Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Characters of Oz — Inga, Rinkitink and Bilbil

This entry is a little odd because originally, these three characters were not Oz characters. They are the heroes of Rinkitink in Oz, which was actually written in 1905 as King Rinkitink. For whatever reason, Baum had held the book back from publication. Most likely, he had realized that it was a better idea not to release too many Baum books each year, and after The Marvelous Land of Oz and Queen Zixi of Ix in St. Nicholas Magazine (and the collected novel edition), he decided to shelve it.

Rinkitink was the first book Baum wrote that featured a group of characters going to the Nome Kingdom to rescue royal prisoners and going through a tough trial to complete their task. This element was successfully reworked into Ozma of Oz. Ozma was in turn adapted into the musical The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, in which the prisoner was reduced from royalty to a tramp's brother. As the musical was a loose amalgamation of elements from several Oz books, Baum adapted it into Tik-Tok of Oz, adding in an original fairyland on the other side of the world that the characters are temporarily sent to, as well as shaking up the Nome Kingdom's throne and putting Oz proper into the final chapters.

Health conditions and other issues gave Baum little time to produce a new book for 1916, so he decided to see if he had any manuscripts that he might turn into an Oz book. And so, King Rinkitink had its opening revised to mention Oz, and part of its original ending changed to have Dorothy and the Wizard suddenly visit the Nome Kingdom to resolve the plot and facilitate a trip to Oz. Unfortunately, the original version of King Rinkitink is not known to exist, so how our heroes eventually left the Nome Kingdom is anyone's guess.

Inga is main character of the book, and is the prince of island kingdom of Pingaree, which harvests luscious pearls they trade for goods to keep their country thriving. A studious young man, Inga is made privy to the family secret of the three magic pearls by his father. Hidden under a floor tile, the three pearls have magic powers: the blue pearl gives whoever carries it great strength, the pink pearl makes its carrier invincible, and the white pearl whispers words of wisdom or advice.

Inga happens to be in a tree top studying when Pingaree is invaded, enslaved, carried off and devastated by Regos and Coregos and manages to escape imprisonment. Finding the visiting Rinkitink and Bilbil the talking goat, Inga takes lead of the survivors and recovers the pearls at night, later taking them to Regos and Coregos where they use the pearls to drive the king and queen away, despite a few mishaps. They chase King Gos and Queen Cor to the Nome Kingdom, where the Nome King (Kaliko, who acts suspiciously like his predecessor) keeps King Kitticut and Queen Garee of Pingaree prisoner after being paid.

Inga defies Kaliko and uses the pearls to defeat a series of trials for him. Perhaps these trials were enough to win his parents back in the original version, or perhaps the Nome King had another challenge for him. But in the published version, Inga and his parents are freed by Dorothy and the Wizard dropping in with a basket of eggs. After a brief visit to Oz, Inga and his friends and family return to Pingaree, where they find everything rebuilt even more glorious than before.

King Rinkitink rules a small kingdom called Gilgad, where he amiably rules, but feels overwhelmed by his duties. Rinkitink in Oz has him take an unannounced vacation during which he sneaks away to Pingaree and is an honored guest until Regos and Coregos attack. He escapes imprisonment by falling down a well, which Inga and Bilbil rescue him from.

Although always preferring comfort and food and a song (which he writes and sings on the spot, much to Bilbil's chagrin), Rinkitink does manage to give some good advice to Inga, and later helps the boy keep the secret of the pearls, using one himself to get past a few trials the Nome King puts him through.

Finally, the jolly fat king of Gilgad returns home after his adventures, much to his dismay. But he is glad to have had his adventures with Inga.

Bilbil is something of an oddity. In the original version, it was supposed to be a curious thing that he was a talking goat. However, since it was released as the tenth Oz book and just about every animal has talked in the series now, the reader can easily miss that it's supposed to be a mystery as to why this goat can talk.

The gruff, surly goat serves as Rinkitink's steed. Rinkitink is too fat to walk far without tiring and cannot expect to ride a taller beast. Bilbil accepts his duty, but not without complaint. He seems to despise being attached to Rinkitink, even suggesting that Inga leave him in the well. However, Bilbil does pull his weight in the story, helping Inga and even butting King Gos and Queen Cor at great speeds.

After being protected by Rinkitink and his borrowed pearl, Bilbil meets the Wizard, who wonders why the goat can talk, since he's never been to Oz. (Because we've seen talking foxes, donkeys and chickens outside of Oz and now this is a surprise, Wizard?) He then identifies Bilbil as the transformed Prince Bobo of Boboland. (We never discover who enchanted him or why in the Famous Forty.) Returning to Oz, the Wizard and Glinda work hard to restore Bobo to his natural form, and he proves to be an amiable prince, though the last line of the book suggests that he still isn't a fan of Rinkitink's songs.

I recently revamped Bobo's character for a short story in Oziana that ballooned into Marcus Mebes and Jeff Rester's The Royal Explorers of Oz series. In it, I reveal that Bobo is amiable, as long as things go his way. If not, he turns surly and grouchy, much as he was when he was a goat. Marcus and Jeff then whisk the character off a devastating adventure on The Crescent Moon that makes him re-evaluate how he sees things.

Aside from that, I've seen Rinkitink and Bobo appear in small roles in non-Famous Forty tales. Inga not so much, though a couple books have him lend the pearls to the heroes. But the history of Oz is ever-expanding. Perhaps the prince (or now king?) of Pingaree will have another adventure in the near future, perhaps with his old friends.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Queen Ann in Oz

I bought a new edition of a book I already owned at the Winkie Convention this year. Queen Ann in Oz had humble beginnings in the 1980s as a round robin tale by the attendees of the Oogaboo Rendezvous. None of that tale appears in this book, but it did give Eric Gjovaag the idea to collaborate with Karyl Carlson on her story idea to tell a new adventure with Queen Ann. Using snail mail, a book-length tale took shape.

After being approached by Peter Glassman, Queen Ann in Oz was submitted for publication in the early 1990s as Books of Wonder branched into printing new Oz stories. Sure, it was submitted "the wrong way" (printed on dot matrix printing paper), but it was accepted, and soon, Bill Campbell and his partner Irwin Terry were approached to illustrate it.

The book tells of how Queen Ann went out with a group of Oogaboo children and a cute little dragon named Moretomore to seek her long-lost parents. Being joined by the Shaggy Man, they travel through Sand City, Barberville, and the Friendly Forest before coming to the mysterious city of Forgetville, where they must break a mysterious curse.

The story is not very complicated, nor is there really an antagonist (the Barbers of Barberville don't intend to let the party leave, and there is the curse of Forgetville, so there are obstacles), but where the story really shines is characterization. Ann has certainly matured since attempting to conquer the world, and the Shaggy Man is his loveable old self, but the new characters of Jodie Buttons, Jo Musket, Jo Fountainpen, Jo Dragon and Moretomore are also quite well-developed. The children are not a typical happy friendly group, Moretomore has personality quirks, and Jodie's driving purpose is to make a name for herself.

The book makes an odd reference to a certain Bible story. It makes sense, it's just odd to see a Bible story referenced so directly in an Oz book. Otherwise, it's a very fun Oz book, and even creates an answer to how the Love Magnet wound up in America and what the Shaggy Man's name is.

Books of Wonder no longer prints new books, and now, the original edition of Queen Ann in Oz is no longer available new. (Okay, I'm sure someone has mint condition copies, but whatever...) 20 years later, the publication rights went back to the authors, and Joe Bongiorno of The Royal Publisher of Oz (who took the name before I could!) inquired about reissuing it. Plans soon came together to re-edit the book, restoring some of the cuts Books of Wonder made. (I couldn't spot any major changes.) Getting Bill Campbell and Irwin Terry back on board, some of the art that went unused from Books of Wonder's edition was also restored.

Even bigger, this new edition contains a sequel to the book. Karyl takes sole credit on Jodie in Oz, following up on Jodie's attempt to make a name for herself and how she made it happen, with some help from Dorothy, Trot and Cap'n Bill. It definitely makes this new edition worth purchasing on its own, as Karyl writes a whimsical tale about a young girl's persistence in making her wishes happen.

And that is not the only feature! The book also contains the script for "Another Adventure With Ann," a brief Tik-Tok in Oz follow-up skit performed at the 1988 Winkie Convention, written by Eric Gjovaag. Feeling snubbed by a late invitation, Queen Ann re-recruits Private Files to help her conquer the Winkie Country.

The new edition is available in hardcover and paperback. The hardcover is rather highly priced due to it featuring color pictures, which print on demand technology requires that every page be priced as a color page, as the automated process can't tell the difference between color and black and white pages. (Not to mention paper stock issues.) Having seen both editions, I think that if you really want this and can afford it, the hardcover is worthwhile, but the much more modestly priced paperback is just as good if you just want to read the stories and see most of the pictures.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A New Adventure Awaits You in Oz...

Yes, friends, Yellow Brick Road, the animated musical that I am writing and co-directing, is moving right along!

We have a beautiful new poster created by our art director, Tally Todd. I'm rather in love with this artwork, and I think it captures the essence of fun and magic that we want for the film. You'll spot some familiar characters on this poster, and one villainous figure you may not recognize...

In Yellow Brick Road, the adult Dorothy Gale teams up with Oscar Diggs, the former Wizard of Oz, to face the mysterious Betsy Bobbin, who is tearing apart every corner of the land in search of the Silver Slippers. Our heroes will have to work with General Jinjur, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, and the Good Witches in order to uncover Betsy's motives and ultimately defeat her.

The film is currently in pre-production, with release slated for 2016. We are beginning the casting process, with Ramona Mallory already signed on to provide the voice for Betsy Bobbin.

Ramona is insanely talented, having experience on both the stage and screen. She starred in the 2009 Broadway revival of A Little Night Music, alongside musical theatre legends Angela Lansbury, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Bernadette Peters.

I'm also really excited to have Leigh Scott, who I first worked with on Dorothy and the Witches of Oz, on board as co-director and producer.
















Keep an eye out for more details on Yellow Brick Road very soon. Go ahead and "like" our Facebook page, and we'll be sure to keep you up-to-date on all the latest with the film!

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Movies of Oz — Cinar's Oz Part 1

Jared and Sam begin a multi-part discussion of the PanMedia Wonderful Wizard of Oz anime series as dubbed into English and presented by Cinar. This first episode finds them examining the story arc based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

As always, you can listen and download at the podcast site, or use the player below.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Real, legitimate publishing!

When I set out to complete Outsiders from Oz with the intention of publishing it, it was no question that I'd go for Print On Demand publishing. Perhaps I could have contacted an established Oz publisher such as Tales of the Cowardly Lion and Friends, or Pumpernickel Press, but I opted to set up my own imprint on Lulu. Basically, I wanted to have as much control as possible over my own work.

There is one thing I'm proud to say about Outsiders: the version we first released for sale in 2012 is the same version that's available right now. I put the text through several proofreaders to make sure there weren't any embarrassing typos. I have looked over the book since and wished I'd worded a couple things differently, but have decided that nothing was actually bad to pull the book and re-edit the text and put it back up.

I don't think that practice is fair to your customers. Someone could have been waiting to see your book, then quickly buys your book as soon as it's available, and then, after their copy ships, you change the interior because you missed something that needs to be fixed. Now their copy no longer reflects your intentions. The only ethical thing to do is give them a refund or offer to replace it. However, that is money coming straight out of your pocket. Money you could have saved by rigorously proofreading your book ahead of time. That is why I plan to have all books from Saladin Press put through proofreading.

Saladin Press was named spur of the moment as Outsiders from Oz was being laid out. While I could have used "The Royal Press of Oz," but since I could use the imprint for anything, I went with one that wasn't Oz-specific. As such, there are two non-Oz fantasy books in the earliest stages of writing right now that will likely be printed through Saladin Press. "Saladin" comes from Button-Bright's real first name, as revealed in Sky Island.

However, it's been two years since Outsiders came out, and there's been no new releases from Saladin Press. Until now.

When I was writing "The Way of a Lion," I asked Sam Milazzo if he'd like to illustrate the story. It was already on its way to Oziana 2013 when it won the 2013 Fred Otto Award for fiction, and Sam had showed me the many illustrations he'd turned out. It was clear Oziana couldn't use them all, but I liked them, so I proposed that we put out a picture book edition that could use them all sometime after the Oziana publication. That happened this year as I considered selling books at the Winkie Convention. I decided to do a print run of Lion, completing the book at last. Sam put finishing touches on his work and even redrew one picture.

It wound up being too-cost prohibitive to print stocks of both Lion and Outsiders to bring to Winkies, so I brought the new book only. Instead of using Lulu, I ordered a stock from Hillburn Printing (which Marcus Mebes works for), in a limited run of 36 copies for sale. I priced them at $6.25 each, refunding me for printing costs, and offering myself and Sam a little bit of profit.

Of these copies, I left Winkies with 20 copies left. Three copies have now been sold or spoken for, meaning I have 17 copies left. This edition will not be reprinted or made available on Lulu, as the page size is incompatible with any formats available through that service. The story and illustrations will reappear in a book of prequels about the Land of Oz, but the pictures will be at a much smaller size, while in this edition, each picture gets an entire page to be viewed on. Sam will probably be one of the better Oz illustrators someday, so this edition shows off what he can do.

If you're interested in getting a copy, e-mail me at scarecrowandtinman2002@yahoo.com.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares REVIEW

When I came home from the Winkie Convention last year, I saw someone had contacted me about a restoration that had been done on Ted Eshbaugh's 1933 cartoon adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. The cartoon's been very much available on collections of public domain cartoons and as a bonus feature on many home video editions of the MGM movie from Warner Brothers since 2005. (3 or more DVDs? It's on there. 2 or more disc Blu-Ray that isn't the 3D and 2D only pack? You got it.) But the cartoon looked its age. Colors were drab, scratches could be seen, and there was another print that had been colorized from a black and white version.

So seeing it restored for a high definition Blu-Ray release was a revelation!

Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares is the collection the cartoon is released on. It was delayed in release to ensure every featured cartoon looked its absolute best. (Screen captures are from the DVD edition.)

The set has two discs: the featured cartoons (including Oz) are both on Blu-Ray and DVD, as well as some bonus features. (I haven't looked these over thoroughly, but there don't appear to be any Oz-specific features.) The DVD also includes additional cartoons in good to rather rough shape.

The title is very well earned. All of these cartoons date from 1917 to 1947, a very different time in cartoon animation. Without strict regulations, animators let their imaginations go wild, and in such an experimental time, you can see many styles develop. Thus, you have beautiful cartoons such as "Mendelssohn's Spring Song," to some with disturbing undertones, such as "The Magic Mummy." Some of the DVD-exclusive cartoons get quite disturbing, such as a Mutt and Jeff cartoon featuring a long line of stray cats and dogs being caught and fed to a sausage grinder.

Oz is not the only Eshbaugh short on the set. Two other cartoons by him—"The Snowman" and "Tea Pot Town"—appear. "The Snowman" I had seen before in black and white, but here it appears, restored in two-strip Technicolor. (In fact, when Sam and I discussed Oz on the podcast, I mentioned the cartoon as another example of Eshbaugh's work.) Both are a little disturbing: a happy Eskimo boy and his friends build a snowman, only for it to come to life and terrorize them. Tea pots go out into the world to battle the "Droops," which are little gloomy men who are vaporized by the tea pots' steam.

The presentation on all the cartoons is excellent. Using Blu-Ray's resolution of 1080p, the entire frame of each cartoon is presented so every detail can be seen and appreciated. Each cartoon looks sharp, and you feel sure that any color inaccuracies you see are due to the source, not the transfer. In addition, the sound is very clearly restored as well. Dorothy's cries for Toto sounded so out of place on Warner's presentation, but now they sound much better. The music is very clear as well. You might even find yourself singing, "Hail to the Wizard of Oz! To the Wizard of Oz! He'll lead the way!" And don't worry. The DVD offers you the same thing, just with a smaller picture size. The Blu-Ray will show you the original photography's texture, giving you a real feel of how these were originally presented.

For those unfamiliar with the 1933 Wizard of Oz, I'll be talking about it in a minute, but I want to also bring up some of the other inclusions on the set. There is one of the Disney Alice Comedies, featuring a live action Alice in an animated environment. She doesn't feature heavily in this one, but her feline friend has to deal with a rat infestation! And a longtime favorite of mine, "Raggedy Ann in the Enchanted Square," is the final cartoon on the set. A sweet little cartoon, a policeman gives a thrown away Raggedy Ann doll to a blind girl named Billie, which inspires her to see her neighborhood with her heart and use her imagination to turn it from a city block into a metropolitan fairyland. I shamelessly sang along with the song "You Can See With Your Heart" as I watched.

The 1933 Wizard of Oz cartoon was actually unreleased until it came to video tape in the 1980s, due to complications with Technicolor licensing. It was written by Frank Joslyn Baum, credited as "Col. Frank Baum." (He was L. Frank Baum's oldest son, often called "Frank Jr." He served in World War I and was eventually promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, so while the credit looks as if it wants you read "L. Frank Baum," it is accurate.) He also co-wrote the 1925 Wizard of Oz silent film, but don't worry! This cartoon is much Ozzier than that film!

The cartoon also has three other distinctions: it is the first animated adaption of Oz, the earliest existing color Oz film, and the first Oz film with sound. And—as you'll see in a moment—it had a motif that later appeared in the MGM film.

The Wizard of Oz opens outside the Emerald City and pans over to a book titled "The Wizard of Oz," which opens to reveal the credits. Then, we cut to a monochrome Kansas, where a bored Dorothy plays with Toto by throwing a stick for him to fetch. When a storm whips up, Dorothy and Toto hurry inside before a tornado carries their house away. Falling out of the house, Dorothy and Toto land on the Scarecrow in the Technicolor Land of Oz, and the three journey on together.

Shortly, they find a rusted Tin Woodman, who is quickly oiled (his cap is his oil can here) and brushed off with a clump of the Scarecrow's straw. He then points out that they are not far from the Emerald City. After taking in some sights, they enter the city, where they are greeted with a parade before being shown to the Wizard's palace.

The Wizard is a little bearded man in a standard Wizard garb. He makes seats for Dorothy and her friends appear before doing a magic act with top hats and dancing dolls, then a hen laying magic eggs that burst into funny composite creatures. (Only in Oz!)  One egg appears to be quite undersized, but the hen protects it, knocking the Wizard's wand away. The egg begins to grow as Toto makes off with the wand. The Wizard and Dorothy chase Toto, while the Tin Woodman tries to break the egg and the Scarecrow gives him things to hit the egg with, before finally snatching the wand from Toto, breaking the egg to reveal a tiny baby chick inside. The hen joins the chick and begins to sing "Rockabye Baby" as Dorothy, her friends and the Wizard emerge from the debris and merrily join in.

People wonder why the Cowardly Lion, Wicked Witch and Silver Shoes don't appear. The answer is simply that this wasn't a straightforward adaptation, but an entertainment based on the public's knowledge of Oz. The Lion was not a major character in the famous stage production, and the Wicked Witch and Silver Shoes were nonexistent. Thus, Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman were the four major characters to focus on. Good or bad, the production is what it is, and is actually quite enjoyable, and now looks even better than ever on this Blu-Ray/DVD set.

"But wait," you might be saying, "how much better does it look?"

Well, here's a screen capture from Warner Brother's presentation, specifically the 2009 Emerald Edition DVD.
And here's the same scene (a few frames difference) from the Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares DVD.
The image is clearer, sharper, the colors are more vibrant, and also more of the picture can be seen. Warner Brothers might do well to partner with Steve Stanchfield and Thunderbean Animation for any future reissues as their transfer has clearly been surpassed.

This does bring up a wish of mine that all of the existing pre-1939 Oz films could get high definition home video releases. Maybe a certain company specializing in silent films on Blu-Ray can take care of the 1910-1925 films, while I hope the Meglin Kiddies Land of Oz eventually gets a public release.

So, should you put down the $18 + shipping for this set? I already have, but the fact is clear that the Oz cartoon is one of many featured cartoons on this set, so Oz fans who aren't too interested might be giving this a pass. Diehard Oz fans will snatch it up just for the Oz content alone, while Oz fans who also enjoy classic animation will find the set a treat. It can be easily found with a search on Amazon.

Friday, August 15, 2014

75 Years of MGM's Oz

The world of Oz was changed forever exactly seventy five years ago as MGM's The Wizard of Oz had its world premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater. People had known about The Wizard of Oz before. It was a popular series of books and a major musical as well as prior film adaptations.

The stunning Technicolor of MGM's Oz and the wonderful songs gave the public a new way to enjoy L. Frank Baum's joyous fairyland. And who couldn't love the performances of Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan and Margaret Hamilton?

The film thrilled and enchanted audiences in 1939, breaking attendance records around the country. Financially, it just broke even, but MGM considered the film a success. In theatrical reissues and television airings, new generations were given this version of Baum's tale as their introduction to his world. As such, it is now the most recognizable version of Oz.

While the film has received many well-deserved laudatory
accolades, it is incredible how much sway the film has. The storytelling isn't perfect (several plot points leave fans creating theories and headcanons to this day), and many of its creature effects have easily been technologically surpassed these days. Yet even modern viewers are willing to look past that and just enjoy the magic of the film for what it is.

After reading over the production the film, it becomes clear that great care was taken in its production. Many script drafts and story ideas were dropped and revised until the final shooting script was decided on. Even then, production began and was scrapped twice before most of what we see in the finished film was shot.

MGM created a veritable fantasy world onscreen both in lavish sets and in matte paintings to create the beautiful yet unreal landscape of Oz. The songs are fun, whimsical, singable and memorable. Even if you can't accept Judy Garland as a twelve year-old, you can at least pick up on her emotions. Even if you see her friends as guys in bizarre makeup and costumes, you can see that they truly want to help Dorothy get home.

It is this that MGM gets so right. They tell Baum's story very differently than how he did, but when it comes to the very important moments, they got it right. The movie is about a girl who loves her family very much and three men who feel they are inadequate but find themselves rising above the odds. The wonderfully wicked witch serves as a memorable antagonist.

So, why does MGM's The Wizard of Oz stick around? Yes, we could do a more visually stunning version, but there's something to be said for great writing and performances. While I encourage people to explore Oz their own way, I often wish they'd leave what made this version great to itself. MGM put in their work, don't ape it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Winkie Con 50 Report

In the past years, I've typically recorded an audio report with Sam about the Winkie Convention. Well, this year I didn't get a chance to do that. Not only was Sam not there, but I was quite busy!

Once again, I took a Greyhound bus out to Winkies, this time going to San Diego, which was a shorter trip than going to Salinas, even with a delay and having to be re-routed through Los Angeles. I checked in at my hotel late Thursday afternoon and walked around the convention grounds. While we didn't quite have the large open space provided by the Asilomar courtyard around Fred Farr Forum, it hardly proved an issue.

This was the first Winkie Con at the Town and Country resort in San Diego. The past several years, Winkies was held at Asilomar, just outside Monterey. The reason for moving was multifold: to keep Winkies going, it needs to keep growing, and sadly, conditions at Asilomar were unfriendly. Chairman David Maxine cited the cost of a family being very prohibitive for many. No slight to Asilomar, who had to increase prices to keep going in the current economic climate.

Also, for certain programming, a shorter trip for guests (of which there are several potential guests in southern California) would be easier. David and Eric Shanower also pointed to the fact that staging The Tik-Tok Man of Oz at Asilomar would be very difficult (and not cost-effective) as compared to doing it closer to home where more local performers could be found and rehearsed.

Basically, it was clear that to take Winkies in necessary new directions, it needed to move. Winkies has moved before, and now we've seen it move again to a temporary home in San Diego.

One casualty to moving was that communal meals provided in the cost would no longer be a thing. Two optional communal meals were available: a cook-out style meal on Friday, and the Grand Banquet on Saturday. Several restaurants and cafes were available onsite, however, and there was also the option of popping over to the food court at the Fashion Valley Mall (a couple blocks north of the resort). Several flyers in my room suggested ordering pizza to your room, an option that could be explored in the future. The food was enjoyable, though for people who don't frequent these resorts, the prices seemed a little steep. (Laura Gjovaag reports $4 for a bowl of instant oatmeal and receiving the wrong flavor. My only issue was ordering a fountain drink and being served Mountain Dew before I could specify lemonade. Having worked in foodservice myself, I know it doesn't cost much to demand what you actually want.) Some longtime Winkies were upset about this change, but I won't dwell on that. Let's just say that if you want to socialize with new people, it pays to show up early.

I met only a handful of old friends while wandering around Thursday: Miriam Goldman, Freddy Fogarty, Cindy Ragni, Caroline Spector, Eric and Laura Gjovaag and Tim Tucker. I had wanted to help get things set up, but it seems I arrived too late or wasn't able to find any spot that needed help.

The Convention began Friday morning, which was a change from past conventions. Typically, we started Friday afternoon with registration and socializing and then going off to dinner and having a handful of presentations in Fred Farr Forum. We still had our evening presentations, but now we had multi-track programming during the morning and day, and the Dealer's room, swap shop (which depleted its long-held stock and announced that it wouldn't return), and research table were open all day.

Many one-hour panels and presentations were held during the day. It was impossible for one person to see them all. As a self-titled "OmniOzologist" (someone who appreciates all aspects of Oz), I had to choose carefully. I went to the Creating Oz Comics panel, featuring the folks from Illusive Arts, hinting at the return of the Dorothy comic series, and then went to Show and Tell, forgoing a panel on William Stout and meeting longtime online friend Aaron Pacentine. I met William later, because I was also hanging out in the Dealer's Room selling copies of my The Way of a Lion alongside Paul Dana and Karyl Carlson (with their books The Magic Umbrella of Oz and Queen Ann in Oz, which I'll be reviewing soon), and he was at the next table.

I sadly missed both showings of Aljean Harmetz's Making of the Wizard of Oz documentary, forgoing it for the "Fifty Years of the Winkie Convention" panel and being on a panel during the second time. In fact, I wasn't able to attend any MGM-specific panels, which I was sorry about being a closet MGM movie fan. ... Well, guess I'm no longer one... I also attended John Bell's panel about the masculinity of Speedy (which also covered Peter Brown for contrast).

During dinner, titled Professor Marvel's Hot Dog and Hamburger Cook Out, we got to chat with fellow fans, and I discussed story ideas with John Bell and Shawn Maldonado, while Kurt Raymond's Wicked Witch entertained by storming around making comments. (I was called four-eyes and later complimented on my haircut.)

The evening presentation opened with talk show host Batton Lash interviewing the Wicked Witch, and she seemed to get fed up with him quite quickly. She later took questions from the audience, including admitting why she wanted the Ruby Slippers. ("Girrrl, I am ALL about the sequins!" and explaining that the sequins on the Ruby Slippers are actually magical.) I got a question in: "There's a rumor that you have a brother who's a Jester. Would you like to comment on this?" The Witch revealed that she did have a brother, and neither she or her sister liked him, so they turned him into a cat. Not a Jester. Sorry, Legends of Oz, but Lady Green has spoken.

Afterward, Aljean Harmetz proved delightful as she talked about how she came to write The Making of the Wizard of Oz, and then Atticus Gannaway discussed Baum's connections to San Diego. Afterward was a simple after party with a cash bar, where yours truly had his first wine. I chatted with a few friends, such as Ed Cao and Kurt.

Saturday morning saw me going for breakfast in my costume as Mr. Tinker, based on the final illustration from Outsiders from Oz. If you didn't hear it elsewhere, yes, that is Mr. Tinker appearing at the end of the book. He'll lead the follow up A Signal From Oz. After spotting a Ruggedo in the contest (as well as another Mr. Tinker and a Mr. Smith from another continuity), my Mr. Tinker reminded the Nome King that he hadn't paid off the Giant with the Hammer, and that there would be balance due. ("And that," I joked, "is why the Nome King changed his name.")

Also in attendance were Jon and Bjo Trimble as Aunt Em and Uncle Henry (and they were very sweet), as well as a young Captain Fyter, a split witch (half Glinda, half Wicked Witch), the Wicked Witch of the East (two striped legs and Ruby Slippers under a house), Queen Ann and Salye Soforth (Karyl and Marilyn Carlson), Private Files and Ozga (Eric and Laura Gjovaag), an MGM-style Dorothy, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lioness, a Winkie Guard, an Umbrella Islander, and Erma and her Ladies of Light, depicted by the older ladies of the International Wizard of Oz Club.

Next up were the Winkie quizzes (against other programming), and Shawn Maldonado won my standard quiz and a CD of the Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return soundtrack and the honor of preparing the quiz next year. Eric Gjovaag mentioned I'll have to move on to the Master Quiz next year. I better prepare... A curious part of my quiz asked for the four Baum Oz books featuring the Nome Kingdom and saying there was a bonus fifth. Shawn's answer was the one I had in mind: Tik-Tok and the Nome King, which had been published as a picture book before being collected in Little Wizard Stories of Oz. Aaron Almanza answered The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, which, I had to admit, counted as Claus does visit the Gnome Kingdom.

The quizzes ended with enough time to check out the Auction Preview, where I met up with longtime online friend Dexter Fabi. After stopping by the Dealer's room for a hot minute, I ran over to the LGBT Side of Oz panel, where my friend Rei Shaw, Dee Michel, Josh Trujillo, and Joe Phillips (dressed as the Cowardly Lion) discussed LGBT positive interpretations of the Oz stories and characters.

Afterward, I met up with Craig Noble to discuss our panel about our work on the Baum Bugle. Then, I listened a panel about Oscar Diggs, the Wizard of Oz himself, and how he's been depicted. I got to comment on how he was depicted in The Wiz play and film.

Then, noting that I needed to pull my weight at the table, I went to the Dealer's Room for the next couple hours while Paul and Karyl went to their panels, while I got to talk to other Dealers. Afterward, Craig and I went to our panel, which went well. I got to talk a little about what I do, give Craig someone to bounce off of, and even muster a little humor. (Craig: "Everyone is a volunteer, assembling The Baum Bugle for free." Me: "Wait, what?") Then, back to the dealer's room until the banquet, and afterward, The Tik-Tok Man of Oz! (Click that link for my review.)

The after party included some ragtime music, and while we saw some lovely dancers (or in some cases, lovely people trying to dance), I didn't get in any dancing until the music almost ended. Then we stuck around and chatted until we dwindled to just a few people. And then, I was about to leave for bed, when they asked how much I'd had to drink. When I replied that I hadn't had a drink, they told me to have a sip of rum and Coke, which I did. These people are the best.

Sunday found me getting ready to go, turning in my room key, and sitting with Karyl and Marilyn during breakfast. At 10, I was on the "Baum's Boys" panel, discussing that Baum's boys are actually strangely deep characters, while our moderator was a little skeptical. John Bell and Paul got the big answers, but I said a little as well, including some good points.

I unfortunately missed the last MGM panel as I went back to the dealer's room to sell more books. I understand it was a lot of fun with the Wicked Witch making one more appearance. I did go to the Queen Ann in Oz panel, listening to the authors and illustrators discuss the creation of a very good Oz pastiche.

Then we went into the final events, hearing some of the cast and crew of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz discuss the creation of the show, then a discussion of plans for the next two Winkie Conventions, including early plans for the 2016 Convention, currently planned to occur in... Portland, Oregon! The good folks of the Oogaboo Rendevous want to take over and move us to the Pacific Northwest for at least one year with Eric Gjovaag chairing. My bud Freddy Fogarty will be chairing the 2015 Convention, set for July 31-August 2, 2015 back at the Town and Country, celebrating Return to Oz, The Scarecrow of Oz, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, and the stage version of The Wiz! Freddy is looking for ideas AND volunteers! He hopes to have many guests.

Then we had closing services, which had feedback about the new convention format. Some longtime Winkies expressed their displeasure, creating a no-win situation. David suggested some new plans that might make getting meals easier, and creating an exclusive space for the Winkies to get them, hopefully increasing chances of mingling. New attendees who attended other conventions positively compared the atmosphere and programming with other conventions.

Personally, while I have come to appreciate the multi-track programming, I did feel that at times too many panels were going on at the same time. None of the panels I attended (which were few, so some may have been) were jam-packed. My fear is that next year with so many celebrations, people will have to really be selective of what they want to go to. Not that it would definitely happen, but would you want to be stuck choosing between listening to Andre DeShields or Jean Marsh? Or even Gregory Maguire? (Not that any are confirmed to be coming, but anything is possible... Only one of those people was a suggested guest.) I'm considering not selling anything next year to free myself up a little. (But the extra cash I earned did help a LOT.)

Basically, while we saw major changes this year, the format we had at Asilomar was still around, just a little altered. At Asilomar, Saturday consisted of the costume contest, show and tell, and the auction and the evening program, all of which were easily available to attend! Sunday just had a few presentations, which were still available as well, they just ended later.

We got a supersized convention this year, and we had a supersized attendance to match, with up to 400 attendees. I look forward to how the convention grows next year.

After Winkies, I helped pack up the main room we used for regular programming and later, hung out until just after midnight with several regular attendees, witnessing Eric and David get to relax after such a busy convention with some pizza, beer and leftover soda from the Ozpitality room that I barely got to frequent.

Then it was off to bed, breakfast, and then I took a ride to the end of the trolley line where no one ever goes, getting to the Greyhound station about 10:50 AM as my bus back to LA was pulling in. Aside from some small but ineffectual delays and no on board WiFi for most of the trip, my bus ride home went smoothly, ending early this morning when I met up with my parents for breakfast.

Overall, I had a great time!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Tik-Tok Man of Oz review

Last Saturday night, attendees of Oz Con International were treated to seeing a historic revival of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz.

Tik-Tok Man was first staged in 1913: Baum returned to Oz with a new novel, the Little Wizard Stories and a new musical! The play mashed together elements of several Oz books: Dorothy and Billina being washed overboard in Ozma of Oz was adapted into Betsy Bobbin and Hank the mule also being washed overboard and winding up in fairyland. The Mangaboos of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz become the Roses who reject a female ruler. General Jinjur and Ozma's army become the Army of Oogaboo. Polychrome and the Shaggy Man from The Road to Oz are in the play, but Baum was writing the first known version of the play at the same time as that book. The Nome King also plays a role as Ruggedo the Metal Monarch.

After the play was launched, Baum adapted many elements of it into his next Oz book, Tik-Tok of Oz, for 1914.

In this new revival, Eric Shanower took all the elements of the script he could find and edited it into a neater, tighter script that could be performed by nine lead actors, a small band of dancers who take multiple roles with simple costume changes, and a couple smaller speaking roles in just under two hours. According to Eric, the main focus was to include all the extant original music for the show (which did require altering a non-Oz piece by Louis F. Gottschalk for the opening music), so he attempted to keep neatly to the plot and dropped non-essential comic mischief and running around.

This is not to say that he cut the humor. The play is still very funny, though admittedly, Baum is no great playwright.

After being washed overboard, Betsy (Laura Bueno) and Hank (Dillon Rendo) find themselves in the Rose Kingdom, where they are joined by the Shaggy Man (Eduard Cao). When the Gardener (played by the delightful little Alyson Stein) tells then they are to be executed by the ruler, they pick the new ruler: Ozma (Kendra Truett). The Roses do not honor Ozma's claim to the throne and she and Betsy, Hank and Shaggy are exiled.

Meeting Polychrome (Tamara Rodriguez), our new friends find the Metal Monarch's ex-servant Tik-Tok (Reggie Hutchins) in a well. Falling in with the Army of Oogaboo, led by Queen Ann (Amanda Everett) and sole fighter Private Files (Vander Turner), they go to conquer Ruggedo, the Metal Monarch (Danny Ingersoll), who has Shaggy's brother captive.

While Act 1 is quite recognizable as Tik-Tok of Oz, in Act 2, romantic plots take over, many of which were omitted or only referenced on the book. The Shaggy Man's Love Magnet is a major point here. Tititi Hoochoo and the Hollow Tube and all they entail were original to the book.

I'm a little torn about revealing the ending because although Eric says he has no plans to remount the production, now that a Revised 21st Century version of the show has been created and successfully staged, it is entirely possible for someone else to mount it. Eric even commented that a local theater is considering picking it up. So, who knows? Your chance to see The Tik-Tok Man of Oz may be sooner than later.

Lee Speth jokingly commented that the play didn't have much to say about the human condition and this is true. Baum's play is not deep nor should anyone look for hidden meanings of any sort. It is a fun piece of entertainment. There are, however, some interpretations you could pull from the uses of the Love Magnet. However, I won't share those here.

The cast did a fine job. All of them managed to pull off Baum's humorous dialogue without sounding hammy. They were energetic, bright-eyed and professional. They managed to sing the songs very well, and there was only one moment when the music overwhelmed the vocals. The director added a few homages to the famous Wizard of Oz film from MGM.

Little Alyson Stein definitely caught the heart of the audience first as a little girl version of Betsy (likely giving an idea of the age the character is in the books), and then offering a cute petite version of the Roses' Gardener and also joining the dancers where she held her own against much taller companions. I hope that Alyson has a great career ahead. She was bursting with talent!

Overall, I really enjoyed the show. I hope it can be staged again for more people to see to get a better idea of the imagination of L. Frank Baum.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Characters of Oz — Blinkie

There were, at one time, many wicked witches in the land of Oz. Some seem to have been more wicked and more powerful than others. It seems, though, that Glinda and the Good Witch of the North put them away or stripped them of their power. The worst were defeated when Dorothy arrived in Oz.

So the question that arises is what's up with Blinkie?

Blinkie appears to be a small-time Wicked Witch who lives in Jinxland and terrorizes the populace with at least three anonymous witches who can turn into beautiful maidens when performing witchcraft. Blinkie's three friends can also fly on broomsticks. Blinkie may act on her own or be hired to do a job.

Blinkie is missing an eye, wearing an eyepatch. This similarity had caused some fans to think she may be a revived or reconstituted Wicked Witch of the West. I personally don't think so as there is little connection aside from that. Perhaps trading in an eye can get a Witch special powers.

Blinkie is actually based on an amalgamation of the Wicked Witch of the West and Mombi from Baum's 1914 film His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz. The witch in that film was named Mombi but looked like Denslow's Wicked Witch of the West. Like the Wicked Witch, she enslaved Dorothy to do chores for her, and like Mombi, pursues Dorothy when she runs away. Her fate, however, is entirely original to the film. The Tin Woodman chops her head off and the Wizard traps her in a can and shrinks it. At the end, she appears to be let go after she restores her victims from earlier in the film.

Blinkie was asked by King Krewl to freeze the heart of Princess Gloria so she wouldn't love Pon the gardener's boy. She did so, and also turned Cap'n Bill into a grasshopper with a wooden leg. For this, the Scarecrow punishes her by shrinking her to a tiny size and taking away her powers once she restores her victims.

To be honest, Baum could have replaced Blinkie with Mombi (having brushed up on witchcraft again) if he had been so inclined. However, he let his former villain remain the villain of only one book.

This leaves me with a question: why didn't Glinda do something about Blinkie? In The Scarecrow of Oz, it seems clear that Glinda has known about Blinkie's activities for a while and only sends the Scarecrow to take care of her when Blinkie begins to abuse people from the outside world. In books outside the Famous Forty (but generally considered canonical), Glinda seems to have put two Wicked Witches in the Quadling Country into enchanted sleeps in The Wicked Witch of Oz by Rachel Cosgrove Payes and The Enchanted Apples of Oz by Eric Shanower. Why is Glinda vigilant about these witches but not Blinkie? Why doesn't she go to  Jinxland herself?

Thinking about this, one idea comes up. Maybe Glinda can't go to Jinxland. Or rather, she's not welcome there. Is King Krewl the first king of Jinxland to value Blinkie's services? Perhaps Glinda did try and was forbidden to go back to Jinxland. She makes it clear that by this, she washes her hands of anything that may happen to the people of Jinxland. As pointed out, she only seems to send the Scarecrow once people from outside Jinxland are involved.

Why do you think?