Friday, December 30, 2011

A Bucket(head) of Books

Here's reviews of four books published by Chris Dulabone under the imprints of Buckethead Enterprises of Oz or Tails of the Cowardly Lion and Friends.

Up first is A Viking in Oz, from 1988. Dulabone wrote and illustrated it. A Viking named Victor lives with the Sea Fairies until present day, when he surfaces and winds up in Noland and soon, Oz.

Dulabone writes humorously, and also did a bit of research about Vikings, making this Norseman convincing. But the plot isn't very stong. However, strong plots aren't always a trademark of Oz stories. (The Road to Oz, for example.)

Being one of the earliest Buckethead Enterprises books, the typeset is weird. Chapters are not numbered, and sometimes the text is tilted. Sometimes typos have been corrected by hand. Many of the illustrations are actually photographs, sometimes with hand-drawn addition. (A picture of a woman in a cave, for example, has a mermaid's tail drawn over her legs to turn her into a mermaid under the sea.)

Altogether, it's a fun, early attempt at a new Oz story, though far from one of the best. It's from a time when the great rush of new and unauthorized Oz books were just beginning. Times have changed and work has gotten better, but it's still worth looking at just for that purpose. And you might even enjoy it. I did.

11 year old Ryan Gannaway's A Wonderful Journey in Oz appeared in 1990. This is another case where author also illustrated.

The story takes many elements from Baum's Oz books and Sky Island and puts them together. Throw in some time travel, thanks to Button-Bright's newly-reacquired magic Umbrella, and it's a story that, while not especially notable, is a lot of fun.

Discovering the magic Umbrella can travel through time as well as space, Button-Bright, Trot, and Cap'n Bill head back to meet Queen Ozara, Ozma's grandmother. They also bring her forward in time to meet Ozma. However, more adventures involving the Wizard, Dorothy, Toto, and the recently-restored Ruggedo occur.

Time travel stories are tricky bits of business (people debate endlessly about Back to the Future, or how the Doctor got out of the Pandorica in Doctor Who), and frankly, 11 year old Ryan didn't care. There's one little misadventure that does have some time-travel risks, but I won't spoil that. Ryan set out to write a fun adventure, and it was fun. Not especially plotted extremely well, but fun.

The illustrations are definitely by an 11 year old, however.

A Small Adventure in Oz appeared in 2001, after the re-branding of Buckethead Enterprises of Oz as Tails of the Cowardly Lion and Friends. By this time, Dulabone's methods of printing had improved greatly. His books looked more like proper books you'd find at a bookstore rather than something that screamed that it was self-published. And it wasn't just the covers and design that improved, so did the stories. I've already blogged about Melody Grandy's books which Dulabone also published.

Peter B. Clarke's book finds the people in the Ozma's palace playing a grand game of hide and seek. To make the odds fair, magic is not allowed to be used during the game, animals who can dig cannot go underground, anyone capable of flight cannot fly, and those who'd run fast must keep to a normal pace.

Dorothy and the Scarecrow find a mysterious map of Oz and suddenly are transported to a strange, alternate version of Oz that is quite unlike anything they'd imagined with little idea of how they'll get back.

Back in the Emerald City, no one can find Dorothy and the Scarecrow, and as time drags on, it becomes apparent the magic of Oz is stopping due to the rule that no magic can be used during the game. But the game won't be over until Dorothy and the Scarecrow are found. But how can they be found? And can that happen before Oz loses its magic forever?

A Small Adventure in Oz is a very good story. The story is compelling and neatly plotted, with high stakes for our friends in Oz.

Marcus Mebes illustrated A Small Adventure, and the artwork's really good, though I'm not a huge fan of the child characters.

Finally, The Cloud King of Oz was published in 2002. Apparently, one of the problems Dulabone had with getting books out was that he didn't want to do text-only books. Oz books needed pictures. However, finding illustrators willing to illustrate for a small, non-profit press wasn't easy. Dennis Anfuso, who has since risen to a more prominent artist, finally helped out. Cloud King was by Amanda Marie Buck, who was eleven by the time of publication.

The Cloud King, who lives on a Gillikin Mountain, has kidnapped many residents of Ozma's palace and the Magic Belt. Dorothy and the Wizard lead a rescue party, but soon, Thunderhead the Cloud King takes them as well. It's up to Ozma to rescue everyone!

Cloud King reminds me a lot of Invisible Inzi of Oz, now that I think about it. However, the Cloud King is a decent villain, and the story doesn't wander so much and flows very well, even if it is rather short. It's quite obvious that Amanda was very young when she wrote it. Dennis Anfuso's art complement's the writer's style very well.

Altogether, these four books represent the pure heart of Oz pastiches. Maybe the stories aren't the greatest ever. Maybe the printing isn't perfect. But the writers love Oz and want to share the stories they've invented. When that is apparent in an Oz story, that's the most important element for other fans. To be sure, these books might not be the best to hook in new fans, but established fans are sure to find a kindred spirit in the writer's style.

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