Monday, June 10, 2013

How "Dot and Tot" ended it

In 1901, Baum and Denslow produced their third major collaboration. (I have not counted The Songs of Father Goose as I consider this a spin-off of Father Goose: His Book.) When it came to creating children's books, it was their last collaboration.

If you asked anyone to name Baum's best fantasies, chances are they would not mention Dot and Tot of Merryland. While it's an enjoyable fantasy, its lack of an antagonist and the fact that it's only travelogue are the book's biggest weaknesses.

But in this series of books by Baum and Denslow, it wasn't just Baum's text that made the book, the item that people would buy. While Dot and Tot did sell, it wasn't a comparable success to Father Goose: His Book or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
So, how did the book look? Well, before we begin, I'd better tell you that my copy of the book with Denslow's illustrations is not an original edition. It's an early Bobbs-Merrill reprint that used green ink instead of a light rusty color. It's similar enough, but the printing (look at the Queen's face above) may not have been quite on register. (From what I've seen, George Hill's company was really good about that.) I'm also running these through Photoshop. As such, the colors look bolder than they do in the book.

The above seven pages are typical of the illustrations throughout the book. While Denslow does fine work, the main use of color was printing the illustrations in three colors: black, green (a rusty color in the original edition) and red. There were no color plates.

The main issue is that Father Goose: His Book had an innovative design. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had an innovative design. Both of these books inspired new formats for children's books. Dot and Tot of Merryland did not. The color design was too similar to Oz, and since it used three inks, that made the chance for misalignment of the plates higher than Oz. And it didn't help that Baum was turning out better fantasies in his other two 1901 titles: American Fairy Tales and The Master Key.

The problem with the illustrations is that if they were reproduced in black and white (just about the only way it could be cost-effectively reproduced), the effect of the different colors would be spoiled, and only recently has the technology arrived that could separate the color signatures from each other. However, no one has yet attempted a reprint with the original Denslow illustrations. Books of Wonder issued a new edition in the early 1990s with new illustrations by Donald Abbot, which are all right, but Denslow's are much more attractive. It was much easier to re-illustrate the book than reproduce the original pictures. Google offers an on-demand reprint of the version they have in their system, but I would not expect a very good looking book. Any other editions in print only use the text, unless someone takes the time and effort to make sure the pictures reproduce well.

While Dot and Tot is a fun and handsome book on its own, when compared to the previous books in the Baum/Denslow partnership (and just about all of Baum's other fantasies), it is sadly lacking. And even sadder, that is where the tradition of this legendary author and a fantastic illustrator producing wonderful children's books together ends.

Baum decided to refocus. Putting out multiple books a year was literally competing with himself, so beginning in 1902 and going on through 1910, only one book was published under the name "L. Frank Baum" a year. (The exception being The Woggle-Bug Book and Queen Zixi of Ix in 1905.) Later, Reilly & Britton would afford him the luxury of pseudonyms to sell more books without this issue.

Denslow was also looking into launching a solo career. The two realized that they really didn't need each other. As such, they parted ways, Baum turning out fantasies that would soon become the famous Oz books. Denslow produced a series of picture books that only recently came back into print thanks to Denslow's connection to Oz.

Baum and Denslow would later work together on The Wizard of Oz musical extravaganza, Baum writing the script and Denslow designing the costumes and sets, but the end result of that led to Baum vowing to never work with Denslow again when Denslow asked for a larger portion of the royalties. (To be fair, his production designs were likely used more than Baum's original script and Paul Tietjens' music.)

In 1904, Denslow used the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman of Oz to create a comic strip, Denslow's Scarecrow and Tin-Man, but I've told about that elsewhere. Baum regretted jointly copyrighting his books and characters with Denslow, and made sure to hold the copyright on his future work himself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Books of Wonder edition also edited out some politically incorrect remarks about choclate servants.