that turns out.

In smaller-time Oz news, but no less important, John Troutman revealed a conceptual version of the cover of his upcoming Oz comic Cryptozoology in Oz, which appears to be starting soon.
The comic will be available to read at Troutcave Comics, but John also lets those willing to drop some money get the entire comic ahead of time on Gumroad.

And to let you know what you're in for, John has also released a collection of his Lit Brick Oz strips on Gumroad.

(If anyone's wondering, that's the Tin Woodman's old head there.)

The strips appeared as part of the Lit Brick webcomic in 2013, around the time Oz the Great and Powerful was released in theaters. They cover Baum's fourteen Oz books, as well as The Sea Fairies, Sky Island and Little Wizard Stories of Oz. Note that Troutman doesn't shy away from irreverent humor. There's also a few new pages to make this a proper Lit Brick issue. And it's just $1.

Or, if you like Troutman's work, you could get all of his comics by contributing to his Patreon for $5 a month. You'll get access to all of his comic collections (including the hilarious Gospel of Carol) and be helping him out as well.

Oh, and tomorrow's Ozma's birthday. Cheers!

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The Magic Scroll of Oz

At Oz Con this year, I met Ray Kelley, who was handing out cards promoting his e-book, The Magic Scroll of Oz, which was available through Amazon's Kindle service for only $.99. At that price, I decided it was worth a shot and downloaded it the next time I was near a Wi-Fi friendly spot and began reading it on my trip home.

This is not a long book, and the author said he wanted to be faithful to Baum's world. However, opening the book reminded me of stories I'd read in Oz Reimagined. Yes, the book does cleverly stay in Baum's world, but it's not in the same style. Although it doesn't get excessively violent or explore mature themes, this is not an Oz book for young readers.

The book opens by revealing that Dorothy has tired of Emerald City life and now helps Jack Pumpkinhead on his farm. There also seems to be a rift between Dorothy and Ozma.

Glinda approaches Dorothy with a quest to recover the Royal Historian's magic scroll, which can alter the past, present and future of Oz. Dorothy uses a remaining scrap to create a live stick figure man named Stickler, who gives advice and points the way to the rest of the scroll.

Dorothy is joined by the Cowardly Lion and Sawhorse as she travels north towards the Land of Ev to recover the scroll and discover who was behind the theft.

The book is a fine adventure story and cleverly makes use of Baum's world, even making a visit to Merryland. However, its tone is very dour for an Oz book. Much of the theme seems to be Dorothy revisiting already trodden ground. There is almost no humor to the story. That, however, is the stylistic approach, not a flaw.

There are some continuity gaffes as well. Dorothy mentions facing the Scoodlers with the Wizard, when it was the Shaggy Man. There's a reference to Nome King's tunnel still being open, when The Emerald City of Oz says Ozma closed it. (But, to be fair, Jack Snow makes the same gaffe in The Shaggy Man of Oz.)  Tik-Tok is found in the Royal Palace of Ev and said to be the Royal Army, which is not in line with Baum's books. No explanation is made as to why Tik-Tok has returned to his country of origin. In addition, the rift between Dorothy and Ozma never feels as if it's properly addressed.

Altogether, it's a fine read and also sets up possibilities for what could be even better follow-ups. At the modest price, it's worth checking out.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Leaving Winkies

Relaxing for a bit alone before I check out and ultimately begin my journey home after a wonderful Oz Con/Winkie Con 51. New friendships were formed, online ones improved by meeting them in person, and old friendships strengthened.

So many people were just so wonderful this weekend as we celebrated many anniversaries in the Oz fandom, from Baum's "The Scarecrow of Oz" to Disney's "Return to Oz" to Broadway's "The Wiz" to Gregory Maguire's "Wicked."

Big thanks to Freddy Fogarty and John L. Bell and everyone who worked their butts off to make sure everyone had a delightful time. Your efforts were, as far as I could tell, very much appreciated and fruitful.

It was wonderful to meet Emma Ridley, Justin Case and Paul Maslansky, three people who helped bring one of the more iconic (via emergence through cult classic status) Oz films to life, as well as Craig Miller, who helped promote it, and Kevin Kidney, who helped ensure some treasures were not lost forever.

A big vote of confidence for my old friends Karyl Carlson and Eric P Gjovaag as they attempt to create another delightful convention in Portland, Oregon next year. I believe in you guys!

As I said last night, this convention really is like an annual family reunion (except you actually want to see these people), and each year, leaving seems to get a little more unwelcome, even though you know sticking around would just pin you with an unwieldy charge from the hotel...

I'm writing this from my bed in my room as I slowly get dressed in the clothes I'll have to wear for about two days as I make my way back home via Greyhound.

Thank you, everyone who joined us this year, and for everyone else, I heartily recommend joining us in Portland next year.

We did a live con recap podcast with several guest voices and also have audience commentary to supplement the next episode of Movies of Oz. Perhaps I'll add some photos to the former post.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

NBC's The Wiz Live! — Who's Cast, Who Could Be, and Who Should Be

Earlier this week, NBC announced the addition of Queen Latifah and Mary J. Blige to the cast of The Wiz Live!, which airs December 3rd.

Latifah will play the Wiz, described as "the mysterious and powerful wizard who holds the keys to the Emerald City, but whose metamorphosis from ordinary to extraordinary is itself a hoax," and Blige (a nine-time Grammy Award-winner) will play Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, who "captures Dorothy and her friends to avenge the unintentional murder of her evil sister, Evvamean, and to get back the powerful silver slippers given to Dorothy by the Good Witch of the North." They join original Broadway cast member Stephanie Mills, who was previously announced to play Aunt Em.

E! Online and a number of other entertainment news outlets are reporting that music superstar Beyonce has been offered the role of Glinda - a move that could result in massive ratings for NBC. According to Entertainment Weekly, however, Beyonce has declined multiple offers from NBC, though it's still possible that she could end up signing on. If not, the role could go to Uzo Aduba, star of Netflix's Orange is the New Black. But for now, "Beyonce is only a rumor," says producer Craig Zadan.

As for Dorothy, the creative team is adamant about casting a fresh face, despite Brandy Norwood's shameless campaigning for the role across Twitter, YouTube, and even the New York subways. "I feel like I'm the one to do it," she said in an interview with Playbill, "and I just want Kenny Leon and whoever else who is doing it to let me prove it to them. Give me the opportunity, and I will make them so proud and inspire the world with that role."

Personally, I share many people's concern that Brandy, 36, might be too old for the part (though, in her defense, Diana Ross was 34 when she played Dorothy in the 1978 film). Having said that, I do think that she should be given a chance. She's not quite as much of a "household name" as Queen Latifah or Mary J. Blige, but she would bring some more star power to the production and she's clearly got the talent and passion for the project.

So, who else could we see in NBC's Wiz? Audra McDonald is a good bet, as she appeared in The Sound of Music Live! for the network in 2013. I also wouldn't be surprised if actor/comedian Craig Robinson, best known for his role as Darryl in The Office, joins the cast, given his relationship with NBC with the upcoming sitcom Mr. Robinson. If you ask me, he'd make a pretty great Lion. Other names that have come up among fan discussions include Whoopi Goldberg, Broadway stars James Monroe Igleheart (Aladdin) and LaChanze (If/Then), Fantasia, and even Usher.

Expect to see the rest of the cast to fill up in the next month or two, but in the meantime, let the speculation and wishful thinking continue!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Three Oz Books

The Speckled Rose of Oz by Donald Abbott
Another book set before the events of The Marvelous Land of Oz, Abbott gives the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion another adventure as the wicked Poison Oak and Sir Wiley Gyle (brother of the Wicked Witches) try to turn Oz into a swamp by killing the Speckled Rose of Oz.

Abbott is imaginative here, even if the flow of his stories is still a bit too uneven. Not highly recommended, but not one to avoid either.

The Unwinged Monkey of Oz by Peter Schulenberg
Paramount the monkey has a problem: he was born without wings! Having had enough of feeling like he doesn't belong, he runs away from home and encounters some strange new friends, such as a man who inexplicably turns into a Gump but has no memory of either life, and a cavern full of people made of wet clay. Along the way, Paramount gets wind of a plot by a wicked witch and does what he can to stop her.

Schulenberg improves over past stories by including an antagonist. That said, the antagonist is defeated fairly easily. Still, Schulenberg definitely knows his Oz and clearly displays it here.

The Patchwork Bride of Oz by Gilbert M. Srague
A short story sees the Scarecrow and Scraps get married. There's a nice twist at the end.

Only complaint? It's far too short. It should have been a centerpiece in a book of short stories, not a book of its own. Still, if you can track it down, enjoy!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Good News of 1939

As a bonus episode, The Royal Podcast of Oz presents this old time radio production. Maxwell House's Good News would feature actors from MGM's films, often as promotion for those films. The June 29, 1939 episode featured the upcoming film The Wizard of Oz, including appearances by Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, and the original Broadway Scarecrow, Fred Stone. It's also noteworthy that this was the first time the public heard many of the songs that would become so beloved in the classic film. Please note that most of the behind the scenes stories heard are not accurate to life.

Download this episode (right click and save)

You can also subscribe to the Royal Podcast of Oz at the podcast website.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Oz and the Vulnerable Male

Sometime back, I wrote a blog offering my take on why Oz appeals to gay men. It wasn't a very well thought-out blog, but sometimes ideas are best to say once and then build on later. But here's another thought, which doesn't really explain why gay men love Oz, but why men of all types sometimes embrace it.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and many of its sequels are noted for their strong female characters who take the lead. But this is not to say that there's a lack of male characters. But where are the big, self-confident heroes in Oz?

The answer is that Baum eschewed the typical depiction of male heroes in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and instead gave us male heroes who were not only vulnerable, but were self-aware of their vulnerabilities and open about them.

A good many male heroes are often depicted without many personal vulnerabilities. These are often glossed over or sometimes played down. Take Batman, for example. Depending on the writer, Batman can appear to be just a force of violence who stops short of killing his enemies. Yet he is supposed to have a tender side where he'll relate to the victims of the criminals because he was once victimized himself, and will also refuse to kill or use firearms. But sometimes, fans and even the writers themselves can seem to gloss over Batman's more human side.

In the case of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, every major male character (with the exception of Toto) seems to have them. Uncle Henry seems to be emotionally closed (we are told that he never laughs and seldom speaks), and Baum leaves us to interpret it as we will. The Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion are very much defined by their vulnerabilities. They are each open about qualities they feel they lack and the plot of their stories focus on them trying to obtain these qualities, which they do through experience, though they aren't convinced they have them until the Wizard gives them items that pretty much can be seen as placebos.

The Wizard himself almost personifies the invulnerable man trope until he's exposed, then he reveals he's every bit as human as anyone else. Baum doesn't spend much time on his vulnerabilities, but when he returns in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, we hear more about his past and he even admits that he might die trying to defend Dorothy, Zeb and the animals.

Baum rarely puts such emphasis on the vulnerabilities of male characters again. Jack Pumpkinhead is cautious of his head, as he's very aware that it can spoil. The Frogman puts up a facade of being a wise man when he knows he's just a overgrown frog and the Truth Pond makes him admit this. In addition, Baum's boy characters have often been criticized as not being as well-developed as the girls.

Last year at Oz Con International, I was on a panel about Baum's boys, and while the host was skeptical about our views, John Bell, Paul Dana and I all seemed to think that Baum's boy characters weren't badly depicted. Button-Bright has ADHD or perhaps Aspbergers, Ojo has depression, and the thing is, that's perfectly okay in Oz.

It is no mystery that Baum believed in early feminist ideals. He had great respect for his mother in law, Matilda Joslyn Gage, founder of the Woman's National Liberal Union. Many have pointed to his depiction of female characters in the Oz series as evidence of his feminism. But a good part of feminism has been relieving society from ideals that over-glorify the role of men. This means that not only should women be held in equal esteem and allowed to be who they want to be, but men are free to be only themselves instead of living up to an idealized image.

I think this ideal of feminism is quite evident in the Oz series: strong male characters can be strong male characters. Vulnerable male characters can be vulnerable male characters. They are not trying to live up to some ideal. Women are allowed to be strong or vulnerable and one is not used to shame another.

For this reason, I think, we can point to one reason why the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz appeals to gay men: it is a story about empowerment that is not based on gender. Any character is allowed to be who they are, whether they want to improve themselves or just remain as they are and are thought of as worthy members of society.