Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Symphonic Suite

I just recorded an interview with Alexiel de Ravenswood for a podcast episode next month. Alexiel just released a symphonic suite on Bandcamp, which is a retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz wholly in music.

The suite is a beautiful experience for any Oz fan by someone who really loves Oz and wanted to present their version of it in a new form suited to their talents. And at only $9.99, it's nicely priced.

If you want a sample, a single track, "The Yellow Brick Road," is available for $1.99, but the Bandcamp page lets you listen to a minute of it.

Check back in early May to hear Alexiel talk about the suite.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Movies of Oz — The Wiz Live

Jay and Sam dish out about NBC's live TV adaptation of The Wiz, including what they really thought of Mary J. Blige and Hamilton gets referenced again.

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site, or use the player and links below.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Friday, April 15, 2016

Details Emerge on Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz

About a month ago, a trailer for Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz - an apparent sequel to the direct-to-video spin-off of the MGM film, Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz - appeared online.

We now know the premise of the film and have the cover artwork and a release date, thanks to its listing on Amazon, where you can now you can now pre-order the DVD for its release on June 12.
With the Wicked Witch of the West now vanquished from Oz, Tom and Jerry along with Dorothy are back in Kansas! But not for long as an all-new villain has surfaced from beneath the magical land, the Gnome King! Having captured the Good Witch, the Gnome King and his army are wreaking havoc throughout Oz and need but one item to take control of The Emerald City, Dorothy's ruby slippers! It's up to our favorite cat and mouse duo to team up, go Back to Oz and save the land they love. Take to the skies, courtesy of the Wizard himself, with Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion as they make their magical journey. The laughs and adventure will roar as they encounter all-new frights and mischievous creatures down the Yellow Brick Road, 'cause "we're not in Kansas anymore!" 
While I didn't love Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz, I'm actually pretty excited to see this, mostly because the Gnome Nome King will be the big bad this time around. I'm interested in seeing if any other characters, settings, or story elements from the books end up in the film and in seeing how it expands on the "world" of the MGM film. And who knows? We might even get some nods to Return to Oz or even the DIC TV series.

Also exciting to me is the film's voice cast, which includes Frances Conroy, Jason Alexander of Seinfeld, and James Monroe Iglehart, who won a Tony for his role as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin on Broadway. We don't yet know which characters these actors will be voicing, but I assume that they will be characters that did not appear in Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz.

My only concern or complaint worth mentioning at the moment is that it does seem like the film will be given a Blu-ray release. The trailer only includes mention of the film's availability on DVD and digital HD, and Amazon does not currently have a listing up for a Blu-ray. It's possible that there are plans to release it on Blu-ray later on (maybe packaged with Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz), but we'll just have to wait and see.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Ozbusters! What's the official title of the Oz series?

The Chronicles of Narnia. The Space Trilogy. The Alice Books. The Harry Potter Series. The Hunger Games Trilogy. The Little House Books. A Song of Ice and Fire. The Earthsea Cycle.

What do these (and other) series have in common? Each has a title that immediately identifies them. If it was not approved by the author, then they are generally known by that title by fans and are generally marketed by the publisher as such. In this way, they have an "official" title.

So, what's the official title of the Oz series?

The answer is...

They don't have one.

Now, this isn't exactly true, the Oz books are generally identified as "the Oz series" and "the Oz books" by fans and literary agencies. But yet, the Oz books have a problem as to what that identifies. Generally, if they say, "The Oz series by L. Frank Baum," it generally means Baum's 14 original novels, not the books the original publisher of most of his books published after his death, and not the ongoing series of books by fans.

But there's a term we've seen fans of the books use over and over, "the Famous Forty Oz books." Is that the official title?

Not quite in the same capacity. I admit, I haven't fervently researched the origin of the term "Famous Forty," but I believe it actually came from how Reilly & Lee eventually listed the Oz books on flaps of dustjackets and inside the books themselves. The series was listed as "The Famous Oz Books," and when the list was completed (and seen inside some of the White Edition Oz books), the total came up to 40. The Famous Oz books of which there were forty. The Famous Forty.

In recent years, fans have ran with this, and I've even heard Baum's books listed as "The Founding Fourteen," and Joe Bongiorno has designated a "Sovereign Sixty" on his Oz Timeline website.I even used the title "Famous Forty Plus" to refer to not just the Famous Forty, but other works by the authors of those books.

And that is where things begin to get messy as we look at the Oz series as it stands. No one publisher publishes the entire Oz series these days, and while copies of all the books can be found with a little searching, having a complete uniform collection is very difficult. And considering other entries to the Oz series, mainly Baum's
Little Wizard Stories (since Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz and The Woggle-Bug Book can get messy when attempting to place them in with the others) and the books and stories the International Wizard of Oz Club, Hungry Tiger Press and Books of Wonder have published by the Famous Forty authors? What about Baum's fantasies he tied to Oz? Particularly The Sea Fairies and Sky Island, do these count as Oz books? Other series have side series that flesh out the worlds from the main series, do these count as a tie-in series, and if so, what is their official designation?

Baum's fantasies that he tied to Oz eventually have been given the honorary title "Borderlands of Oz" books because some reprints of
The Sea Fairies and Sky Island were given that designation in advertising and even on the cover of Sky Island. Those two books are more closely linked to the Oz series than, say, Queen Zixi of Ix and John Dough and the Cherub, but it's a nice title for them since those stories take place in lands that are close to Oz on the maps Baum created.

But still, what about those other directly Oz stories? And what if you just don't like Thompson, Neill, Snow, Cosgrove, and McGraw's stories and just consider Baum's books to be the only real Oz books?

This is why the lack of an official designation is a blessing as well as a curse. If my understanding of "Famous Forty" is correct, that term was not used as a means of designating what are the "official" Oz books, but a pure marketing ploy. Yes, those books were published with authorization of Baum's estate and under the same publisher as his own books, but there was really no authority to ensure that the books had a good continuity. As much as Oz fans may love them, it's a clear point that many details about Oz change from author to author, and sometimes even that author changes details with no real explanation.

Thus, I counter, Oz continuity can be subject to personal selection. Don't like Neill's talking houses? (No one does.) Ignore his books. (And if you were thinking of writing a derivative work, since they're still under copyright, take that advice as well.) There's so many nooks and crannies to Oz that if you ignore those details, it doesn't necessarily mean you're saying they don't exist, you're just not acknowledging them at this time.

The Oz series is unique in that you can apply any title you'd like to the series and decide what books are contained therein.

I mean, it's not like Baum invented a series title, right?

... Well, actually... He did.

In the introduction of
Rinkitink in Oz, Baum drops a few teasers for his next Oz book, and says, "I have an idea that about the time you are reading this story of Rinkitink I shall be writing that story of Adventures in Oz."

That could be read as Baum saying the story will tell of adventures in Oz, except he capitalizes the word "Adventures." So, has the Oz series had a name all these years in "Adventures in Oz" and it just hasn't been applied?

Well, apparently so. But unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if Reilly & Britton (later Lee) took the hint and marketed the series under that title, nor have fans really accepted it and applied it to the series. So while Baum gave us a title for the series, we've just never used it.

(Edit 4/13/2016: Eric Gjovaag points out that
Adventures in Oz was actually the working title for The Lost Princess of Oz. So, I'm actually not correct there. Still, the title could work for the series, except that a number of books take place outside of the proper environs of Oz.)

Still, not having an officially agreed on title puts the Oz series in a spot with J. R. R. Tolkien's works. While there are three books collectively known as "The Lord of the Rings," there's a number of his other books that tell of the same world, and they don't really have an official collective title either.

So, result: the Oz books do not have an officially agreed on title or continuity. There's some good titles to work with, one even offered by the series creator, but nothing seems to have stuck. It's strictly up to you to decide how you enjoy the series.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Wizard of Oz Returns

As the next episode of The Royal Podcast of Oz is still in editing, here's a rare Oz audio treasure to tide you over. The Wizard of Oz Returns was an original sequel to The Wizard of Oz released in the 1960s. The original set had a record and a foldout game board with instructions, cutout playing pieces and a spinner, thanks to a 2-disc album sleeve. It was also reissued without the game as The Further Adventures of the Wizard of Oz.

You can listen, subscribe and download at the podcast site or use the player and links below.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Royal Podcast of Oz: What's An "OmniOzologist?"

For lack of anything else to do during February, Jared and Sam interview... each other! How did they discover Oz for themselves, what does "OmniOzologist" mean, and how much does Sam not like Wicked and Frozen?

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site or use the player and links below.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

OzBusters! Libraries and Oz

It's been widely reported that a number of libraries refused to stock the Oz books. As Eric Gjovaag says...
Some librarians just didn't stock long series of books, because of the expense and shelf space. Others unfairly linked Baum with poor writing, or didn't like some of the messages conveyed in the books. Some even thought that fantasy was bad for children to read. And it didn't help that Reilly and Lee was not a big publishing house, able to generate enough publicity and interest for libraries to want to carry them. (Most of the recommended reading lists that libraries used to select books were compiled by the big publishing houses, who ignored the Oz books because they didn't publish them.)
 Recently, The Baum Bugle editor in chief and Oz bibliophile Craig Noble mentioned that he wasn't sure about the supposed lack of Oz books in libraries given how many library binding editions of the Oz books he'd found.

While this does raise an interesting point, I think I've found an explanation.

The library binding editions seem to date after the 1960s, when Reilly & Lee were bought up by a bigger publishing company, Henry Regnery (later Contemporary Books, now part of McGraw-Hill). More specifically, these were the Rand-McNally paperback versions of the "White Editions" rebound.

A library binding was usually not as ornate as the mass market editions. These were bound on usually thicker and more sturdy boards that would stand up to heavier use. They'd have minimal or simplified printing or stamping designs on the covers and also usually didn't have a dustjacket. In more recent years, this has been abandoned and libraries stock mass market editions.

I haven't personally seen any of the library editions, but the ones I've seen pictures of from collectors who pick them up seem to be rebound versions of the famous "White Editions" from the 1960s and 1970s. These editions reworked the layouts of the original editions into new, uniformly elaborate editions that were also wholly in black and white inside. Since prior editions used colored cloths in binding and these used white cover boards with color printing on them, they were nicknamed "White Editions" by fans and collectors.

Given Eric's statement, and the fact that most library editions I've seen pictured seem to be based on the White Editions, I'd guess that unlike before, being part of a bigger publisher, the Oz books could now be printed in big enough numbers to offer library editions and be available to libraries at reasonable costs.

This was about the same time that the earliest generations of Oz fans were now able to write their own respectable opinions on why the Oz books were worthy literature, so the timing couldn't have been better!

I'm working on a good bit of speculation here, though, so if you think I'm missing a point here or missing some other factors or am totally off the mark, go ahead and leave a comment!

EDIT: Well, less than an hour later, Craig contacted me about library editions, including showing several of his own library editions of Thompson titles which were not part of the White Editions line and were available for sale. So while Henry Regnery may have helped in production numbers, Reilly & Lee were producing such editions before they became part of that company.

EDIT: Further comments reveal that library binding versions date back to the 1920s. The refusal to stock Oz books in libraries was not universal, but the cases where they were refused got a lot of attention!

Sunday, February 07, 2016

My "Return To Oz" FAN COMIC - Two Versions

Disney's "Return to Oz" has had a couple of comic treatments: the official Disney paperback comic and the Sunday Strips (which have yet to be seen more of).

 In mid 2009, I came up with the idea to do my own comic of it (because, after a time, I found I didn't really like the official comic): an "elaborate" 3-part fan comic that told almost the entire story, but also added in the Deleted Scenes as well as a few variations of scenes, from my own thoughts or illustrating those from Joan D Vinge's movie novel.

At the end of 2009, I had completed Part 1.
 By June 2010, I had completed and uploaded the remaining two parts, entirely on Photobucket, for its 25th Anniversary:

When I started having computer problems in October 2013, I decided to get back into the comics and revise it for the upcoming 30th Anniversary.

While the "Photobucket" version had all been in pencil and rough, this new "Revision" would be Inked, with spare use of colour.
But as before, I used the same pages I did the first time, recycling and reusing the sheets so that when you turned them over, it was almost like a real comic with words and images on both sides.

This involved a lot more detail and serious consideration to be better than before. There were some pages I had done I just could NOT LOOK AT!! It would also allow me to redo and fix up mistakes I had let in before.

It was much harder this time around, often frustrating and lonely because no one else could do this the way I could ... and as it usually happens, other people and things would occupy you from your work.

But finally, even though the date June 21st had long gone, I was finishing the comic, had added more pages ... and became the first thing I shared as my new profile on DeviantArt:

It is amazing to see these two side by side. Were it not for such similarities, they could almost be considered done by different people.

There are differences between the two: quantity, detail, spare use of colour ... and there are similarities too: black-and-white telling, the pacing and telling.

I am glad to have this work done and (although I'm still editing the pages' descriptions on DeviantArt) can now move onto other projects that may need me to draw, Oz or otherwise . . .
. . . but I will always be happy to talk about my adaptation!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

I went to see Wicked!

Last night, the people of Springfield, Missouri had their first chance to see the musical Wicked without traveling to another city. Which was surprising to me as we haven't even gotten Phantom of the Opera as it was supposedly too complicated for the Juanita K. Hammons Hall to stage.

I—of course—went.

Wicked (sometimes subtitled The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz) is loosely based on Gregory Maguire's Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. That novel offers a dark new take on Oz, re-examining the themes of good and evil through the eyes of the Wicked Witch of the West. Maguire largely built his take on Oz around Baum's original book, but his Wicked Witch is basically MGM's with green skin, flying on a broom, and a penchant for black clothes.

Wicked the musical rebuilds their Oz around the framework of the MGM movie, but just enough to not get sued. The plot is similar enough to some extents: Elphaba had a bad family life and had a disabled sister (Nessarose has no arms in the novel, in the musical, she is unable to walk), Glinda and Elphaba met at school, where they room together, Elphaba takes an interest in the rights of Animals (capital A indicates speech and humanoid sentience), they meet a Winkie prince named Fiyero Tigelaar at school, the girls visit the Emerald City and have an audience with the Wizard and the girls part ways afterward, Elphaba becomes involved with Fiyero, she takes his western castle of Kiamo Ko, the origins of Dorothy's three friends are hinted at (or in some cases, spelled right out), and the events of Baum's famous story occur, though there's more that we didn't see from his perspective.

The alterations make a more light-hearted and simpler story, one that has made the show a hit on Broadway for about thirteen years.

The Time Dragon Clock frames the stage and much of the scenery seems to be set inside the clock. The clock is referred to in dialogue once, but never again. One who has read the novel could interpret this as the clock itself showing the entire story and the cast depicting the puppets who appear inside it to tell its mysterious tales. Given the transformation sequences of the show in which the scenes change while characters from the previous scene who are not supposed to be in next scene are still onstage for a moment, I'd think this is likely supposed to be the case.

Of course, I need to mention the songs. Like any good musical, the tunes are well-done and enhance the story. They most often do not move the story along, however. But one might well find themselves singing songs like, "No One Mourns The Wicked," "Popular," "One Short Day," "Defying Gravity," and "For Good."

The story follows Elphaba and Glinda through school, being accidentally put together as roommates at first, and having a severe loathing of each other until a couple selfish actions from Glinda are misinterpreted by Elphaba as an offer of friendship, which she decides to accept. The girls put their differences aside and become fast friends until they both realize that the government of Oz are favoring human people over Animals and stripping their rights and the Animals are losing their speech. Elphaba and Glinda go to the Emerald City to meet with the Wizard, and once they see him for who he is, their paths split again. The events of Act II show how bad things get as events begin to crossover with the story of The Wizard of Oz, which eventually force Elphaba and Glinda to meet again.

Overall... I liked it. I can't say that I was particularly impressed as I'd seen bootleg videos of the show before, seen the script and heard the songs several times. While I was finally seeing it live properly, most of the action was familiar to me. (And to the girl sitting next to me who didn't turn her phone off or keep it put away, you didn't help.)

Wicked plays well with the theatrical nature of Oz with over the top characters and a lot of good energy and spectacle, even if it's a version of Oz that really should be evaluated on its own rather than seen as a companion to a book or a film. (Despite the creators' claims to not contradict the movie, I find the Wizard's final scene to be pretty incompatible with the film's events.) Fans of Baum's books should keep a careful eye on the stage during "One Short Day" to see a Denslow picture actually reworked into a prop, and a cameo of the Hammerheads. I've heard the Sawhorse makes a cameo, but I failed to spot him.

I found most of the cast to be well-acted, particular Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda and Jake Boyd as Fiyero. Emily Koch's Elphaba did not have much subtlety or nuance about her, often just sounding angry. However, she was very good in "For Good," "No Good Deed," and "As Long As You're Mine."

Overall, I'd say Wicked is a musical that every Oz fan should see at least once. Whether they like it or not is up to them.