Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Moorchild

Okay, I got to read this book by Eloise Jarvis McGraw recently and decided to blog about it here. Most of my readers are likely aware that Eloise was a prolific author, and among her many books were three Oz books, one of them being Merry-Go-Round in Oz, the last book of the Famous Forty. (Her daughter Lauren had some input on her Oz books, and her mother gave her co-author credit.)

So, yes, that does mean I'll blog about books by Oz authors. (I may not be limiting it to Famous Forty authors, either...)

The story isn't too specific about exactly where it takes place. I read that it is supposed to be medieval England, but for all I was concerned, it could have been there, Ireland, or even a nonexistent land.

Old Bess, an herbalist, sees that something is not right about her new grandchild Saaski. She realizes it must be a changeling: a fairy or goblin in human form replacing a kidnapped baby.

The truth is, she is correct, but what the truth is, even she could not have guessed. Saaski is actually Moql, formerly a member of "the Folk," a fairy race that lives on the Moor. She is actually half Folk, and half human, and when she fails to hide from a human, the prince makes her a changeling, making her live with humans.

Saaski, however, only has extremely vague memories of her life with the Folk and is sure she must be human. However, everyone notices she is odd. There are some who accept her, like Yanno and Anwara, her "parents," and even old Bess and the shepherd boy Tam. But most of the town is suspicious, and soon begin to fear her, some even harshly evading her. Saaski just wants to be accepted.

Overall, the book was very enjoyable. I thought the take was very unique, and a little comparable to how Baum reinvented the story of "The Gingerbread Man" as John Dough & the Cherub. Most Changeling Child stories end with the parents or a suspicious adult avoiding their child from being taken, or rescuing their child. The Moorchild tells the story mostly from the Changeling's point of view, with the original twist that the replacement is initially unaware it isn't human.

There are a few ideals from Baum in the story, such as when Bess confronts Yanno and Anwara about Saaski's true identity, they decide against trying to kill or harm her to get their child back, for even if it was a Changeling, it would not be right to treat a living creature in such a way. This echoes Ozma's refusal to fight in The Emerald City of Oz.

The writing is very well done, engaging and easy to read. Some less experienced readers might be put off by the lack of a definite location and the odd colloquialisms of the characters. But seasoned readers should find this book a delight.

How does the story end? Does Saaski become Moql again? Is Yanno and Anwara's child that was taken at birth restored to them? Does the town learn to accept Saaski? I'm not saying. Go read The Moorchild yourself!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Giant Horse of Oz

As I come to the end of my first batch of Thompson books (more on the way, don't worry!), I end with her book for 1928, The Giant Horse of Oz.

We open in the Ozure Islands, which have been held in the thrall of the beast Quiberon for many years.

And something gets me about this: Quiberon was summoned by Mombi to keep the people of the Ozure Islands in the lake. Here's what I don't understand: why Mombi? The Ozure Islands are in the Munchkin Country, while Mombi was in the North. She'd be messing around in another witch's territory then! And another thing is why must this be because of a witch?

Anyways, Quiberon demands a mortal girl to serve him next, as the last citizen of the Ozure Islands to wait upon him told him about Dorothy, Betsy Bobbin and Trot. If his demand is not met, in three days, he will destroy the city.

It really doesn't make sense that this girl knows about Dorothy and her American friends. Apparently, Quiberon was there before Dorothy showed up in Oz, and the girl says that she knows about them from an old book she has.

King Cheeriobed does not think they could get to the Emerald City in time and says the one person who could help them would be the Good Witch of the North.

... Say what? Not Ozma, the Wizard, or Glinda, but a character who had less appearances in Baum's stories than the Queen of the Field Mice?

It's decided Prince Philador will go to seek the Good Witch of the North, because that's standard for Thompson now. A giant sea gull carries Philador away from the Ozure Isles, never mind why a sea gull is by a lake in a landlocked country.

Soothsayer Akbad (wait, did Thompson just put the word "bad" into this guy's name?) picks the golden pear that was supposed to be for only Philador to use. This gives him golden wings that carry him to the Emerald City.

Then we head over to Boston, where a statue of a famous public benefactor comes to life by a passerby finding some magic words and reading them. That... is actually one of the more Baumian touches I've seen. Anyways, Benny falls to Oz through a hole in the ground. (Thus supporting a theory a friend had that Oz is a "Hollow Earth" country, though Dorothy & The Wizard in Oz and Baum's map seem to indicate otherwise.) There, he meets the Scarecrow and wishes to be a real person. The Scarecrow suggests he tries acting like a real person and nicknames him Benny.

Benny sees what appears to be a big bird and runs away from it, carrying the Scarecrow with him. The "big bird" turns out to be Akbad. Benny stops when he sees Trot, and so does Akbad! Realizing who Trot is (how???), Akbad grabs her. The Scarerow and Benny try to rescue her, so Akbad ends up depositing them all in Quiberon's cave, and then Akbad just gets a bad rap and sulks around for most of the story, with two heavy flightless wings on his back. (There is an exception, but I won't mention it just now.)

I don't get why Akbad got it so harsh. Frankly, Cheeriobed decides that if Philador survives, then they can all die. So, he's putting one life before the life of the entire kingdom? I can't really blame Akbad here. Sure, kidnapping is bad, but still, I thought his motive wasn't bad at all. At the end, he repents and the wings are removed. Still, Thompson really wants to put him in a bad light. He's the only person in the Ozure Isles that did anything that made sense!

In Quiberon's cave, the trio manages to find a tunnel that leads them to a series of caves, and Quiberon can't follow them there.

Meanwhile, we see what the Good Witch of the North is doing. Oh, and Thompson named her Tattypoo. I don't even want to try etymology on that name. She lives in a little cottage with a dragon named Agnes. Agnes asks her if there was ever a time she was "young and pretty."

... Because, apparently, with Thompson, you cannot be old and pretty.

So, Tattypoo thinks about her past, remembers something, and jumps through "the Witch Window." Agnes follows her, leaving the place empty just as Philador arrives.

Being told by Tattypoo's magic slate (remember that? Nice!) that Tattypoo is gone for good (Hooray! Now no character will have to have that name!) and that he should go to the Emerald City so Ozma can help him. He helps himself to some food and magical supplies, but accidentally knocks a bottle off a shelf. The liquid in the bottle begins forming into a man with a medicine chest as his chest.

The man introduces himself as Dr. Herby, who was thrown into a cough syrup he was boiling by ... guess who? Mombi. (Well, at least this one was in her own country!) He melted into it, got poured into a bottle, and was apparently confiscated by Tattypoo, who never suspected that it contained an enchanted person.

Philador and Herby head out and use the magic tools and Herby's medicines to get past obstacles, until they meet Joe King. (Okay, Thompson, you have to be joking with these punny names!) He lets them use his horse High Boy to get them to the Emerald City. High Boy is twice as large as a normal horse and has telescoping legs.

Meanwhile, the Scarecrow, Benny, and Trot (what is Trot doing without Cap'n Bill?) escape Cave Town by an explosion that frees them from Shadow People who were about to make them shadows like them. This opens up the cavern they were trapped in, supposedly freeing Quiberon, who is waiting out the three days. After getting caught with the Round-abouties, they meet Philador, Herby, and High Boy, who offer them to join. They hurry to the Emerald City, helped in part by Herby's medicines.

Which points to a concern some readers have that I think is valid: Herby's medicines are comparable to amphetamines and are taken by all members of the group who can swallow, including the children, quite liberally.

After getting through Shutterville, High Boy's group hurries to the Emerald City.

Meanwhile, in the Ozure Isles, Orpah, a merman who cared for the Sea Horses that Quiberon ate (and helped Trot, the Scarecrow, and Benny in the caverns) returns and they are surprised when Queen Orin of the Ozure Isles arrives to stand by her husband on the day of its destruction. Quiberon tries to attack Orin, but Akbad saves her, the one other thing he got to do in the story.

In the Emerald City, Ozma and the Wizard hurry to the Ozure Isles to help Cheeriobed, and manage to turn Quiberon into a statue. The Wizard restores the Sea Horses from their skeletons, and Orin reveals that she is Tattypoo. Mombi, when snubbed by Cheeriobed for choosing Orin over her, kidnapped Orin and transformed her into what she intended to be a Wicked Witch, but Orin's goodness made her a good witch that conquered Mombi. Agnes was also Orin's maid and has also been restored.

Now, while some readers dislike the fact that Thompson did away with one of Baum's characters, my problem is she failed to make Orin an interesting enough character to validate getting rid of one of Baum's good witches. We are told how Orin got to the Ozure Isles after she was restored by the Witch Window, but it would have been more satisfying to follow her adventure.

Still, some fans protest that Orin was not really THE Good Witch of the North, and some stories have been written to have both her and the Good Witch of the North co-exist. (Some call her "Locosta," the prettier name that appeared in "The Wizard of Oz" musical in 1902.)

Furthermore, why is almost every other character in Thompson's Oz a prince or princess of some sort? I'm missing Baum's Oz where people were content to be ordinary hard-working citizens!

At the end, Ozma decides to make Cheeriobed and Orin the rulers of the Munchkin Country and Joe King and his queen Hyacinth the rulers of the Gillikin Country.

Joe King might make a nice ruler for the Gillikins, but I wish Thompson had had him in a story where he played a larger role first. And Cheeriobed I wouldn't put in charge of the Munchkin Country at all! He was going to let his kingdom die as long as his son survived! Yes, first love for children, but still, what a pushover!

Oh, and Benny decides he doesn't want to be human. Living in Oz is enough life for him, so he resigns himself to it.

Over all, The Giant Horse of Oz isn't bad. It just left me confused a bit. There were parts that didn't make sense, underdeveloped secondary characters are given big responsibilities, and unnecessary transformations happen. And why so much blame on Mombi? She was already executed, so why not let her rest in peace?

Hey, Herby, you got any pills to keep me smiling?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Interview with Eric Shanower

This interview has a little history behind it. When I was launching the first version of my Oz website, I decided to get an interview with Eric Shanower for it. He very kindly accepted some questions and replied. That was September 2003. In March 2006, with the forthcoming collection of his Oz graphic novels Adventures in Oz on the wishlist of every Oz fan, I asked him if we could update the interview. He agreed again, and here we are.

As I have been moving all content from my old website, I have decided to put the interview here. Some other articles from the old site will also be finding new homes on the blog. Whether or not I'll interview Eric again remains to be seen.

What's your basic life's story?
I was born in October 1963 in Key West, Florida. My father was in the US Coast Guard, so my family--father, mother, younger sister--moved every few years while I was growing up. I graduated from Novato (CA) High School in 1981. I graduated from The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art (Dover, NJ) in 1984. I immediately began working freelance in the comics field. My first Oz graphic novel, the Enchanted Apples of Oz, was published in April 1986. I moved in with my boyfriend, David Maxine, in 1990, in New Haven, CT. My first prose book, The Giant Garden of Oz, was published June 1993. My current comic book series, Age of Bronze, began publication November 1998 and is still going. I currently
(Sept 2003) live in San Diego, CA, with David and our Boston terrier, The Road to Oz.

How were you introduced to Oz?
I saw the movie on television while I was a child. I liked it very much. Soon after, my parents took me to a bookstore and told me I could pick out one book. I found several of the Reilly & Lee white cover editions of the Baum books and chose The Road to Oz. My parents then read me a chapter a night before bedtime. I was hooked.

Did you have any siblings or friends who also liked Oz?
No. When I was in third grade a girl in my class also liked the Oz books. I was envious because she had some of the books I didn't. I also wanted Oz to be my own private enthusiasm.

Did you have any ideas for Oz stories that you never wrote?
Of course.

How did you become involved with comic books?
I've loved comics ever since I was a child. I drew my own comics pretty steadily from about fifth grade on. In high school I decided I wanted to be a cartoonist and draw comic books for a living. I attended a trade school geared primarily toward drawing comics art. While there, I interviewed at comic book publishers in New York City and sent my portfolio to publishers farther away. I got my first professional comic book job the day before graduation from art school, and I've been working professionally ever since.

Besides your Oz work, what other work is most notable?
My current comic book series, Age of Bronze, is probably my most widely known work. It's a retelling of the Trojan War in all its dramatic detail.

What comics have you worked on?
Many. Go to my website http://www.ericshanower.com/ for a full bibliography, but here's a few: Nexus, Justice League of America, Prez, The Elsewhere Prince, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Batman, An Accidental Death, Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor, Star Wars, Badger.

How did you meet David Maxine and start Hungry Tiger Press?
Those are two separate questions. I met David at the International Wizard of Oz Club's 1983 Winkie Convention in Yosemite, CA. He was sitting behind the registration table, and I wondered who he was to be given such responsibility since I'd been attending the convention for years and had never seen him before. When I was introduced I recognized his name since he'd written for the Oz Club's magazine, The Baum

David and I started Hungry Tiger Press in 1994 because he wanted to publish an anthology of new and old Oz fiction and I wanted to publish a comic book retelling of the Trojan War. Hungry Tiger Press ended up publishing Oz-story (an annual anthology of Oz and Oz-related stories, poems, comics, etc. that ran only for six issues), but Age of Bronze is published by Image Comics because the comic book business is too weak for me to risk self-publishing a comic book series about the Trojan War.

How did you and David meet James  Patrick Doyle?
I met him through David who met him through an online Oz e-mail list. I really didn't know him very well. I only met him in person once. David knew him much better than I did.

How do you feel about your Oz artwork being as highly praised as that of John R. Neill's?
That's a very flattering statement, but I'm not sure it's actually the case. Neill, of course, is the man. He had a much better facility for illustration than I do. He ignored the rules of perspective quite often, and it's pretty obvious he got somewhat bored with Oz after a few books, but when he was doing his best work, Oz or otherwise, he was glorious. So being compared with Neill is very nice and a little uncomfortable for me.

So, you've been involved with many Oz projects since you published The Enchanted Apples of Oz. Is there anything you're especially proud of or think is some of your best work?
I’m very proud of my illustrations for The Wicked Witch of Oz by Rachel Cosgrove Payes. My intention
was to make an attractive book all the way around, and I think I succeeded to a large extent. I’m proud of a
lot of the work I’ve done for Hungry Tiger Press, in particular the six volumes of Oz-story and the illustrations for Paradox in Oz by Edward Einhorn. One of the projects I’m most proud of, not necessarily from an Oz perspective, but from the perspective of reaching at least some depth of emotion and intelligence, is the short story Abby (printed in Oz-Story #2), which is a sort of sequel to Jack Snow’s The Shaggy Man of Oz.

If you were asked to do conceptual art on a new film version of an Oz story, would you be interested?
Probably not. But if I were offered scads of money and I could fit the work into my schedule, I’d consider it.

In addition to Age of Bronze, and your Oz work, you've also done some freelancing for DC and Marvel Comics. Any favorites among your work for them?
I’m very fond of the two Promethea spin-off Little Margie in Misty Magic Land stories I drew for DC/ABC. I drew a short story about Stanford White for DC/Paradox’s The Big Book of Scandal that I’m proud of. The Wonder Woman story in Christmas with the Superheroes #2 for DC was enjoyable. I also had to mimic Jack Kirby’s art in an issue of Worlds’ Greatest Comic Magazine from Marvel and that was fun. I drew a short Wasp story for Marvel Comics Presents #49 that I was initially resistant to working on, but then found myself really enjoying.

Are there any projects you'd like to do in the future?
Yes. I have ideas for prose books, a book of short stories I’d like to illustrate, one comics art miniseries or graphic novel that I’d like to write and find someone else to draw, and other things. There’s never enough time to get everything done.

Are you excited that your original graphic novels and the additional material are now in Adventures In Oz and are available to Oz fans and the public in general?
Yes, of course. I’ve been trying to get the Oz graphic novels collected into one volume and published since the late 1990s. I’m really glad it’s finally happening and that IDW Publishing is really paying attention to details and producing a quality book.

Do you have a favorite Oz movie?

Do you have any words to Oz fans you'd like to share here?
When I was a child I wanted to grow up to write and illustrate my own Oz books. Well, I've done that and I'm glad I was able to share my Oz books--in whatever form they took--with the world. So if you want to do something, work toward that goal with commitment and forethought, and one day you'll likely find yourself doing what you dreamed of.

Sorry here!

Okay, no blogs recently. My work schedule changed, where I work Monday through Friday like a regular person instead of having Sunday and Wednesday off, when I'd have half a weekend and a mid-week break.

Another reason is that the wireless adapter I purchased for my computer got damaged and needs replaced. However, I've not been able to make the trip to get a new one yet.

So, don't think I've forgotten the blog, and for the folks who IM me, that's what's up.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shameless Twitter Plug...

For those who follow me on Twitter, I sometimes (okay, often) have some Ozzy things to say, some of which don't make it to the blog.
When a Thompson character starts thinking about their past, you know there'll be a transformation somewhere.
Recently, though, when I'm getting ready to record a podcast, I'll announce it on Twitter. Specifically when it's an interview, I'll welcome questions through Twitter, but they must be submitted before the interview starts. (I'll usually note the time.)

On the other hand, I do tend to say some non-Ozzy stuff...
Okay, phone, what did Facebook and Juno do to you? Because you won't let me access them.
Some more mature stuff...
It's official. The boy's been castrated. Weird part: he's happy with it.
And sometimes, they cross.
Wait, if Oogaboo has 18 men, 27 women, and 44 children, does that mean some of the men slept around?

Anyways, if that doesn't scare you off, you're welcome to follow my ramblings on Twitter. My user name is JaredofMO.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Gnome King of Oz

Something I didn't mention about Thompson that I will say now about her 1927 Oz book. She preferred to use the traditional spelling "Gnome" with a "G" for the Nomes. I'm not exactly sure if it's been verified, but Baum claimed he wrote it without a "G" so it would be easier for children to pronounce. However, he did use the traditional spelling in his book The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, and if that Gnome King is the Nome King, then there's really no issue...

Now, on to The Gnome King of Oz!

We open in the kingdom of Patch, somewhere in Winkie Country, where the Queen has just gone to pieces. (This kingdom's form of dying: when people "wear out," they fall into pieces and are put in a scrap bag, only to emerge good as new ten years later. A very amusing method, I must say.) Ministers Scrapper and Piercer set out, following the Spool of Succession to find the next ruler. The spool (and the Wizard's footpath) takes them to the Emerald City, where they find Scraps, and assume she must be the next ruler. However, she is indignant at being captured and carried away, and is none to thrilled to discover that the Queen of the Quilties is expected to wait upon the ministers and do menial tasks.

Meanwhile, a boy named Peter in Philadelphia goes to buy a balloon, but it turns out it's a balloon bird intent on carrying him to Baloona where he will be a servant. Peter takes the first opportunity to drop from the sky and onto an island, which has one inhabitant: the titular Ruggedo.

THOMPSON TRADEMARK: High flying into adventure. (Oh, wait, wrong blog entry...)

Ruggedo offers to make Peter rich if he helps him off the island, and Peter ... agrees to an extent. He's very wary of the Nome (Yes, Thompson! Call 'em what you will, but I'm dropping the G!), but is still a little tempted by the offer of riches. So... Thompson has a kid with potential for corruption? ... Go, girl!

The two find a pirate ship with some food and treasure inside, as well as a magic cloak that can transport the wearer anywhere and makes them invisible. It just doesn't work now because it's been torn. The ship manages to get Peter and Ruggedo to Ev, where Ruggedo wastes no time invading the Nome Kingdom, and threatening Kaliko off the throne. (Oh, Kaliko...) Ruggedo discovers that the only way to mend the cloak is to have it done in the kingdom of Patch.

So, you know what this means? They have to cross the Deadly Desert! They plant some plants that grow under them very high and reach right over the desert, dropping them off. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: that desert is getting too easy to cross!

They visit a man named Kuma Party. From the spelling, you might think it would be pronounced "Koo-ma Party," but when you find out more about the character, you discover his first name is pronounced "Come-ah." "Come Aparty," because he can dismember himself and send his body parts flying around. ... You know, I think there was a superhero like that...

After letting them have supper, Kuma literally lends Ruggedo and Peter a hand by having it carry a lantern for them when it gets dark. They reach Patch and Scrapper and Piercer are only too happy to have Ruggedo as a customer to have them repair the cloak, though Scraps, recognizing the Nome, objects. When the cloak is repaired, with only a blue patch that does not turn invisible showing, Peter wishes Ruggedo to "Zamagoochie!" by raising his arm, the proper way to use the cloak. (Ruggedo, classic male, did not read the instructions.)

Scraps, Peter, and their new companion, the tiny bear Grumpy, hope this has bought them enough time to get to the Emerald City. Getting help from Kuma Party's hands, they escape Patch. On the way to the Emerald City, they hurry through the kingdom of Suds, are joined by a helpful Oztrich, sing their way through Tune Town, before reaching the Emerald City.

Suddenly, my wish to visit Oz is swayed by all these weird places that are easy to get stuck in...

Ruggedo, meanwhile, was captured in Zamagoochie by the Wizard Wumbo, who happens to be Kuma Party's father. He holds Ruggedo captive in his chair's arms, but when the arms finally let go, Ruggedo promptly escapes and heads to the Emerald City. Wumbo sends for Kuma to send a message to Ozma in the Emerald City.

However, Ozma is away and has the Magic Belt with her, so Ruggedo remains invisible in the Emerald City, pulling tricks in his invisible state. Just as Ozma returns, Scraps and her retinue arrive and warn them. But it is too late, as the sneaky Ruggedo manages to steal the belt anyways, and is about to send everyone to the bottom of the Nonestic Ocean, when Peter hits him with a stone that happens to be the Silence Stone. (Yay, deus ex machina...) Because he is mute, he cannot command the cloak to carry him away, or for the Magic Belt to do anything, so he is quickly captured.

Ozma wipes Ruggedo's memory again in the Water of Oblivion, sends the Quilties of Patch a new Queen (changing some laws, though), and sends Peter home with two big bags of gold from the pirate ship.

At first, the story seems to be okay, despite the deus ex machina conquest of Ruggedo. However, the story seems to be just too easy. It's not a bad story, but it's not great. Thompson plays with some interesting ideas, such as Peter not being an average good boy, but doesn't really develop them into a satisfying conclusion. Kuma Party is just about the best new character, but most of the time, it's just his hands doing the action. We don't really see his character develop.

The Gnome King of Oz is an okay story. Like I said, not bad, but not great.

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 ozartist.blogspot.com.

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 Lulu.com or Amazon.com, 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.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Hungry Tiger of Oz

Now, for those of you who've been following my readings and criticisms of Thompson (many of them my first impressions), you might be expecting me to rip into Thompson yet again. We'll see if The Hungry Tiger of Oz from 1926 is worthy of my ire.

We open in the country of Rash which is... not in Oz. Yes, Thompson actually placed this one just beyond the Deadly Desert. (Good. It was getting to the point that you couldn't take a step in Oz without walking into some kingdom.) Irashi, the Pasha of the Arabian-esque country, has jailed many citizens. It's getting to be too much to handle, so when someone suggests they get a tiger to devour the prisoners, they set out to get the Hungry Tiger.

"Wait!" you say. "That sounds a lot like the opening of The Cowardly Lion of Oz!" And yes, it does seem to be a rehashed idea. I like how Thompson handled here better because there's more of a purpose to it rather than someone just wanting something.

So, how to cross the Deadly Desert? With a hurry cane! Now, my only issue here is that there seems to be far too many ways to cross the Deadly Desert. One of my readers, when I asked him, said that by his count, in 10 of Thompson's 19 books, the Deadly Desert is crossed. So, the biggest defense of Oz isn't so terrible anymore.

Anyway, the Hungry Tiger is easily tempted by the thought of guilelessly eating criminals, so agrees to visit Rash. However, they intend a more permanent stay.

Back in Oz, Betsy Bobbin meets Carter Green, a vegetable man who is made of vegetables. Fun idea for a character, except that it says he used to be an ordinary man but just ate vegetables and went the way of "You are what you eat." Now, this is fun and fantastical enough, but it does give the idea to impressionable young readers that if they eat too many veggies, they'll become a freak.

Anyway, Carter is selling vegetables, and Betsy buys some, when suddenly, they find themselves on a winding road. They get thrown off course and Betsy finds a pair of Quick Sandals and gives them to Carter, who noted he wanted a pair of shoes to keep his feet from rooting in the ground. However, these accidentally carry them over the Deadly Desert and they find themselves in Rash, where they are soon thrown to the Tiger.

As it turns out, the Tiger has been having a disappointing time, as he sees the people who have been thrown to him are not ardent criminals. When a little boy is thrown to them who is identified as the Scarlet Prince Evered (or Reddy), they and the prisoners attempt escape through some loose paving stones, and find themselves underground.

It turns out, of course, that Irashi is an usurper, while Reddy is the proper ruler of Rash, and if he had the three missing rubies of Rash, then he would be protected from any harm, and be able to take back his kingdom. It turns out Carter had one of the rubies with him, and he happily restores it to its owner.

The company finds themselves in Down Town, where the rulers, Dad and his queen Fi Nance (a woman who is now literally made of money), command them to find something to do to make money. While Thompson uses this to wisely rid herself of the extra characters, she sends the rest to the Nome ... oh ... Gnome Kingdom.

Kaliko welcomes them warmly, but when he hears that they're looking for the Rubies of Rash, he hides a Ruby Ring in his throne. But when Carter overhears him tell where it is, they quickly recover the ring and escape the Gnome country by a "fire fall," at the cost of Carter's corn ears popping. (Fortunately, he shortly finds replacements.)

They find themselves outside a giant's city, where the Hungry Tiger is mistaken for a kitten by a giant little girl, and a giant bird carries Reddy into the city. (Fortunately, the two rubies he has will protect him.) Carter devises a plan to get into the city: he'll take her in his arms and take root and grow over the wall of the giants' city. (Wow... Self sacrifice!) However, suddenly, a giant walks out, calling for Betsy.

And then we get a "Meanwhile..." and we go to... Ozma? Yes, we just got a new subplot two-thirds of the way into the book. Thompson didn't weave her subplots together quite as tightly as Baum. Here, it's a little aggravating, because we just had an interesting twist and now we start up another subplot.

Ozma is kidnapped by Atmos Fere, an "airman," who is basically a giant balloon man. He doesn't have evil intentions, though. He just wanted a specimen of a human being to display at a lecture on them. However, Ozma doesn't have time for this, so after he crosses the Deadly Desert with her (AGAIN?), she whips out a pin!

Ozma has Atmos Fere repaired by Rusty Ore, a repairman, who also gives him a pair of Iron Boots, so he and Ozma head off again...

And then we discover what's been going on with the Hungry Tiger and Reddy. Reddy finds the Hungry Tiger, then discovers to his astonishment that the giants of the city are actually only giants when wearing wigs. At night, they remove their wigs, shrink to a normal size, and sleep in normal-sized beds. Reddy steals the wig of the girl who took the Hungry Tiger (who now feels sorry for regular kittens) and gets out of the city, meaning he is the giant who's calling for Betsy.

And then Ozma and Atmos show up, so the two plots merge. Upon hearing the stories of each others journeys, Atmos realizes he has the last ruby of Rash. So yes, an invincible giant Reddy conquers Rash and Irashi, who Atmos takes home (with Irashi's right-hand man Ippty) to be the specimens of humans for his lecture, saying he will drop them off on a deserted island somewhere when he's done.

Hey... Thompson didn't kill or transform the villains this time around!

And everyone else uses Hurry Canes to return to Oz.

Altogether, Thompson finally begins here to show some promise. She gives us a quest story so interesting that when it is interrupted, the reader is a little irritated.

One little issue I have here is that Betsy is very much Thompson's Dorothy again with a name change. She didn't really make the character feel distinct.

In the end, though, The Hungry Tiger of Oz is a good Oz book, probably Thompson's best since Kabumpo in Oz.