02 September 2014

Did The Economist Solve a Winkie Con Mystery?

The Prospero blog on The Economist’s website filed a report on this month’s Winkie Convention last month, taking note of the extensive schedule of panel discussions that I helped to put together and other activities.
This year, propelled by the publicity for the anniversary of the MGM film, Winkie Con moved from the mid-California Monterey peninsula down to San Diego. The relocation was due in part to San Diego’s proximity to neighbouring resort town, Coronado, where [L. Frank] Baum wintered and wrote several novels. It was also the first year the usually humble Winkie Con expanded to offer a broad conference-style schedule, with concurrent panels discussing subjects such as the strong feminist characters in Baum's books and the rise of fantasy and sci-fi fan culture. Attendance spiked to over 350; many attendees were newer fans, who had found their way down the yellow brick road via the musical "Wicked" or "Oz the Great and Powerful", the new Oz film released in 2013.

Prospero, a first-time festivalgoer, was shown plenty of “ozpitality” and welcomed into many exclusive but never exclusionary events. On the opening day, Aljean Harmetz, a journalist and historian whose mother worked in the MGM costume department for 20 years, screened "The Wizardry of Oz", a 1979 documentary follow-up to her exhaustively detailed book, "The Making of the Wizard of Oz". On the second afternoon, a tightly packed audience strained to hear a Q&A with Priscilla Montgomery Clark, one of the munchkins in the MGM film, who is now in her 80s. A family reunion-style slideshow gave regular Winkie Con organisers and participants a chance to reminisce about the years of lighter programming and more intimate festivities. “There’s Dan again,” someone murmured as the slides shuttered past. “He was a marvellous Dorothy.”

Nearly two-dozen of Baum’s The Wizard of Oz books are in the public domain in America, as is the 1925 film. This makes for a rich ecosystem of Oz-related fan culture that continues to snatch up new graphic novels and support reinterpretations of the original characters. At the swap table, a Winkie Con tradition, one could pick up or drop off gently used books and artwork, or borrow stapled short stories from a stack of unpublished fan-fiction.
Oh ho! In fact, one was not supposed to borrow those short stories but to read them in that room. My story “Post-Transformative Stress” disappeared for several hours during the convention, prompting some anxious “no questions asked” announcements. Eventually it reappeared on the table with no questions answered. Had Prospero mistakenly taken it for a closer read?

No harm done. This year’s contest judges had already done their work and chosen which essays, stories, and artwork should win prizes. “Post-Transformative Stress” came away with one. It throws together Dr. Pipt from Baum’s Patchwork Girl of Oz (shown above) and Iva the kitchen boy from Ruth Plumly Thompson’s The Wishing Horse of Oz. No wonder it might have been so compelling.


Glenn Ingersoll said...

Maybe in the future everybody should bring 10 copies of their story/essay/sculpture.

J. L. Bell said...

This year some Ox Club volunteers invited people to submit essays and fiction over the internet. Judges looked at those items and made their decision through online discussions as well, I believe. The pieces were on display at both major conventions, but not all the writers were at both (or either). So the only way to have ten copies of everything available would have been to give the contest organizers that task as well.

In the past I've been torn about how best to read those items. A busy meeting room isn't ideal, but I also don't want to take away the only copy of something. I got my highest level of reading done when I was a judge and knew I had to clear my schedule. For that reason, I wasn't at all perturbed by the announcements that my story had gone missing since I wasn't sure who was really harmed.

For art, of course, a lot of those pieces are one-of-a-kind. This year at Winkies, I understand the challenges were building display boards (another big thanks to the local fan group, SanSFiC), collecting the promised art, and contacting the artists afterward since they hadn't all come through the online process set up for fiction and essays. But if the artists had brought ten copies, then I could have enjoyed the pieces at a lot more leisure in my hotel room.

Nathan said...

It's been a while since I've attended an Oz convention, but every time I did there were a bunch of stories I wanted to read. I generally either didn't get the chance or couldn't concentrate, but there are some I wouldn't mind seeing again. There was even one I wrote myself on an old computer that's apparently been lost forever. Not that it was particularly great (I wrote it all in one night), but I don't like the idea of something I worked on being lost forever. I'd be interested in seeing the Pipt story, if it's available. Didn't you mention Iva in "Ozma Fights the Sniffles" as well?

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, in that story Iva's bedroom in the palace is above Button-Bright's, so Dorothy commandeers it to lower a basket to Button-Bright's window.

Though Iva appears in the series only briefly, he merited a Neill drawing and an entry in Snow's Who's Who, and I was always intrigued by the experiences of ordinary working boys in the Emerald City, as opposed to leisurely American immigrants or princes in disguise.

Nathan said...

Maybe there should be a story about Fredjon, the Wizard's butler.

hungrytigerboy said...

Oddly, I thought it was standard practice at Oz Cons to "borrow" the stories and essays and go read them elsewhere (as long as you returned them in a timely manner. At Yosemite people would taker them out to the veranda, as castle Park they'd take them out to the porch or a quite parlor where they could read them - and indeed at Asilomar people would often take them to read elsewhere as the only other option was to stand at the research table. So it was big news to me (the chairman!) that folks weren't supposed to borrow the stories.

J. L. Bell said...

I think the kind folks at the Research Table/Swap Table were just worried no copy would be on hand after the Saturday night awards ceremony.