19 August 2014

J. A. Jance and the Oz Books

I’ve been hearing about the mystery writer J. A. Jance’s appearance at the Moravian Bookshop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, so I decided to highlight how she became a writer.

She’s told this story in many brief ways, but this essay for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer seems to have the most detail:
I ended up in Mrs. Spangler’s [second-grade] class, and that, too, was a life-changing event. On a shelf under the window, Mrs. Spangler had a collection of books. If we finished our work early, we were allowed to go to the bookshelf and choose a book. I always finished my work early, and that’s where I discovered The Wizard of Oz–not the movie, but the book by Frank Baum. And not just that one book, either, the whole series, all of them. For me, it was love at first sight.

Some kids encountering The Wizard of Oz focus on the Wizard himself, the funny little guy hiding behind his green curtain. What I saw was Frank Baum hiding behind the words, and as soon as I realized someone had put those words on paper, that’s who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. I wanted to write books; tell stories; put words on paper.
In another interview, Jance also highlighted John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee thrillers: “That was when I realized it was possible to write series books for grown-ups. There were of course other authors who wrote series books for grown-ups, but that was one that was readily accessible for me.”

I was struck by how the card page (i.e., the “Other Books by This Author” page) in Jance’s latest books, listing two hefty mystery series and a bunch of other titles, has the same sense of promise as the long list printed in some Oz books.

18 August 2014

Wisest Thing I’ve Read Today

Over the weekend the Boston Globe ran an interview with eleven-year-old actor Aidan Gemme. He’s currently starring as Peter Llewellyn in the unfathomable stage musical adaptation of Neverland, the unhistorical movie about J. M. Barrie writing Peter Pan.

One of Gemme’s earlier Broadway jobs was alternating in the role of the Boy in Waiting for Godot. Here’s how he described preparing to play that frustrating character:
The Boy doesn’t really have a personality, and you can’t get information on him. I didn’t step into him. I just stepped out of myself.

17 August 2014

One Family’s Robin Debate

This week Brad Guigar of the Evil, Inc. webcomic (sample above) posted a podcast debate among himself, his eight-year-old son Max, and his twelve-year-old son Alex on the vital question of who’s the best Robin.

Some observations about the discussion:
  • The gents are almost totally concerned with DC’s post-Crisis, pre-New 52 universe, with perhaps a bit of the animated cartoons thrown in. It’s no surprise to hear them skip Jason Todd’s pre-Crisis past as a trapeze artist since that goes against what made the character most meaningful, but the guys also don’t acknowledge the history of the second Tim Drake, appearing in comics now.
  • The panel amalgamates Carrie Kelley, the possible future female Robin from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Rises, with Stephanie Brown, the short-lived female Robin from the regular continuity about a decade ago. (And of course they don’t bother with the current Stephanie Brown, who had a shorter history.) I think that mostly shows how girls remain an unfathomable mass to preteen boys.
  • The older son makes a sharp distinction between the Robin he likes most as a character (Jason) with the character he thinks is or was the best Robin. In fact, he ranks Jason low on the Robin scale.
  • Neither young panelist sees much to like in Damian Wayne. I believe young readers still want a Robin they can look up to or imagine as their own best selves. Damian’s popularity rests with older readers who get off on his brattiness or neediness.
Thanks to Eric Gjovaag for the pointer to this podcast.

16 August 2014

What Do Those Challenges to The Giver Mean?

Slate just ran Ben Blatt’s article with the incendiary headline “The Giver Banned” and the more temperate subtitle “Why Do So Many Parents Try to Remove Lois Lowry’s Book?”

Blatt wrote:
Since its release in 1993, The Giver has been one of the most controversial books in American schools. Between 1990 and 1999, The Giver ranked 11th on the list of the books most frequently requested for removal. In the 2000s it was 23rd, just two spots below To Kill a Mockingbird. This Friday marks the release of the first film adaptation of The Giver, which is likely to renew fandom, as well as opposition, to the dystopian young adult novel.
That analysis is lacking several crucial variables:
  • just how many schools and school libraries have The Giver as a standard title. The more schools use a book, especially as assigned reading for a whole class, the more likely it is to prompt challenges, but the rate of those challenges could still be much lower than for other titles.
  • how much difference there is between the top of the list and 23rd.
The article states that, in contrast to most other controversial titles, and especially the most challenged, “The most frequently cited reasons to challenge The Giver have been ‘Violence’ and claims that the book is ‘Unsuited to [the] Age Group’—or in other words that it’s too dark for children.” That point is accompanied by a chart showing how types of challenges to The Giver compared to the ALA’s total database. But the chart offers no “n value”—no statement of how many challenges were counted.

And that complaint brings up another missing variable: what grades the complaints were coming from. To a parent “Unsuited to Age Group” doesn’t mean too dark for all children but too dark for the particular children assigned to read it.

And let’s face it, The Giver is a dark book, regardless of what age its readers are. That’s kind of the point.

15 August 2014

Keith Ablow Lets His OIP Derangement Syndrome Hang Out

This week’s example of OIP Derangement Syndrome comes from Keith Ablow, a FOX television psychiatrist and writer of thrillers featuring a hairless psychiatrist who’s irresistible to women.

Ablow can be relied on to say ridiculous negative things about President Barack Obama, which is of course why he’s under contract to FOX.

He was presumably on the woman-hosted talk show Outnumbered because of his keen insight into feminine psychology, as shown by his claim in 2012 that Newt Gingrich’s pattern of marital infidelity and divorce proves he’s attractive to women.

The Outnumbered regulars brought up Michelle Obama’s campaign for better childhood nutrition, a cause that would ordinarily be so non-controversial that resentment of it is itself a strong sign of OIP Derangement Syndrome. Ablow’s contribution to the conversation was, in the words of Wonkette:
How well could she be eating? She needs to drop a few. [All the women gasp as if they didn’t already know Keith Ablow is terrible] We’re taking nutritional advice from who?
The next day he repeated his argument.

Which he had launched with his paunch hanging over his belt, as shown above.

14 August 2014

Wrapping Up the Winkie Convention, part 3

Here’s the final schedule for the final day of the 2014 Winkie Convention in San Diego—Sunday, 10 August.

Sunday, 8:30 am
Ozzy Tai Chi led by grandmaster Parker Linekin
Brunch at the Hotel Del Coronado, where L. Frank Baum wrote several books

Sunday, 10:00 am
“The Making of ‘The Wizard of Oz’” Documentary with movie historian Aljean Harmetz (reprise)
Baum’s Boys with authors Paul Dana, Jared Davis, J. L. Bell, and Michael Gessell

Sunday, 11:00 am
75 Years of the MGM Wizard of Oz with movie experts Aljean Harmetz, Priscilla Montgomery, Robert A. Welch, Steve Cox, and Anthony Tringali
A New Oz Series: A Look Back with The Emerald Wand of Oz and Trouble Under Oz author Sherwood Smith and illustrator William Stout, interviewed by J. L. Bell—the first time Smith and Stout had met
Walking Tour of Coronado with the Coronado Historical Association (reprise)

Sunday, 12:30 pm
The Adventures of Queen Ann in Oz with authors Eric Gjovaag and Karyl Carlson and illustrators Bill Campbell and Irwin Terry—the first time this creative team had met, on the occasion of their book’s republication

Sunday, 1:30 pm
The Tik-Tok Man of Oz Audience Talk-Back with producer Eric Shanower, lighting designer Christopher Boltz, set and costume co-designer David Maxine, and performers Eduard Cao, Taylor Hamilton, Taylor Schwartz, and Laura Bueno

Sunday, 2:30 pm
Upcoming Oz Events and Closing Ceremonies with convention organizers David Maxine, Freddy Fogarty, Eric Gjovaag, and Karyl Carlson

That programming could not have happened without the audiovisual equipment loaned by SanSFiS (more on that group later), the tireless work of SanSFiS volunteer Barney Evans, and the half-dozen presenters who made their laptops available for other sessions.

13 August 2014

Wrapping Up the Winkie Convention, part 2

The final, actual Winkie Con 2014 schedule continues with the official events of Saturday, 9 August. This was the biggest day of the convention with the highest attendance and the most events going on at once.

Saturday, 7:30 am
Army of Oogaboo Bootcamp led by the well-traveled Colin Ayres

Saturday, 9:00 am
Costume Contest hosted by Kurt Raymond and Lee Speth

Saturday, 10:00 am
The Winkie Con Quizzes administered by last year’s winners Jared Davis, Miriam Esther Goldman, and Susan Hall
Conversation with Movie Historian Aljean Harmetz with interviewer Anthony Tringali
Oz Collectibles with collectors Freddy Fogarty, Bill Campbell, and Kurt Raymond
Auction Preview
Dealers’ Room Reopens
Oz Research Table, Art Show, and Swap Table Reopen
Display of Judy Garland Movie Costumes Reopens with Michael Siewert

Saturday, 11:00 am
Friends of Dorothy: The LGBT Side of Oz with authors and artists Michael Cart, Dee Michel, Joe Phillips, Rachael Anderson, and Anthony Trujillo
The Oz Books for Beginners: Reading and Collecting with experts Eric Gjovaag and Paul Bienvenue
Mechanical Men and Dinosaurs in Oz with science-fiction fans William R. Lund, Susan Hall, Lee Speth, and Tim Tucker
Walking Tour of Coronado with the Coronado Historical Association (reprise)
Auction Session 1 with auctioneer Bill Thompson

Saturday, 12:00 noon
A. Arnold Gillespie: The Wizard of Special Effects with biographer Robert A. Welch (reprise)
Fictional Worlds and Fandoms: From Oz to Star Trek and Beyond with fandom veterans Bjo and John Trimble, Margaret Koontz, Michael Cart, and Tim Tucker
Soon As I Get Home: An Oz Lunch Concert with singer-songwriter Anthony Whitaker

Saturday, 1:00 pm
Oz and Tarot with publishers Anna Warren Cebrian and Mark Anthony Masterson and reader Gita Morena
Oz and the American Musical with musicologist Ryan Bunch
From Humbug to Hero: Getting to Know the Wizard of Oz with fans Stan Sieler, Atticus Gannaway, Carrie Hedges, John W. Kennedy, and J. L. Bell
Storytelling Workshop: From Character to Comic led by Anthony Nuñez
Auction Session 2 with auctioneer Bill Thompson

Saturday, 2:00 pm
Oz Tabletop Roleplaying Game led by Stephen Koontz
Toto of Oz, a Great and Powerful Film Career with Patricia Watson
Today’s Publishing Options with authors Henry Herz, Paul Dana, Edward Einhorn, and Kevin Gerard
Tarot Readings by Gita Morena

Saturday, 3:00 pm
Conversation with Bjo and John Trimble with interviewer Jack Plummer
Storytelling in Someone Else’s Sandbox with authors Melissa Wiley, Caroline Spector, Edward Einhorn, and Gina Wickwar

Saturday, 4:00 pm
Conversation with Priscilla Montgomery, an MGM Munchkin, with interviewer Anthony Tringali
Crafting Oz with artists Dave Kelleher, Karyl Carlson, and Bill Campbell
The Baum Bugle: Meet the Editors! with Craig Noble and Jared Davis

Saturday, 6:00 pm
The Grand Winkie Banquet and awards ceremony

Saturday, 8:00 pm
The Tik-Tok Man of Oz Musical Play directed by Chrissy Burns

Saturday, 11:00 pm
Tik-Tok’s Robotic Ragtime Revelry after-party with the Heliotrope Ragtime Ensemble

The image above is sheet music from The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, produced in 1913. That musical extravaganza was L. Frank Baum’s attempt to recreate the huge success he’d enjoyed with the 1902 stage version of The Wizard of Oz. What we saw on Saturday night was a game attempt to produce a coherent drama from the fragmentary surviving scripts and songs. Always lively, full of delights, and produced for just the right audience.

12 August 2014

Wrapping Up the Winkie Convention, part 1

I’ve rarely updated this blog over the past several weeks, though not because I didn’t find topics I wanted to write about. Rather, I didn’t have the time to gather and express my thoughts because I was helping to organize the daytime programming at this year’s Winkie Convention in San Diego. “Winkie” as in the western part of the land of Oz—this convention was originally organized for Oz fans in the western USA.

The 2014 Winkie Convention was the 50th annual, as well as falling during the 75th anniversary of MGM’s Wizard of Oz. Retiring chairman David Maxine was determined to make it one of the busiest Oz events ever. He also wanted to serve the local children’s-writing community with some publishing workshops and panels. And that’s how I first got drawn in from afar.

As the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, the convention took place this past weekend. And it feels like a rousing success: nearly 400 people attending, a delightfully sung performance of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz presented in the city for the first time in a century, and the first-ever meetings of the authors and illustrators of three Oz books. Most people were pleased, and some pleasantly surprised, by how lively the panel discussions were.

We were adjusting the convention schedule up to the last minutes, so for the historical record I decided to compile what actually happened and who was involved, starting with the convention events for Friday, 8 August.

Friday, 7:30 am
Trot & Cap’n Bill’s La Jolla Kayak Tour at La Jolla Kayak

Friday, 10:00 am
So This Is Your First Winkie Convention with volunteers Eric Shanower, J. L. Bell, and Lee Speth
What to See in Coronado with local arts officials Heidi Wilson and Kelly Purvis

Friday, 11:00 am
Golden Age of Hollywood Costumes with researchers and collectors Christian Esquevin, Michael Siewert, and Aljean Harmetz
Creating Oz Comics with creators and publishers Anna Warren Cebrian, Mark Anthony Masterson, and Eric Shanower
Walking Tour of Coronado with the Coronado Historical Association
Oz Research Table, Art Show, and Swap Table Opens

Friday, 12:00 noon
Oz Show-and-Tell moderated by collector Freddy Fogarty
A Career in Fantasy Illustration with artist William Stout
Display of Judy Garland’s Movie Costumes with Michael Siewert
Dealers’ Room Opens

Friday, 1:00 pm
A. Arnold Gillespie: The Wizard of Special Effects with biographer Robert A. Welch
Fashioning Nonfiction that Fascinates Kids with authors Kathleen Krull, Paul Brewer, Edward Einhorn, and Angelica Carpenter
The Wizard’s Workshop: Arts and Crafts Activities led by Margaret Koontz

Friday, 2:00 pm
Fifty Years of the Winkie Con with longtime attendees Peter Hanff, Edith Hollister, Nathan Hollister, Lee Speth, and Susan Hall
“The Making of ‘The Wizard of Oz’” Documentary with movie historian Aljean Harmetz—shown publicly for the first time since the early 1980s
Conversation with Author Sherwood Smith with interviewer J. L. Bell

Friday, 3:00 pm
Emerald City, Suffragette City with writers Caroline Spector, Angelica Carpenter, Rachael Anderson, Miriam Esther Goldman, and Gita Morena
Meet the Wicked Witch! with performer Kurt Raymond

Friday, 4:00 pm
Speedy’s Adventures in Masculinity with blogger J. L. Bell
Conversation with Author Edward Einhorn with interviewer Michael Cart

Friday, 5:00 pm
Professor Marvel’s Hot Dog & Burger Cook-out with dancing by Moreton Bay Fig Morris

Friday, 7:30 pm
Welcome from convention chairman David Maxine
Video Welcome from MGM Munchkin Jerry Maren
Conversation with the Wicked Witch of the West with performer Kurt Raymond and interviewer Batton Lash
The Making of The Making of “The Wizard of Oz” with movie historian Aljean Harmetz
L. Frank Baum and the San Diego Connections with scholar Atticus Gannaway

And then came the big day.

26 July 2014

Kickstarting Dragons

April Brown and colleagues from an online comics magazine called Off Registration have prepared a comics adaptation of E. Nesbit’s The Book of Dragons.

That volume will of course include a version of “The Deliverers of Their Country,” one of my favorite examples of magical realism. The team behind this take is Jonathan Clode and Russell Hossain. According to the sample page, the artist has set the story in the present day, but the dialogue retains the original Edwardian flavor.

Brown and friends are running a Kickstarter campaign to cover printing costs, with an end date of 8 August.

20 July 2014

A Touch of Blue

When DC launched its “New 52” continuity, it redesigned almost all its heroes’ costumes. Nightwing’s new outfit replaced the light blue stripe across the chest and upper back with a bright red stripe and, though it didn’t seem possible, made the tight black body suit even more shiny.

But the biggest change, so far as fans were concerned, was the removal of the light blue stripes down the costume’s arms all the way out the two middle fingers. Nightwing’s new gloves—excuse me, gauntlets—had fins to match his mentors’, and I guess keeping the “fingerstripes” as well would have seemed too frilly.

As new artists arrived on the Nightwing magazine, however, red stripes edged down his sleeves again until they reached the fingers. The process was gradual, as if the editorial office didn’t want the bosses or the fans to notice that they’d realized they’d left behind something good.

And then Dick Grayson gave up the Nightwing costume, at least for a while, for work as a secret agent. A very handsome, acrobatic secret agent. This panel from Grayson, #1, shows some touches designed to please the character’s old fans.

I’m not just talking about Mikel Janin’s multiple images of Dick flipping, which were common in Nightwing both before and after the “New 52” break. I’m talking about those dark gray gloves Dick is wearing, with sky blue bands across each palm.

That detail can only be a nod back to Nightwing’s blue fingerstripes. Sure, the stripe runs along an orthogonal axis, but why else color them that shade of blue? It’s like Dick’s designation as Agent 37 (#37 being the last issue of Detective Comics before Dick Grayson became a sensation of 1940) and the clasp on his shoulder belt (looking like a G, more or less where his R symbol used to be). It’s a sign of “continuity fans” creating this book and struggling to backfill meaning into a universe where most of the past has been erased.