Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My first Oz book

 A long, long time ago, when I was eight or so (so, 18 years ago...), my grandpa (on my father's side) was moving. He was moving to a smaller home and couldn't take many items he'd had with him. Many things were my dad's: childhood comics, toys, books.

My dad went to pick up several boxes. I went with him (probably some other family members as well) and I can clearly remember them packing a book into the box. I could automatically recognize the title thanks to having seen a certain movie: it was The Wizard of Oz!

I recall either later that day or shortly after (I think it was night when we were packing up, so it must have been another day) I pulled it out of a box I was sitting next to in the car and looked at the pictures. Later, I fished it out of the garage and enjoyed looking at the pictures more often.

Eventually, I sat myself down and read the entire book. I was just a little kid then, so my first trip through Oz took many days. I remember finishing the book during a trip to my grandparents' house for Thanksgiving. There is actually video of me showing off the book during that time.

Eventually, the dust jacket was either destroyed or lost, so I eventually made new ones. "Ones" because those would get destroyed or lost as well, so I'd keep making new ones.

The pictures were by Evelyn Copelman. The dustjacket touts them as being based on W.W. Denslow's original pictures, but anyone who's seen Denslow's pictures can definitely tell that this was generally a new illustration job with a lot of visuals coming from the MGM movie. The Scarecrow looks like Ray Bolger, the Tin Woodman has a Denslow body but a Jack Haley head, and Dorothy's look is definitely inspired by Judy Garland, except that she really does look like a little girl and has actual braids instead of Judy's pigtails. The Lion looks like a lion, however, Toto is a terrier, but the Wizard looks like Frank Morgan. Fortunately, that's pretty much where resemblances to the MGM movie ends.

Evelyn Copelman appeared on the documentary Oz: The American Fairyland and confirmed that she had been instructed by Bobbs-Merrill to evoke the MGM movie for inspiration, likely to use it to help the new edition sell better. While many pictures had been drawn for the book, I believe this was the first time that a full new set of illustrations were commissioned. She used a scratchboard to create her excellent black and white line art and painted some lovely color plates. When the book was reissued later (I believe by Grosset and Dunlap, who published the edition at hand), Copelman created new art for it. (It is one reason why I sought out a Grosset and Dunlap edition rather than an original Bobbs-Merrill when I later wanted to get a new copy.)

Evelyn Copelman also re-illustrated The Magical Monarch of Mo for Bobbs-Merill, being one of the Baum titles that they had the rights to. Perhaps it was an effort to reissue their Baum books in a uniform style, but it seems that while Wizard sold well, Magical Monarch did not. While you can find a copy of Copelman's Monarch for less than $20, generally, they seem to be the same edition, and of course the pictures weren't used in any later reprints.

Well, for me, this edition helped cement a MGM-styled version of Oz in my head as a child. Later, my mother tossed out my entire Oz collection. My dad wasn't happy to hear of this, particularly that this book had gone with it.

When I got back into Oz, I had more knowledge than I did when I was younger and went for Denslow's pictures first.I eventually looked for a new copy of this one, but what I wound up with was new edition from about the 1990s that had all of Copelman's interior art, but a new cover picture by a new artist and no endpapers.

Finally, I lucked out in 2011 and found this edition that I currently have at the Winkie Convention Swap Shop. It is not the same as the one I had, but it's close enough. The dustjacket is the same (and protected with Brodart), but the book itself was printed on thinner (cheaper?) paper, making the book is thinner overall. (You can see some of the dustjacket spine on the front in the above image.) There's some discoloration on the back of the dustjacket and there's an inscription inside, but otherwise, it's the same design and everything. The front also indicates that this is a 1977 printing. My dad had my old copy as a child himself, and he was born in 1959 (but you didn't hear that from me), so it's certain that his copy was older.

I decided to re-read the book with this edition, but I didn't really have much of a nostalgic experience. Probably because when I was a kid I wasn't reading on the bus and consuming highly-caffeinated beverages. I did note that after reading the book with Denslow's colorful pictures so many times recently that he was much better at capturing the whimsy of Baum's text than Copelman. Not that Copelman's not worth looking at, she was amazing at her art.

Also, a couple color plates have been switched around: the color plate "I am Oz, the Great and Terrible" (showing the revealed Wizard to Dorothy and her friends) appears during the chapter "The Search For the Wicked Witch" and the color plate "Dorothy picked up the bucket of water" (wonder what she's going to do with that?) appears during the chapter "The Discovery of Oz the Terrible." In between them, in just the right spot, is a color plate of Dorothy being carried by the Winged Monkeys while wearing the Golden Cap.

When I was a kid, my favorite pieces of art were the above color plate showing the Winged Monkeys, and another with the travelers on their way to the Emerald City after the poppy field. (I guess I liked seeing Dorothy style different headgear...) Today, though, I like the below picture best. I've scanned it from the dustjacket (you can see the creases and sun damaged spine) and made sure it looks great at a size large enough for my desktop. Maybe you'd like it for yours as well?

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