Sunday, September 05, 2010

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Continuing the Literary Tradition of Oz

In this podcast, we present two interviews with two people who have contributed to continuing the literary tradition of Oz today. The first interview is with Shawn Maldonado, who has illustrated a number of recent Oz books, and the second features Kim McFarland, author of the recently released A Refugee in Oz. As always, you can listen or download at the podcast site, or use the player below:

JD: First and foremost, how'd you get into Oz?

SM: Back in 1985, when I saw "Return to Oz," I fell in love with it. I checked the library and found the White Cover editions of the Oz books, and started reading those.

JD: And now you illustrate Oz books.

SM: I've been drawing all my life, so it seemed natural to want to draw Oz. I was lucky. I contacted Chris Dulabone, and he gave me a project called "A Baffling Book About Bunnybury of Oz." And I started out helping illustrate books for him.

JD: You art style, I can tell your character designs are definitely inspired by John R. Neill, but they're a little more cartoon-ish looking, which is pretty nice.

SM: I'm inspired by cartoons in general, Scott Shaw, the guy who drew "Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew" is my biggest influence. When I was young, I'd draw Captain Carrot and characters like that. When I got into Oz, I found Dick Martin's illustrations. I love Dick Martin's illustrations, he was very cartoony himself, he's also a big influence in how I draw, as well as John R. Neill, and Eric Shanower, and Rob Roy MacVeigh. When I got to Oz I found all these incredible artists, and they just inspired me in how I draw my characters.

JD: Which Oz books have you illustrated?

SM: Uh, I started with "A Baffling Book About Bunnybury of Oz," my second book was "Three-Headed Elvis Clone Found In Flying Saucer Over Oz." I just finished "Bucketheads in Oz" for Chris, which was written by a number of contributing writers, Melody Grandy, Phyllis Ann Karr, Jim Vandernoot, and Chris, and some others, and that should be out, I hope, by November. I'm currently working on a couple of projects: a comic book story for John Bell, and Chris gave me another book called "An Umbrellaphant in Oz." I'm illustrating "The Talking City of Oz" by Ron Baxley Jr. and hopefully when you're done with your story I'll be illustrating that one.

JD: Actually, my editor had a couple questions for you, "What goes into your art?" I'm assuming he means develop it, he didn't really elaborate.

SM: Usually I start by reading the story, and whatever catches my attention first, what I think works as an illustration, I'll start sketching those and then flesh them out. And I go from there. Sometimes, I have to read the story over and over again, because if I don't pay attention, I'll miss something the writer describes and I'll have to redraw many illustrations. Some writers can be very descriptive, and I try to draw what they say and illustrate it the way they see it. Some writers give very vague descriptions and I have a little more leeway on how a character should look. Luckily with Oz, most of the character designs are pretty much already there. It also depends on where I think the story needs to be taken. I've been creating the designs since I was a child. Over the years I've developed them more to suit my needs, but I try to keep them familiar enough so longtime fans will automatically recognise them.

JD: What other work do you do outside of Oz?

SM: Right now, not much. I'm developing my own comic series called Mega Moose. I've been drawing him since I was young. They stopped doing Captain Carrot and I wanted to do something similar. I came up with lots of characters, superhero funny animals, and I've been working with a friend of mine on coming up with a comic book. At some point, I hope to get that published. My brother has been encouraging me to do political cartoons for him, and I did one last night in about ten minutes. I'm not a political person, but if he has an idea I'll illustrate it for him. I'm inspired by cartoons from the 40s and I would like to get into animation at some point.

JD: Yeah, I remember you had designs for an animated version of "The Wiz" on your blog sometime back.

SM: I, like many Oz fans, was disappointed by the film adaptation of "The Wiz," I say you put Joel Schumacher (the screenwriter) on anything and he'll ruin it. Diana Ross was too old to play Dorothy, the New York theme felt out of place, they cut a lot of songs, especially the Wizard's songs. I enjoyed some of the characters, like Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man, but with all this talk of remakes and animated cartoons, and different visions of Oz on film, I thought "Remake 'The Wiz' as a cartoon, based faithfully on the stage musical." So, I decided to design characters for that.

JD: Somehow you've become one of the more popular contemporary Oz artists, aside from the bigger names. It's like, right after Eric Shanower and maybe Anna-Marie Cool, it really comes down to you.

SM: I'm a fan of the books basically, I read all of the Famous Forty. And I like to draw, and I think artists who are a fan of what they're working on put more into it. I think it shows when I draw how much I love the characters and the series. I've been told by many people—Marcus Mebes, Chris Dulabone, Keven Smith—that if Reilly & Lee let Baum choose his own illustrator, he'd choose me. I think that's very flattering, but I don't think I'm that good of an artist, not that I'm not a good artist! But I still need improvement, and I understand that no matter how good you do, you can always do better. I love that people enjoy my artwork and want to see it, and hopefully I can continue to share my artwork for a long time. You can see my work at

Hopefully next year, I'll be going to the Winkie Convention, and meet some of the people. There's not a lot of Oz fans where I live, at least, none that I know of, and it's terrible not being able to share your enthusiasm with other people. That's why I love the internet, you can find people who have the same interests. Hopefully, I'll be able to go to the Winkie Convention and meet some of these people in person, and share my love of Oz with others.

JD: People can also follow you on Twitter at oz_diggs.

SM: And I'm on Facebook under "Shawn Maldonado."

JD: Well, we're going to start closing out, but I really hope you do get to go to Winkies next year, because I plan on going too, and it'd be great to meet you. And with that, we might as well close, this has been Jared Davis with Shawn Maldonado, see you next time.

SM: Bye!

JD: I guess we need to give you our standard interview question: How'd you get into Oz?

KM: Well, I could be a smark aleck and say "by tornado," but actually, when I was a kid, I had about half the books in paperbacks. I'm a very veracious reader. I have a silly amount of bookshelfs in my place. I tend to re-read books over and over, and at one point, I noticed my old Oz books, and I hadn't read them in about ten years, started reading them again and realized "this is really good stuff!" I started getting the other books, and I always loved telling stories myself, I have a website with decades worth of stuff that I've written. And stories just started happening in my head, and when that happens, I just start writing, and before I know it, I have a book!

JD: And that's how you came to write "A Refugee In Oz?"

KM: Yes. Actually, I first wrote a story called "Labour of Love," which was basically an excerise to get familiar with some of the characters. It's up on my website, I don't see it being published anywhere else. But after that, I felt comfortable enough in the world of Oz to try and write an actual novel.

JD: I read your book, thought it was a good one, gave it a nice review on my blog. I noticed you had your own style there. On one hand, you had the typical family-fun adventure in Oz, but on the other hand, you had some slightly more mature themes that you hinted at there.

KM: Me? Would I do that?

JD: Maybe? I don't know. (Both chuckle.)

KM: I'll let you name those things, I'm not incriminating myself.

JD: I don't mean "mature" as in "adult," I noticed you gave a couple of the characters a psychoanalysis.

KM: Yes, that was one of the central themes in the book when I was first coming up with ideas. For me, a book begins with a number of ideas, some of them make it into the final narrative, some I have to trash in order to create something that makes sense. And one thing that was obvious to me was that the Scarecrow didn't really need the brains the Wizard gave him, and the Tin Woodman was just fine without an artificial heart, but they don't know that. Some of their friends figured it out, but they haven't figured it out themselves. So, what would happen if they were forced to face life without those elements? What would happen? When I write, I tend to get inside characters' heads, I tend to get all psychological on them, and so I just get my story from exploring that.

JD: I also thought you had a nice, fun, adventure story in the book as well, and I thought it was pulled off beautifully.

KM: Thank you, your check is in the mail.

JD: Oooh! (Chuckle.) I mentioned I would be interviewing you on Twitter, and someone had this question: "I'm curious to know her opinion on the future of Oz fandom, and how she thinks it might be impacted by all the upcoming projects." I assume he means announced book and film products. I think you've seen a few on the International Wizard of Oz Club's Message Board.

KM: I'm a relative "newbie" to Oz fandom. I've been in online fandoms for a good long time, but I'm fairly new to contacting other Oz fans, so I don't really know much about the history of online Oz fandom, so I don't know what the future would be with all these different projects I've heard about. My only guess would be that when stuff starts hitting the theaters that there'll be a flux of new people going "Oh, I love this movie! It's the most wonderful thing ever!" And then a few weeks later, they'll have moved onto something else. Kind of like the "Avatar" fandom, but not quite turned up to 12. But I think all the old, hardcore fans, the ones who are really deep into Oz, who know the books, who can talk trivia about it and really enjoy Oz for itself rather than for the movie that they just saw. I think that they'll still be around, and we'll probably gain a few new who realize that there's more to this than these few movies they've just seen. And they'll get into it the way I did. Get into it up to your elbows!

JD: Have you had a chance to meet other Oz fans in person?

KM: No, I haven't. I'm hoping that maybe one or two will pop up at Dragon Con, I'm going this upcoming weekend. And as a matter of fact, my poor arthritic hands are still aching from sewing a Patchwork Girl costume. I sewed it out of broadcloth and everything as opposed to a patchwork pattern, so you can just imagine how much work that was. I'm going to be in the Dragon Con parade as the Patchwork Girl, I'll probably be walking around in costume, and usually when I do that, I get people popping up and saying "Oh my god, I love this!" Like "I love Rocky Horror!" or "I love ReBoot!" or whatever I'm dressed as. So, maybe I'll contact some Oz fans. Maybe sell a few books, too, ha-ha! Because I'm a capitalist swine! Oink! (In a high-pitched imitation of Miss Piggy.) "There's nothing wrong with being a pig!"

JD: (Laughs.) Okay, I think this is the most fun we've had on one of these interviews!

KM: Thank you! Get me started talking on Muppets, and we'll have a whole lot of fun, except the only Muppet-Oz thing has been a rather regrettable movie, so never mind! That movie would have been so much better if they'd taken Pepe out and had Rolf the Dog as Toto, then the movie might have made sense, as opposed to being a series of wisecracks.

JD: Do you have any especial favorite Oz characters?

KM: (Chuckles.) The Patchwork Girl! I've always loved the "crazy lady" types. My favorite character of that type is probably the ReBoot character Hexadecimal. They're a challenge to write, but it's so much fun getting into their heads because they're so unusual, so different, they think in their own pattern. And the Patchwork Girl is very smart. I don't like it when people tend to write her as a dopey, silly character. That frustrates the heck out of me, because she's smart, she just thinks so far out of the box that sometimes she can't see the box from where she is.

JD: I haven't heard it phrased like that before, but it really makes sense!

KM: Thank you. In "Glinda of Oz," everyone's talking about how to raise a city to the surface of a lake, and she's the one saying "Drain the lake, sillies!" You gotta respect someone like that. And I think she and the Scarecrow make a wonderful pair, in terms of their personalities bouncing off of each other. And also they are a really great brain trust (sic) because the Scarecrow has a methodical, logical point of view, he's going to think about things A to B to C; the Patchwork Girl is gonna pinball around and come up with all sorts of ideas, between the two of them you got a pretty good think tank!

JD: You've said you read a lot of the Oz books, I doubt you've read them ALL because of all the Oz stories that have been published...

KM: No, I haven't, not even close!

JD: Have you read the entire Famous Forty?

KM: No, I haven't. The biggest reason being that I'm a single woman with a hungry mortage to feed. And it's not exactly like you can find these books all over. I'm sure you can download them, but I have a very hard time reading off a screen, you don't want to know how thick my glasses prescription is! I certainly read all of Baum's books multiple times, I read some of Ruth Plumly Thompson's books, and here and there a few others, I don't think "The Wonder City of Oz" is one of the Famous Forty, is it?

JD: It is one of them.

KM: I have that and I have to admit I'm rather fond of it, even though it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But there was one image in there that I thought was funny enough to include a homage to it in my upcoming book "Imposters in Oz." That was the Patchwork Girl turning into a boxer. However, I don't have her running around almost naked. No. She keeps her clothes on.

JD: Considering how she's built, it might be hard for her not to keep her clothes on...

KM: Well, in that book, apparently somebody forgot that she was made completely from a patchwork blanket and drew her as a rag doll with a patchwork dress on top of it, and her head wasn't even patchwork when she lost her regular patchwork outfit. Yeah, you can attribute that to the magic turn stile, but to me, it looks kind of shaky, changing the composition of all of her, but, eh, never mind.

JD: We also mentioned Oz films, do you have any particular favorites among them?

KM: Well, first and foremost, I gotta say the 1939 movie. I love that. I have happy memories of it, and when I see it now, sure, some parts of it are cheesy, but you know, it's still good. I really like it. I find myself wishing they left in the Woodman's origin, but for the sensibilities of 1939, maybe axe-murdering was a little bit out there. Let's see, that's so far ahead of all the others, I can't really say I have much of a second favorite among them. I'm looking at my collection of DVDs and video tapes, and I have a little semi-shelf for Oz stuff. I will admit I have a soft spot for "The Oz Kids." Kind of like "Muppet Babies" with Oz. Okay, it was silly, it was goofy, but I enjoyed it.

JD: I think that's what really matters when it comes to these things: if you really enjoy it.

KM: Mmm-hmm. Although, again the Patchwork Girl was really mis-characterized there. She was turned into June Cleaver and that kind of hurt. The rest of it was fun, though. Wasn't enough of Jack Jr., though, I liked him, but I guess every cast has to have a bench warmer.

JD: And back to your books, "A Refugee in Oz" and the upcoming "Imposters in Oz." I believe you're trying to get someone to illustrate "Impostors," right?

KM: Well, unless something interesting happens, I plan to illustrate it myself. But before that, I have another project that I promised somebody else. So, I'm going to let my book sit for a little while, and I got somebody looking at it right now. I think that the draft is absolutely perfect, it can't be improved, which means that it's time for somebody else to look at it and tell me that I'm wrong. And I'll be working on that other project, so I'll come back to "Imposters in Oz" with fresh eyes hopefully get some new ideas for it.

JD: When do you think it might be finished?

KM: I can't really say. Hopefully early next year. I'm not promising anything, though. Sometimes the illustration process can take quite a long time. With "A Refugee In Oz," I only planned to do about a dozen illustrations of the high points of the book. Before I got done, I had somewhere in between forty and fifty.

JD: Well, they were all done very well...

KM: Thank you!

JD: Where can people get your book?

KM: Well, you can e-mail me and I will sell you an autographed copy. No extra charge for the graffitti. You can buy them on or, and from Amazon, they're eligible for super saver shipping. I make more from Lulu than Amazon, but whatever's convenient for the buyer. And they're also available as downloadable PDFs from Lulu, if people want to save a few bucks or prefer those magical book-things. Actually, the week before I published "A Refugee in Oz," I saw somebody on the train, reading something via an iBook. And I asked him if he could show me how the illustrations were done, explaining the situation, and he opened up a copy of, I think, "Winnie-the-Pooh," and the illustrations looked pretty good there, even though they're kind of detail-y and cross-patchy. Since mine are a little like that, I felt a little better about it, like "Okay, if they were put on this device, they wouldn't turn to hash."

JD: Anything you'd like to say to Oz fans and potential readers?

KM: Well, if you like my book, then good, and if you really liked it, you're welcome to review it on Amazon. Yes, I have no pride. And if you didn't like it, well, sorry! And as for Oz fans, keep the faith, keep enjoying Oz, don't let anyone tell you it's for kids. Because one of mottos is "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." I've been having mine for forty years! Forty-two, actually, but you didn't hear that from me!

JD: You're only as old as you think you are, so stop thinking.

KM: (In a high-pitched, baby-ish voice) "I don't understand what you're saying, mister..."

JD: Well, Kim, it's been a real pleasure interviewing you.

KM: Thank you, it's been a real pleasure being interviewed.

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