22 December 2015

Slice of Life

At the Hungry Tiger Talk blog, David Maxine has written about the one-of-a-kind Oz-related item that was part of our first meeting, when we were teenagers. This is my side of the story.

Back in 1979, at the age of thirteen, I attended my first International Wizard of Oz Club convention. This was the Munchkin Convention, meaning it drew Oz fans from the eastern part of the United States. In the books, you see, the Munchkins live in the eastern part of Oz. (In most of the books. It’s a long story, which David summarized here.)

That year the Munchkin Convention was in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a reasonably short car ride from my grandparents’ home in suburban Philadelphia. I’d already done some air travel by myself, so I felt confident flying down to visit Grandpa and Grandma.

I wasn’t so confident about meeting the Munchkin conventioneers. I was a shy kid, and I’d never been at that sort of gathering before, much less on my own. It turned out to be a milestone event because it was the first time adult strangers treated me as a peer. For that, I’ll always be grateful to the Oz Club.

There were other teenagers there as well, or at least one: Judy Bieber. But she intimidated me. I was thirteen, and she was (and remains) a couple of years older, which felt like an incredibly significant gap. She was also smart, pretty, and seemingly very much at home in Munchkinland. She created the quiz about the Oz books for that year. She and her father Herm were selling older Oz editions. She appeared to have everything.

To the surprise of the room, and the astonishment of myself, I won Judy’s quiz. The Oz books were the first field of knowledge I really tried to master, and my brain is good at retaining trivial information. And, though I didn’t know it at the time, previous winners were probably sitting out that event. The prize that Judy supplied was an abridged “Junior” edition of Rinkitink in Oz with some John R. Neill color plates. I’m sure that was the first time I’d ever seen one of those abridgments. It may have been the first time I ever knew about them.

By the end of that day, while I was waiting for my grandmother to pick me up, I was already worrying about my responsibilities for the following year. The winner of each year’s quiz had to write the next year’s quiz and supply the prize. I remember another attendee congratulating me on winning and asking if I was already thinking about new questions, and me replying that I was already thinking about the prize.

Making the quiz was fun. I decided to base it on Neill’s pictures and books, and I had fun laying it out. But for a prize? I didn’t have much money to spend, I didn’t know the range of possibilities, and I wasn’t linked into collectors’ networks. I also wasn’t good at asking for help (I’m still not). I wanted to solve this problem on my own—since I was acting as an adult, and all that.

So I decided to use my time in woodworking class to make a prize. A pair of O and Z bookends didn’t work out, but I grabbed a piece of mahogany and figured out a design for a cheese board that incorporated Neill’s OZ symbol in its handle. I didn’t do a great job with the carving, but it was a one-of-a-kind Oz-related trophy. And its real value was symbolic, right?

As David guessed, during the 1980 Munchkin Convention I decided to augment that cheese board with an edition of The Wizard of Oz autographed by Margaret Hamilton, who was there. So now I can also say that I had a brief conversation with her. Very brief.

The person who won my quiz was David Maxine, who had come from out west all the way to Cherry Hill. He was also a teenager. But, like Judy, he was (and is) a couple of years older than me. The difference is minuscule now—we’re all part of what I called the “white cover generation” of Oz fans. But back then David was also daunting.

Looking back, I realize that my thinking at thirteen was skewed by the universal adolescent assumption that every other teen is having more fun than you. To me David seemed like an old hand at Oz conventions and collecting and life. I should have perceived that this was his first time at the Munchkins, and he had no idea I was at just my second gathering. We had more in common than I realized.

If I’d known the winner of my quiz was going to be another teen, I probably wouldn’t have made a kitchen implement. If I’d had the boldness to befriend Judy the year before, I could probably have asked her and Herm to snatch up one of those abridged editions for the 1980 prize. But I couldn’t see any of those possibilities at the time.

I also couldn’t see that David and I would reconnect in something called “online” almost twenty years later. During some Ozzy conversation he mentioned that he still had the cheese board, which was both astonishing and gratifying. (As he’s pointed out, it’s compact and almost impossible to break.) And now that we’re both adults and have had online exchanges about such things as Swiss chard, a kitchen implement turns out to have been more appropriate than we knew. It’s come to symbolize a real-world friendship rooted in Oz.

20 December 2015

“References of actual Robin fight scenes”

Matt Santori-Griffith’s interview with Grayson artist Mikel Janin at Comicosity in January was mostly the upbeat puffery we should expect from comics creators while they’re still marketing their current magazines. Nevertheless, it contains some insights about how that magazine has been put together.

Janin was expecting to take over Nightwing, costume and all, before plans and editors changed:
Former editor Mike Marts asked me to join Nightwing and, after more than two years in Justice League Dark, I was thrilled to be part of such an important and loved character.

But when things started to roll, I realized this was a totally new direction for Dick Grayson. There were a lot of changes, with editor Mark Doyle taking the project, and everything went full speed very quickly!
I sense the plan to launch Grayson came from the top of DC, so the change in editors was probably coincidental rather than causal.

Another sign of the writers’ fondness for the long history of the Dick Grayson character shows up in the fight scenes:
Tim Seeley gave me some references of actual Robin fight scenes in the Golden Age, and I tried to bring the energy and the happiness of this young boy we all know and love to Dick’s moves, less elaborated than Nightwing’s graceful moves, just direct action to the face. It was really fun to do!
And the different strengths of the two Grayson writers, Tim Seeley and Tom King:
Tim brings some crazy ideas and sense of wonder, going to places you only can go in comic-books. He has an incredible ability to bring rhythm and fun to the book. Tom digs deep to character’s heart, and has a sense of pace that makes you feel like you’re into a movie.

19 December 2015

Off His Meds?

The New York Times article on the arrest of pharmaceutical investor Martin Shkreli begins:
It has been a busy week for Martin Shkreli, the flamboyant businessman at the center of the drug industry’s price-gouging scandals.

He said he would sharply increase the cost of a drug used to treat a potentially deadly parasitic infection. He called himself “the world’s most eligible bachelor” on Twitter and railed against critics in a live-streaming YouTube video. After reportedly paying $2 million for a rare Wu-Tang Clan album, he goaded a member of the hip-hop group to “show me some respect.”
All in one week? That makes me wonder if something biochemical is going on, and Shkreli’s famous obnoxiousness is fueled by mania. Like his alleged decision to do fraudulent things with people’s money.

15 December 2015

Marvelous Land in Minneapolis

Back in 1981, the Children’s Theatre Company and School of Minneapolis staged a production of L. Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz. On its blog the company has posted some photographs and videos of the show, along with these production notes:
Originally, the production was to be mounted by a guest writer/director but, ultimately, his concepts were felt not to be a good aesthetic match with the Company and so, fairly last-minute, the production team changed. Artistic Director John Clark Donahue assumed the role of stage director and Thomas W. Olson, resident playwright who previously that season had created the scripts for "The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant" and "The Clown of God," quickly began working on a new adaptation, while Gary Briggle was engaged to write lyrics with Richard A. Dworsky's music. . . .

At the time, ticket prices were $6.95 for adults and $4.95 for children, general seating. . . .

With "The Marvelous Land of OZ," the Company embarked on a three-year relationship with professional video producers The Television Theatre Company, shutting down the theatre for two weeks at the end of the season and transforming the auditorium into a video soundstage. The following winter, "The Marvelous Land of OZ" was distributed by MCA/Universal for cablecast on Showtime/HBO (winning a cable ACE award for outstanding family entertainment) and was also made available for home purchase on videocassette.
I saw the show when it was on cable TV and was impressed by how closely it followed the book. It was obviously a filmed stage production, not a movie, but it was a good one.

At the bottom of this posting about the CTC’s 1980-81 season are more photos from The Marvelous Land of Oz, what looks like a complete scan of the program, and the Minneapolis Tribune review. Plus some shots of Edward Albee looking grumpy and (connected to a previous show) Tomie De Paola looking svelte.

12 December 2015

Underestimating an Audience

Earlier this week I attended an unusual book event at the Public Library of Brookline.

Author M. T. Anderson read the introduction of his new nonfiction book, Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad. He spoke about Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8, composed well after the war but perhaps looking back on it. Then the Arneis Quartet performed that work. nd finally Anderson took questions.

The audience was big enough that the librarians had to bring in more chairs, which is always gratifying for event organizers. Always better to underestimate turnout by a little than to overestimate. As at most cultural offerings, the audience leaned toward the senior side rather than Anderson’s usual readership of teens and middle-graders.

There were some kids there with their parents. I assumed they were fans of Anderson’s Pals in Peril! series. I wondered what they were thinking about this much more serious presentation, with historical/musical analysis of a composition that even some classical music fans find puzzling.

During the question session, one of those kids eagerly raised his hand. He was sitting with a friend the same age and one of their fathers. He had a bowl haircut and a big hole in one of the knees of his trousers. I wondered, how far off the topic of this event was his question going to be?

“I read your book,” he told Anderson. “How long did it take to you find out all this stuff?”

Five years of research, Anderson explained. And we all learned something.

11 December 2015

OIP Derangement Syndrome Trumping Facts

Recently a reporter from the Washington Post sat in on a focus group organized by Frank Luntz, the GOP pollster and message-shaper. Luntz was trying to find out, on behalf of the Republican Party establishment, what could shake Donald Trump’s followers.

It turned out the big problem is OIP Derangement Syndrome, spread by the American right over the past seven years. For example, here’s a man who pictures burning the President alive:
Frank Lanzillo, a 59-year-old retired marine, took that as a cue to explain just how anti-American the president really was.

“When you bend down to the Saudis, take your shoes off, put your hand on a Koran and then the Bible when you’re sworn in?” Lanzillo said. “He took his flag pin off. I’m a Marine and former deputy sheriff. He took that off, he was in the toilet to me. I would not only not piss on him if he was on fire — I’d throw gas on him.”

(The president briefly chose not to wear a flag pin during the 2008 campaign; he was not sworn in on a Koran.)

Asked if the president was a Christian, only three of the 29 participants raised their hands. Asked if he was born in the United States, eight said no. When Luntz returned to policy, mistrust of the president informed the exclamations of trust in Trump.
As a result of OIP Derangement Syndrome, these voters were unable to process factual information from Luntz. No evidence of Trump’s policy extremes, boorish manners, or distance from reality could shake their loyalties. They’re sticking with Trump, and the GOP is stuck with them.

10 December 2015

An Unknown Comics Adventure in Oz

Last week as The Wiz was about to air on television, Mark Evanier unspooled his story about being hired to script an adaptation of the 1978 movie version for DC Comics.

It’s most interesting, like a lot of the stories on Evanier’s website, for the backstage look at how comics companies work. (Which is to say, barely.) There are also some nicely crafted lines:
  • “Not far enough before the film's scheduled premiere, someone at or around DC Comics got the idea to publish a slick magazine which would be part comic book, part souvenir book for lovers of the movie. This was some time before anyone knew there wouldn't be a lot of lovers of that movie.”
  • “I had to sign all sorts of non-disclosure agreements that I would not divulge what I saw to anyone and as I recall, they didn't specify any time limit. I mean, I was supposed to write all these authorized articles about what was in the movie and here I was signing vows that I would never in a million years divulge to anyone what was in the movie. So I may be violating those agreements right now.”
  • “I forget what they were going to charge for it but it struck me as a bit too pricey. It also struck me as not my problem.”
  • “By far, most of my time went into going up to Universal to see a more-complete version of the movie and then to see an even-more-complete version. I saw it three times but I never saw the final release cut. I felt that the film got better as the holes were filled in…which is not to say I thought it ever got to be really good. The merits it did have were (a) a few of the actors’ performances and (b) some truly dazzling dance numbers. And of course, it did dawn on me that our adaptation would contain neither.”
For the stories of which artist should work on this project, how the 1976 Copyright Act affected things, why no one has ever heard of this comic, and how its obscurity might have helped Evanier and artist Dan Spiegle’s careers, check out Evanier’s recollection.

09 December 2015

The Feelings We Once Had

Of all the famous dramatic adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Wiz in its original form is the most faithful. But of course the 1939 MGM movie is now more famous than either version.

As I observed yesterday, that movie clearly dominated Harvey Fierstein’s thinking about how to adapt the book of The Wiz for Broadway and TV today.

I spotted some other debts/homages to the MGM film that don’t come from the original Wiz:
  • Dorothy wears shiny red sneakers at the start, though public-domain silver shoes later.
  • Aunt Em’s farm employs three farmhands played by the men who (lots of makeup later) play the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion.
  • Dorothy is magically faced with the image of a maternal figure (Aunt Em/her late mother) calling for her.
  • We get a view of the distant green spires of the Emerald City across a red-poppy landscape.
  • The Wiz has a “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” moment.
  • Glinda comes to the Emerald City for the penultimate scene instead of Dorothy and her friends going to Quadlingland.
Other elements of Baum’s original story that made it into The Wiz were dropped from this live-broadcast version, such as the Kalidahs as tiger-bear hybrids, the Lion falling asleep among the Poppies instead of outwitting them, and the need to wear green glasses in the Emerald City.

I saw the original Broadway production decades ago, and some elements of its stagecraft have stuck with me. Most memorable was the tornado depicted by a dancer with fabric billowing from her head, an image that inspired the play’s trademark art. The TV production simulated the tornado instead with projected images and wire-flying—much less magical.

The TV version of the Yellow Brick Road consisted of illuminated parts of the stage, like Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video. The stage original was four men in yellow costumes with poles—another image that stuck with me strongly since I first saw it, probably because it was such a bold staging choice for my young mind.

Curiously, Baum’s Winged Monkeys, which became Flying Monkeys in the 1939 movie and Funky Monkeys in The Wiz, were referred to only as “Winged Warriors” here.

08 December 2015

Fierstein Adding “a Little More Sense” to Oz

Last week NBC broadcast a restaging of The Wiz that’s also slated for Broadway next year. It has a new book by Harvey Fierstein, who boasted about his improvements in an interview with BroadwayWorld:
I've loved Wizard of Oz my whole life but have had questions. I was always a questioning kind of kid. I got to answer all the questions that I had. Where did Dorothy's parents go? There's this girl living with her aunt and uncle... well I killed off the uncle; he doesn't do anything anyway. Do we care about him just sitting on the porch rocking away? You have a girl living with her aunt, and it's never mentioned what happened to her parents. Dorothy's such a victim. She didn't create that storm; she gets taken away. She doesn't kill the witch; the house falls on her. She doesn't kill the other witch; she throws water to save her friend. She's just a victim. I said, "Why should she be just a victim? It's her dream! It's her fantasy!"

So I gave her a story, and we open with her running away from home trying to get home to Omaha where she was actually born. Her parents are dead. She hates her school; she hates Kansas. "I hate this place; I hate being out in the cornfield. I want to go home." Her answer is this is your home but your too old for me to tell you what to do. I could keep you here and force you, but at some point in your life you have to figure out where you really belong. She's sent off on this very different journey of going home to Omaha. She ends up in this place that's not Omaha and becomes much more of an active participant in it. In the end, when the Wiz turns out to be from Omaha when they get in the balloon. Instead of missing the balloon, I have her walk away from the balloon an say you're going to your home, I'm headed somewhere else. She finally figures out home is not where your feet are; it's where your heart is.
Clearly Fierstein’s playing off the 1939 MGM adaptation rather than L. Frank Baum’s novel. In the original, Dorothy doesn’t throw water on the Wicked Witch of the West to save the Scarecrow; she does so because she’s ticked off (a situation Fierstein rediscovered). Uncle Henry does more than sit on a rocker.

Fierstein’s characterization of Dorothy makes sense only if she’s a teenager, like nineteen-year-old Shanice Williams. Judy Garland was a teen, of course, but she played a younger girl. The Dorothy of the books is younger still.

In Baum’s books, the Wicked Witch of the East enchants the Tin Woodman because she (or another old woman) doesn’t want to lose the services of his beloved. Fierstein instead put those three characters into a love triangle:
I gave each of those characters a backstory that makes a little more sense. The Tin Man got turned into the Tin Man by the Wicked Witch because she had a thing for him. She caught him with this girl, and she blasted his ass and stole his heart. She said, "If I can't have your heart, no one can."
That “makes a little more sense” for an older audience, perhaps. But children haven’t had trouble understanding Baum’s original motivation for the witch.

Evidently the choice to cast Queen Latifah as the Wiz prompted Fierstein’s thinking about that character:
Queen Latifah's backstory [as the Wiz] is that she was a magician's assistant at a carnival so they gave balloon rides and all of that but you ever meet the person that is not bad enough they're unhappy, they have to make everyone unhappy and that was this guy. She jumps in the balloon to piss him off and this balloon landed me in Oz. Everyone came running so I put on the magic hat and did the magic act. They put me in here and I've been hiding ever since so nobody finds out that I'm not anything. I was the assistant. She is a woman escaping the world of men, which I thought would give a different color to Dorothy as well. It all has to come out of a little girl's imagination. If you don't believe it came out of her imagination it doesn't work.
Because then Oz would just be real, and who wants that?

07 December 2015

“Uncomfortable with how he came to have it”

From Eula Biss’s essay “White Debt” in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine:
I read several hundred pages of Little House on the Prairie to my 5-year-old son one day when he was home sick from school. Near the end of the book, when the Ingalls family is reckoning with the fact that they built their little house illegally on Indian Territory, and just after an alliance between tribes has been broken by a disagreement over whether or not to attack the settlers, Laura watches the Osage abandoning their annual buffalo hunt and leaving Kansas. Her family will leave, too.

At this point, my son asked me to stop reading.

“Is it too sad?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “I just don’t need to know any more.” After a few moments of silence, he added, “I wish I was French.”

The Indians in Little House are French-speaking, so I understood that my son was saying he wanted to be an Indian. “I wish all that didn’t happen,” he said. And then: “But I want to stay here, I love this place. I don’t want to leave.” He began to cry, and I realized that when I told him Little House was about the place where we live, meaning the Midwest, he thought I meant it was about the town where we live and the house we had just bought.

Our house is not that little house, but we do live on the wrong side of what used to be an Indian boundary negotiated by a treaty that was undone after the 1830 Indian Removal Act. We live in Evanston, Ill., named after John Evans, who founded the university where I teach and defended the Sand Creek massacre as necessary to the settling of the West. What my son was expressing — that he wants the comfort of what he has but that he is uncomfortable with how he came to have it — is one conundrum of whiteness.
This five-year-old’s reaction could not have been solely based on what Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter wrote in that book, which reflects previous centuries’ views of that conflict (Ma Ingalls’s even more old-fashioned than Pa’s and the authors’). That suggests that, at least for him, he’s picking up a broader perspective about the long, often fatal conflict over land in North America.

This anecdote reminded me of time nearly a decade ago when I accompanied Godson and Godson’s Brother, along with their parents, to Plimoth Plantation. The boys were about six, and they enjoying tearing around the recreated meetinghouse/fort in that museum village, peering down the cannon barrels out across the stockade.

Then Godson’s Brother stopped and told me very seriously that if he were able to go back to Plymouth in 1627, he would give the Natives rifles. (Actually, he said “wifles,” because he was still having trouble with some consonants.) I rather hoped he was thinking about establishing a fairer balance of power rather than more deadly fighting, especially since some of my ancestors would have been on the other side of those mythical rifle shots. Again, comfort and discomfort, and a broader perspective from today’s kids.

06 December 2015

Sam Hamm’s Plan for Robin, part 4

When we last left Sam Hamm’s penultimate screenplay for the 1989 Batman film, Batman was badly injured in the crash of his bat-shaped airplane, and Dick Grayson, dressed in his “ominous” red-and-green gymnast’s suit, was chasing the Joker with a .38.

A BELLTOWER's jagged spire, jutting up into the night sky, piercing the moon. At street level, the JOKER scrambles up the marble steps the entrance of the old abandoned cathedral. He pulls a WALKIE-TALKIE off his belt.

Gotham Cathedral. Come and get me.

HEAVY PANELED DOORS groan on tired hinges as THE JOKER forces his way inside. A beat. Then DICK GRAYSON appears, hot on his trail, sprinting up the steps two at a time.


Ancient and creepy. A huge pipe organ, shattered stained glass windows, row after row of mahogany pews… all forgotten, covered with dust and cobwebs. The JOKER wanders about, staring at the statuary, the rusted icons.

DICK enters silently behind him. He kneels behind a rear pew, brings up the GUN, and squeezes off THREE QUICK SHOTS at the JOKER. The JOKER dives, takes cover, and RETURNS DICK'S FIRE. Then: silence.

In a crouch, groping his way along the wall, THE JOKER finds what he wants: a small door opening on a wooden stairway, leading to belltower. He ducks inside and starts up.

DICK'S GUN drops with a thud. His hand slips from the back of the pew. In the second before he slumps to the floor, unconscious, he sees a curious sight: a TINY BLACK NINJA WHEEL, embedded in the flesh of his leg.

Behind him -- framed in the arched doorway -- A RAGGED BLACK GHOST begins his final unholy march down the center aisle of the old cathedral.
That would be the Batman. And apparently he’s stuck Dick Grayson with a ninja wheel. Perhaps the Joker has also shot Dick, perhaps not. Perhaps the ninja wheel is drugged. That’ll teach the kid the danger of using guns!

The Batman follows the Joker up the tower. They have a fight that involves fainting, the helicopter, a time bomb, a collapsing staircase, and a flock of bats. The Joker dies. Because killing someone with a bomb or by causing him to fall from a helicopter is clearly better than shooting him.

For a moment it appears Bruce Wayne is also dead, having sacrificed himself to kill the Joker (and his helicopter pilot, and co-pilot, and possibly Dick Grayson from lack of blood).

But instead the dead man is just the character eventually played by Robert Wuhl, so no great loss. The denouement scenes include Vicki Vale and Bruce in a pool together, and then:

DICK GRAYSON stands at the brink of the bottomless pit and looks up at the GYMNAST'S RINGS suspended overhead. He sets his jaw and then -- with only a moment's hesitation -- LEAPS INTO THE VOID.

His hands find the rings. He launches himself HIGH INTO THE AIR and does a spectacular TRIPLE SOMERSAULT, catching the rings on his way down.

Exhilarated, he makes a perfect landing on the edge of the pit. A SMILE OF PLEASURE comes to his lips.



A dark, moonless night. LIGHTS OF THE CITY sparkle in the distance. CAMERA DRIFTS across the rooftop, settling finally on the broad back of a BLACK-CAPED FIGURE poised at the edge of the roof, gazing down on the streets below.

A SECOND FIGURE enters frame. We get a brief glimpse of his RED-AND-GREEN SUIT in the seconds before our EYES TURN SKYWARD... to the SEARING YELLOW SPOTLIGHT sweeping through the clouds. In its center: the VAST BLACK SILHOUETTE of a BAT, wings extended, DOMINATING the sky.

We HOLD on the GLARING BAT-SIGNAL as BATMAN and ROBIN vanish over the edge of the roof, plunging down toward new adventures as we...

But none of those scenes made it into the 1989 movie. As Hamm explained to Comics Alliance, after many requests to include Robin in the screenplay, the producers decided his scenes were too expensive and took them all out.

Batman was a huge hit nonetheless. And the immediate plans for a sequel gave Hamm another chance to introduce Robin, the Boy Wonder.

03 December 2015

A Clanging Cymbal in Oklahoma

Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, has been getting a lot of attention recently for his blog posting, “This Is Not a Day Care; It’s a University.” He wrote:
I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears that this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love. In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.
It’s worth looking at what that sermon was about. This is a standard translation of what that chapter in 1 Corinthians says about love:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
It’s also useful to consider what sort of place Oklahoma Wesleyan University is. It’s an “evangelical Christian university” formed in 2001 from the mergers of several smaller Christian colleges that had been around since 1909. It serves about 900 students. Its principles include the Bible as “the inerrant and authoritative written Word of God.”

None of that could have been a surprise to the student Piper spoke to. In other words, a student at a very conservative religious college objected to how this sermon asked that he and his fellow students show more love. It’s not clear what sort of compassion this student felt pressured into, but humans are usually slowest to show love for people who are distant or different from us.

How did Piper interpret that in his blog post? He wrote:
Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”
Whoa! That took a sudden turn. Piper twisted from one conservative Christian student complaining that he shouldn’t have to show love to suggesting that other young students complaining about bigots and oppressors are simply “self-absorbed and narcissistic.” Piper rolled straight over the very real possibility that there are bigots and oppressors who try to bully others—especially those who seem distant or different from themselves—into feeling bad.

Are there such people at Oklahoma Wesleyan University? Let's start with Piper. In August, he announced that he was withdrawing the university from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities because two other colleges in that organization had decided to hire same-sex couples. So when Piper talks about “showing love,” he has strict limits in mind.

02 December 2015

William Pène du Bois’s Work Before It’s Gone

One of the children’s-book author-illustrators I really liked when I was young was William Pène du Bois. I got deep into his catalogue. The Three Policeman. Those koalas. Emil Bandicoot. Peter Graves before he became a square-jawed movie actor.

I see that this month the Eric Carle Museum is opening an exhibition of his work, titled “A Taste for Adventure”:
This exhibition marks the centenary of William Pène du Bois’s birth (1916-1993). Featured are illustrations from his 1947 Newbery Award-winning book, The Twenty-One Balloons, the fantastic story of Professor William Waterman Sherman’s around-the-world balloon voyage of 1883. Also on view are illustrations of Giant Otto, a large yellow hound who uses his size and strength to perform good deeds. Other endearing Pène du Bois characters come to life in Elizabeth the Cow Ghost, The Horse in the Camel Suit, and Porko von Popbutton. Pène du Bois’s illustrations animate text by such legendary authors as Isaac Bashevis Singer and local professor and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Wilbur.
I’ll have to get out to Amherst before May Day, when the exhibit closes. I also see that most of Pène du Bois’s books, aside from the Newbery winner (which is unusual, both in his oeuvre and among novels for young readers), are out of print.

01 December 2015

Oz Art to Wish for from Linda Medley

This is one of the most potent images from the Oz book mythos: Dorothy is wearing the Magic Belt and making a wish. Something’s gonna happen. Somebody’s going down.

This illustration comes from Linda Medley, the comics artist best known for Castle Waiting and a long-time fan of the Oz books. It’s one of five greeting cards featuring Oz characters that she just offered on Etsy. The others show Scraps, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Wizard, and Glinda.

Medley has also created a print of Ozma, the Wizard, and Dorothy (and Toto, too). Her picture of Dorothy is an enthusiastic little girl, notably younger than Ozma and ready for adventure.

29 November 2015

We Are Dead Robins?

In DC’s current continuity, there have been four official Robins, and three of them have been dead for times ranging from a few minutes to maybe a year or so. (The second Tim Drake is the one who’s never died, even a little. Yet.)

But for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Sensational Character Find of 1940, the publisher has unleashed a big crop of wannabe Robins in a magazine called We Are Robin. That provides lots of young people to die heroically before their time. Indeed, one character died in the first story arc, and the current crossover is titled “The Robin War,” so there will be more casualties.

The first few issues of We Are Robin reminded me most of the opening issues of Runaways, a series that Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona created for Marvel Comics back in 2003. Both stories follow a band of teenagers with a wide range of ethnicities, class backgrounds, personal looks, and speaking styles. So far, however, none of these Robins has grown on me, and that’s kind of important if I’m going to care about whether they’ll die.

I do like the idea of ”Robin” as not simply an individual or a job, but an ideal.

28 November 2015

Archie Across the Globe

This week the New York Times ran a profile of Ahmad Saeed, a bookseller in Islamabad, Pakistan.

He inherited the business from his father this spring, and one of his first tasks as owner was accepting visits from “elderly men” who had come to apologize for shoplifting in their youth.

According to the Times of New York:
One of the penitent former book thieves who dropped in was Suleman Khan, the vice chancellor of Iqra University, in Islamabad.

“He came to say that when he was a child, 6 years old or so, he stole an Archie comic book and my father saw him,” Mr. Saeed said. “He said he was afraid he was going to get slapped, but my father said: ‘This is good that you like books. So every day you can take a book but keep it in mint condition and return it when you’re done so I can still sell it.’”

And then the vice chancellor said, “Everything that I am now, I owe to your father.”
That story seems remarkable in many ways, not least in how a comic story about teenagers inspired by life in Depression-era Haverhill, Massachusetts, could speak so powerfully to a six-year-old in Islamabad decades ago.

But Dr. Khan clearly isn’t the only Archie fan in that region of the globe. In 2014 a company executive told the Times of India that India was full of loyal readers. Riverdale is now home to characters of South Asian heritage, such as aspiring filmmaker Raj Patel, and Archie visited Mumbai in 2011, falling for Bollywood star Amisha Mehta.

27 November 2015

Turkey in the Straw Poll

This week Public Policy Polling released the results of a Thanksgiving survey (PDF download) which provided new evidence of OIP Derangement Syndrome among self-identified conservatives and Republicans.

The questions were all Thanksgiving-themed, such as respondents’ favorite pies, whether stuffing should be called dressing, and which Presidential candidates people might and might not like as Thanksgiving guests.

And then there was this question:
Do you approve or disapprove of President Obama’s executive action last year to pardon 2 turkeys rather than the customary one turkey at Thanksgiving?
Choices were approval, disapproval, and “not sure,” which we should assume includes “don’t give a darn.”

The results were quite widely split by party affiliation and political leaning. As PPP reported, “Only 11% of Republicans support the President’s executive order last year to 38% who are opposed—that's a pretty clear sign that if you put Obama’s name on something GOP voters are going to oppose it pretty much no matter what. Overall there’s 35/22 support for the pardon of Macaroni and Cheese thanks to 59/11 support from Democrats and 28/21 from independents.”

But what’s really telling (though not told by PPP) is that Presidents started “formally” pardoning turkeys each year back in 1989, and there have always been two turkeys involved. The breeders provide a matched pair in case one doesn’t look like it can handle the ceremony. Here, for example, is the report on President George W. Bush pardoning two turkeys in 2007.
In other words, 38% of Republicans opposed the current President pardoning two turkeys even though they’d seen his predecessor do that same thing eight times, simply because PPP’s question presented them with a chance to express disapproval of “executive action,” doing something other than “customary,” and “President Obama.”

25 November 2015

An Update to Parrotfish for This Historical Moment

Ellen Wittlinger’s article in The Horn Book about updating her novel Parrotfish (published in 2007) is testimony to changes in society and in language.

Wittlinger’s novel is considered the first modern young adult novel with a transgender protagonist. In writing it, she consulted with Toby, a twentysomething friend of one of her children who was female-to-male transgender. That was only ten years ago, but the first edition’s language was already out of date.

Wittlinger writes:
In the ALAN Review interview, and often in the original edition of the book, I used the word transgendered. This usage is no longer correct. If you say, for example, that paper has “yellowed,” something has happened to the paper to make it yellow. But “yellow paper” has always been yellow, just as transgender people have always been who they are — nothing has acted upon them to make them transgender. As the GLAAD Reference Guide points out, “You would not say that Elton John is ‘gayed’ or Ellen DeGeneres is ‘lesbianed,’ therefore you would not say Chaz Bono is ‘transgendered.’” Scratch the “-ed” ending.

But the word that bothered me — and critics — most was tranny. A decade ago, Toby felt it was a word that transgender people would use amongst themselves or to refer to themselves, and that’s how I used it in the book. But the word has evolved to be defamatory. GLAAD’s entry says, “Please note that while some transgender people may use ‘tranny’ to describe themselves, others find it profoundly offensive.”
In this age of digital publishing, it’s relatively easy to make such changes in electronic books and new printings. The existing paper copies of Parrotfish will, of course, remain the same. Wittlinger also states that 2007 remains the novel’s “historical moment” even with the terminology changes.

She also expects further change in this area of language. When GLAAD issued the ninth edition of its Media Reference Guide in 2014, it stated it had been publishing that reference for “over 15 years.” At 66 pages, with a lot of white space in the design, it’s not a hefty text. Nonetheless, at the pace it’s been revised so far, that ninth edition will need replacement in 2016.

Given how sensitive we are these days about language and other signifiers, I wonder how soon there may be complaints about print copies of Parrotfish being not just of its historical moment, but insensitive. It took only three days after Wittlinger’s essay appeared for a pseudonymous commenter to take issue with its spelling of “cis-gender”—a very new word that’s appeared in three different forms (“cisgender,” “cis-gender,” and “cis gender”) in news stories this month.

24 November 2015

“It was gingham, with checks of white and blue”

Yesterday Bonhams sold a dress for $1,565,000. It was made for a Kansas farmgirl in the early 20th century.

Now that sum’s only about half of the price of the Cowardly Lion costume Bonhams sold last year, but it’s still high enough to place this outfit fourth on this list of most expensive Hollywood costumes.

Two other garments on that list are also dresses made for Dorothy Gale, one used for only a couple of weeks of filming before the director was replaced.

This dress had an excellent provenance, starting with labels inside that identify its wearer as “Judy Garland” rather than a stand-in. As for after it left the studio, “This blouse and pinafore were retained by Kent Warner, the costume collector employed by David Weisz Co. to help organize the 1970 MGM Auction who subsequently cherry-picked many of the best pieces for himself.” It was last sold at a Christie’s New York auction in 1981.

23 November 2015


I was impressed by Brooklyn artist Adrian Landon’s mechanical horse.

Click on the picture to see a video.

I was a little disappointed to read that it’s powered by a small electric motor rather than by the wind. I guess the Strandbeests have spoiled me.

22 November 2015

Sam Hamm’s Plan for Robin, part 3

Way back here, I was sharing excerpts of Sam Hamm’s early screenplay for the 1989 Batman movie, a version that featured Robin. Here’s more.

At this point, Dick Grayson’s parents have been killed during their trapeze act—not by Boss Zucco ’s enforcers but by the Joker. Dick wants to go after that villain. Bruce wants him to stay safe in stately Wayne Manor. They fight. In losing the fight, Dick figures out that Bruce is Batman.

TIGHT ON a tiny electronic device: two cylindrical steel casings bracketed together, topped by a DIGITAL TIMER.

BRUCE watches the TIMER tick off seconds: 30. 29. 28. At 25 seconds, BRUCE kills the countdown and CLAPS THE DEVICE into an empty packet on his utility belt.

He stands up wearily. Behind him, hanging back discreetly in the shadows, is his loyal butler ALFRED.

Where's the boy?

Upstairs. He's quite docile.

I know the feeling. It won't last.
He's a long way ahead of where I was at his age.

Respectfully, sir... there'll never be another one like you.

BRUCE smiles sadly. He takes a moment to survey the Batcave as ALFRED looks on tremulously.

How long's it been, Alfred? A quarter of a century?
It seems like yesterday. I guess we ended up doing more harm than good.

Don't ever say that, sir. Don't ever believe it.

If not for you I never would've made it. You know that. My own parents couldn't have...
(taking Alfred's shoulders)
... The boy, Alfred. You'll both be provided for. Don't let all this go to waste.

Their eyes lock for a long moment. ALFRED is unable to speak. Finally BRUCE turns and starts slowly up the long circular stairway which leads from the Batcave to Wayne Manor.
After some foofaraw, Batman goes out to confront the Joker, armed with nothing but an advanced fighter plane equipped with missiles.

He LAUGHS INSANELY as the BATWING bears down. At the last instant he hoists a SUBMACHINE GUN. BULLETS pepper the dome of the cockpit.

BATMAN'S MISSILE goes wide right, EXPLODING on the sidewalk. The JOKER drops to the street, unharmed, as the BATWING swoops past. The rear stabilizer wing is trailing THICK BLACK SMOKE.


BATMAN knows he's in trouble. He buckles a parachute around his chest, finds a button on the control panel. THE COCKPIT DOME flies free of the BATWING, leaving BATMAN exposed to the buffeting wind.


He's scored a hit. He HOWLS IN TRIUMPH. But his maniacal glee is short-lived.

Standing not twenty feet away, in the clearing smoke from the rocket explosion, is an ominous figure in a RED-AND-GREEN GYMNAST'S SUIT.
This is obviously some new usage of the word “ominous.”
DICK GRAYSON -- eager for the kill -- sets out in pursuit of the JOKER.


BATMAN is losing altitude. HIS CAPE billows wildly around him as he reaches for a SECOND BUTTON -- this one labelled 'EJECT.'

He punches the button. His SEAT disengages. But Batman finds himself suddenly JERKED BACK INTO THE COCKPIT.

HIS CAPE HAS SNAGGED ON THE EJECTION MECHANISM!!! He clutches frantically at this throat as the plane plummets to earth!


THE JOKER, on the lam, darts around a parade float. DICK vaults onto the float, LAUNCHES HIMSELF into the air, and DROPS the JOKER with a flying tackle.

But before he can strike... A RESOUNDING CRASH shakes the street.


The plane lies in pieces on the pavement. FLAMES ERUPT. BATMAN's been thrown free, but he's PINNED BY THE WRECKAGE. It's a matter of seconds until the gasoline tank goes up.


DICK watches in shock. On one side, the killer of his parents. On the other, BATMAN -- who will surely die unless someone pulls him free.

There's only one choice, and they both know it. DICK glares at the JOKER for the merest of seconds, then TURNS HIM LOOSE. MAD LAUGHTER echoes in the streets as the JOKER escapes -- and DICK races off to BATMAN's aid.


BATMAN grimaces in agony as DICK struggles to free him. His right leg -- shattered -- is like rubber beneath him. His ribs are crushed. He's barely alive.

How did you...

I hitched. MOVE IT!

DICK drags BATMAN to safety as the remnants of the Batwing BLOWS UP.

The Joker. Is he -- ?

DICK spots an abandoned .38 on the pavement -- left there by one of the JOKER'S GOONS.

Forget it. Relax.
(reaching for the gun)
... He's mine now.


THE BATMAN tries to pull himself erect. The pain is unendurable. His body has finally failed him.

He collapses on the pavement, powerless to intervene, as DICK races off with murder in his eyes.
Okay, now it’s a teenager in a red-and-green gymnast’s suit with a gun. Because that’s what the Batman mythos is all about.

But it’s interesting that Hamm was decades ahead of The Incredibles in warning about the danger of capes and aircraft.

21 November 2015

The G-Man Retcon

Chris Giarrusso created his comic G-Man in bits and pieces: short stories, backup features, comic strips, half-parodies of other superhero sagas.

As the Image Comics webpage for the first volume says, G-Man: Learning to Fly “Collects the origin of G-Man and Great Man, the G-Man Christmas Story, Mean Brother/Idiot Brother adventures, and a complete collection of the original G-Man comic strips that started it all.”

Because that book is a grab bag, its pieces come in different sizes and lengths. Some were obviously designed for different sizes, and they have different storytelling rhythms. It’s still a fun read. We see Mikey and his big brother Dave gaining their powers from the family’s magic cape. Several of their (male) friends already have superpowers, with no explanation. It’s just a fact of life at their school.

Two G-Man miniseries/graphic novels followed, each with a wider focus showing more of the brothers’ universe. There’s more explanation of the magic cape in Cape Crisis, the best of the volumes. We meet the Color Guardians, female classmates who are one unfathomable mass to the boys, and the Suntroopers and Thunderfriends teams of grown-up heroes.

The latest G-Man installment comes from another publisher and takes another form: an illustrated middle-grade novel written as a daily journal, like Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Rachel Renee Russell’s Dork Diaries. Most of the pictures, supposedly by young Mikey, are in a simpler, line-art style which Giarrusso is also using for a weekly online comic strip. There are occasional full-color pin-up pages as well, in the guise of photos taped into the journal.

In addition, The G-Man Super Journal: Awesome Origins is a prequel, going back not only to before Mikey gained his powers but before all his friends had theirs. It folds in characters who first appeared in the graphic novels, such as the Color Guardians, Cool Wraps, and that annoying kid Tony. And it offers explanations for how all the kids got their powers. Actually, several explanations for each: alien birth, divine descent, freak accidents, top-secret website in Japan, and so on. As a result, G-Man: Super Journal is now the most complete introduction to the G brothers’ saga.

Whereas Learning to Fly’s big scenes are mostly at home and Cape Crisis on the playground, Awesome Origins is driven by events at school: Mikey’s struggle with a teacher who doesn’t like superheroes, tests to join the Suntroopers, and most especially that annoying kid Tony. The illustrations have a deadpan sarcasm that (along with the superpowers, of course) distinguishes this series from its diaristic forebears.

I still prefer the G-Man comics, but a mostly-new G-Man story in illustrated prose form is still a lot of fun. And its publisher’s wider distribution might bring new readers to all the volumes.

20 November 2015

Weighing the Woes of White Americans

Janell Ross in the Washington Post this week:

In a new poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) on Tuesday [PDF download], a whopping 43 percent of Americans told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as large a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups.
To be precise, half of all white Americans feel that way. Less than 30% of blacks and Hispanics agree. Ross continues:
White Americans feel put-upon and mistreated — and large shares of non-white Americans do not seem to have any knowledge of the challenges that white Americans say they face.

Of course, there are always aspects of other people's lives that we do not or cannot understand. But the sheer size of the racial/ethnic gap concerning perceived discrimination against white Americans is particularly interesting because there is very little in the way of objective evidence of this discrimination and the disadvantage that typically follows. On just about every measure of social or economic well-being, white Americans fare better than any other group.

That's true of housing and neighborhood quality and homeownership. That's true of overall health, health insurance coverage rates, quality of health care received, life expectancy and infant mortality. That's true when it comes to median household earnings, wealth (assets minus debt), retirement savings and even who has a bank account. . . .

White Americans are, as a group, born healthier and live longer and get better health care, jobs, education and housing in the years in between. Yet half of white Americans believe that discrimination against them is as big a problem in their lives as it is for those of people of color. But there's just no evidence to back that up.

What does exist is ample evidence of continued-but-shrinking racial and ethnic inequality in many arenas and utter stagnation and backsliding in others. Basically, what's changed since the 1950s — outside of technological innovations such as this here Internet — is that white Americans no longer have an exclusive or almost-exclusive hold on the best housing, jobs, schools or the ballot box.
The question on the latest PRRI American Values Survey was “Just your impression, in the United States today, is there a lot of discrimination against any of the following groups or not?”

In past polls, the most comparable question has been whether respondents agree with the statement “We have gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country.” Agreement hovered between 38% and 49% from 1987 to 2012. So the perception that, despite empirical evidence, whites suffer from discrimination as much or more than non-whites doesn’t appear to be new, nor growing, in that period.

The new survey also notes that the perception of anti-white discrimination among whites is much higher within the “working class” (60%) than among people with college degrees (36%). A recent analysis of American mortality rates from 1999 to 2013 by Anne Case and Angus Deaton also found that educational difference was a significant dividing line among middle-aged white non-Hispanic Americans. People who had any college education died at a slightly smaller rate over that period. But mortality for people who had no college had gone up so much as to produce a strikingly higher mortality rate for the entire age/race cohort.

Thus, white Americans without college education might well be justified in perceiving a more difficult life than they expected. But they’re more likely to blame that on “discrimination” against whites rather than, say, a changing economy.

19 November 2015

When Nate Wright Met Greg Heffley

Yesterday’s post left aspiring comic-strip artist Jeff Kinney working at an online “edutainment” company while corresponding with full-time comic-strip artist Lincoln Peirce.

As I described back here, Kinney’s employer saw some potential in a middle-grade novel in diary form that he was working on. At his boss’s suggestion, he added more illustrations and shared the novel day by day on the company’s website.

That story found a young online audience quickly, a book deal only after a couple of years. That was the start of the huge Diary of a Wimpy Kid phenomenon, now stronger than ever.

Kinney continued to work at that company until relatively recently, overseeing the launch of Poptropica. That online videogame platform is built around “islands,” each having its own game and style. Kinney asked his friend Peirce if he was interested in licensing the Big Nate comic strip to the site.

In 2010 the Washington Post reported what happened:
On Valentine's Day last year, Poptropica launched "Big Nate Island," the interactive world of sixth-grader Nate Wright and his adventures as a "self-described genius" and "all-time record-holder for detentions in school history."

Kids went wild. "All I remember is that Jeff called me after the first 48 hours and said: 'You crashed the server,' " Peirce recalls. "It was their biggest launch by 20 percent."

The sudden online popularity of "Big Nate" led to Peirce's long-sought major book deal, with no less than HarperCollins. "Big Nate: In a Class by Himself" just spent 11 straight weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
That first Big Nate book series is one of many modeled on Diary of a Wimpy Kid: prose with lots of line art, paper-over-board covers, humorous slice-of-life stories, and so on. Its success prompted the comic strip’s syndicate to finally issue Big Nate comics collections. Meaning that after years of having no books and a daily deadline, Lincoln Peirce had two fast-selling book series and an audience beyond newsprint.

And all because he’d been nice enough to write back to an aspiring young college artist. It’s almost as if this publishing story has a moral.

18 November 2015

Big Nate in a Small Pond

One of the minor pleasures of visiting my dad in the Washington, DC, area is the Washington Post comics page. For some reason it’s unusually large. (Perhaps the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder and major owner of the rival Washington Times, didn’t like comics?)

Among the comic strips I enjoyed there, years before it came to the Boston Globe, is Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce. Given its quality and longevity, and its appeal to kids, I assumed that there were Big Nate collections like the bestselling collections of Peanuts, Garfield, and Calvin and Hobbes when I was young. But with fewer and fewer children reading newspapers, that ready market no longer existed.

Lincoln Peirce kept plugging away, the way daily-strip artists have to do. He also generously offered advice to a hopeful artist eight years younger. This Washington Post story from five years ago tells that story:
It was the early '90s, and [Jeff] Kinney was an aspiring cartoonist at the University of Maryland, as well as a big fan of the comic strip "Big Nate," which he read in The Post. Kinney wanted advice on how to break into the business, so he wrote several cartoonists, including Peirce, creator of the recently syndicated "Big Nate."

Up in New Hampshire, Peirce was struck by Kinney's outreach. "His letter was so different from other letters," Peirce recalls. "And not just because it was five to six pages long. Even early on, he was very talented and very ambitious."

Instead of eyeing him warily, Peirce did the professionally generous thing: "I wrote him back."

Kinney the college cartoonist was thrilled. "It was a handwritten letter, which included many drawings that provided guidance on how I could improve my prospects," he recounts.

For more than two years, mentor and student exchanged handwritten and hand-drawn insights into their craft.
Meanwhile, the world wide web grew, and the newspaper business shrank. It was not a good time to start a career as a daily newspaper cartoonist. Kinney ended up working as a designer for an online “edutainment” company.

TOMORROW: Returning the favor.

(Thanks to Karen Jordan Allen for the link.)

17 November 2015

When Maps Came to Oz

The Oz stories that L. Frank Baum wrote up through 1914 shaped the maps that he and his publishing team included in that year’s novel, Tik-Tok of Oz. That stands to reason.

Less obviously, those maps shaped the Oz stories that Baum told afterward. None of the Oz novels up through Tik-Tok mentioned maps at all. (In the Little Wizard Stories collection, “Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse” describes Ozma drawing an impromptu map for Jack to follow to save two lost children.)

In contrast, every Oz novel that followed Tik-Tok included some mention of a map, often an “in-universe” map known to the people of Oz themselves.

The Scarecrow of Oz:
“I’ve been to the Land of Oz before,” said Button-Bright, “but I’ve never been here.”

“Did you ever hear of Jinxland before?” asked Trot.

“No,” said Button-Bright.

“It is on the Map of Oz, though,” asserted the woman, “and it’s a fine country, I assure you. If only," she added, and then paused to look around her with a frightened expression. “If only—” here she stopped again, as if not daring to go on with her speech.
Rinkitink in Oz begins this way:
If you have a map of the Land of Oz handy, you will find that the great Nonestic Ocean washes the shores of the Kingdom of Rinkitink, between which and the Land of Oz lies a strip of the country of the Nome King and a Sandy Desert.
The Lost Princess of Oz doesn’t include the word “map,” but there are extended passages about Oz geography, and Baum sketched a map to appear in the book, as David Maxine discussed at Hungry Tiger Talk.

The Tin Woodman of Oz:
“I have a map of Oz in my pocket,” persisted the boy, “and it shows that the Winkie Country, where we now are, is at the west of Oz, and the Munchkin Country at the east, while directly between them lies the Emerald City.”
The Magic of Oz:
In the central western part of the Gillikin Country is a great tangle of trees called Gugu Forest. It is the biggest forest in all Oz and stretches miles and miles in every direction—north, south, east and west. Adjoining it on the east side is a range of rugged mountains covered with underbrush and small twisted trees. You can find this place by looking at the Map of the Land of Oz.
Glinda of Oz:
“This is funny!” she exclaimed. “Did you know, Ozma, that there were people in your Land of Oz called Skeezers?”

“Yes,” replied Ozma, coming to her side, “I know that on Professor Wogglebug’s Map of the Land of Oz there is a place marked ‘Skeezer,’ but what the Skeezers are like I do not know. No one I know has ever seen them or heard of them. The Skeezer Country is ’way at the upper edge of the Gillikin Country, with the sandy, impassable desert on one side and the mountains of Oogaboo on another side. That is a part of the Land of Oz of which I know very little.”
The Tik-Tok maps are, after all, credited to Prof. Wogglebug.

15 November 2015

“A depth that other superhero comics didn’t have”

A few months back, as McFarland sent out the first copies of Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder, editor Kristen L. Geaman asked all of us contributors to describe what our essays were about.

Here’s how I summed up my essay “Success in Stasis: Dick Grayson’s Thirty Years as a Boy Wonder” for the project’s Tumblr page:

The first chapter of the book looks at the first thirty years of stories about Dick Grayson, from his debut in 1940 until he leaves Wayne Manor in 1969. That was a period of stasis for the character, with no growth and no rifts with Batman that weren’t solved by the end of a story. Yet it was also the period that established Robin the Boy Wonder as a household name.

This chapter argues that the partnership of Batman and Robin was crucial to how those characters survived in the late 1940s when almost all other costumed superheroes stopped being published. The emotional bond between Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne, explored most often in stories written by Bill Finger, gave their adventures a depth that other superhero comics didn’t have.

Robin thus became DC Comics’s preeminent symbol of youth, and the 1960s produced a roiling youth culture that forced the company to make changes in Dick Grayson’s life. After thirty years in his early to mid-teens, he had to grow up.
That highlights the hypothesis I arrived at while preparing that essay: that the emotional bond between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin was the crucial ingredient that made their series survive when most superheroes faded away. And Bill Finger, co-creator of the characters, was the storyteller who did the most to establish and explore that bond.

14 November 2015

Planetary Copyright

Here’s an interesting wrinkle about international copyright protections:
The classic novella “The Little Prince” fell into the public domain this year in much of the world but remains under copyright in France because of an exception that grants a 30-year extension to authors who died during military service in World War I and II.
There’s a logic to that provision, I suppose. If a society bases copyright terms on an author’s life, but an author dies before his or her time while fighting for the society, then the society extends the copyright term to about what it would otherwise have been. Still, I wonder what specific cases gave rise to this exception.

That passage comes from a New York Times story on a dispute over the copyright of Anne Frank’s diary as originally published. That copyright is the main asset of a foundation, which wishes to extend its term by calling Anne’s father a coauthor of the text. Other institutions, hoping to make the diary more widely accessible and/or mindful of Holocaust deniers’ claims that Otto Frank invented the story to begin with, are resisting that move.

By the logic of the French law, the term of Anne Frank’s copyright could be extended based on what her natural lifespan would have been—meaning even longer protection than basing the term on her father’s lifespan. Of course, few countries follow France’s example.

Meanwhile, the foundation already authorized the editing and publication of a more complete version of Anne Frank’s diary, which has its own copyright term based on the life of the scholarly editor.

12 November 2015

Kryptonian Babysitting Service

There’s a lot to like in the new Supergirl television series, but there’s one detail in the introductory voiceover that I don’t like at all.

That line repeats a detail from the pilot, which shows Kara’s family sending her from Krypton to Earth. Her mother is a judge, showing how Kryptonian women could exercise authority.

In those scenes, Kara is about thirteen years old. Her cousin Kal-El is still a little baby. And their parents know that when the kids arrive on Earth they’ll have extraordinary powers—the yellow sun, you know.

But the women don’t tell Kara that she’ll have to be careful not to hurt the natives, or that she can be a hero. They say her job is “to look after your baby cousin, Kal-El.”

Kara replies, “I won’t fail Kal-El, or you.”

The grown-ups don’t tell Kara that she should do this “because you’re older, and he’s just a baby.” They don’t say she should do this “until he can look after himself.” They present this as her one and only mission in life.

The credits go on to explain that Kara’s spaceship was knocked off course, causing her not to arrive on Earth until her cousin has already grown up and become Superman. But she’s still in her teens. The series picks up a few years later when she’s in her early twenties. (Most comic-book versions of Supergirl are in their teens, but there is some precedent for a twentysomething.)

At first Kara says, “I didn’t have a mission anymore. But even though I had all the same powers he did, I decided the best thing I could do was fit in. After all, Earth didn’t need another hero.” Over the first couple of episodes, she decides to discard that attitude and be a superhero as good as her cousin.

Comics writers have gotten a lot of stories out of Supergirl’s wish to match her older, established cousin’s heroism. I have no problem with that being a big theme in this series. But here that theme is tied onto the notion that her job was to look after the family’s sole surviving male.

11 November 2015

Appropriate and Appropriation

Smart analysis from Timothy Burke, history professor at Swarthmore College:

What’s being called appropriation in some of the current activist discourses is how culture works. It’s the engine of cultural history, it’s the driver of human creativity. No culture is a natural, bounded, intrinsic and unchanging thing. A strong prohibition against appropriation is death to every ideal of human community except for a rigidly purified and exclusionary vision of identity and membership.

Even a weak prohibition against appropriation risks constant misapplication and misunderstanding by people who are trying to systematically apply the concept as polite dogma. To see one example of that, look to the New York Times article, which describes at one point a University of Washington advice video that counsels people to avoid wearing a karate costume unless you’re part of the real culture of karate. But karate as an institutional culture of art and sport is already thoroughly appropriated from its origins in Okinawa, and it was in turn an appropriation of sorts from Chinese martial arts–and no martial arts form in the world today is anything even remotely like its antecedents in practice, form or purpose. Trying to forbid karate costuming to anyone but a truly authentic “owner” of the costume is a tragic misunderstanding of the history of the thing being regulated. It’s also a gesture that almost certainly forbids the wearing of a costume that has a referent that is not wholly imaginary. If a karate outfit is appropriation for anyone but a genuine Okinawan with a black belt, then so also are firefighters, police, soldiers, nurses, doctors, astronauts and so on. Even imaginary characters are usually appropriations of some kind of another, drawn out of history and memory.

It is precisely these kinds of discourses about appropriation that are used by reactionaries to protest Idris Elba being cast as Heimdall, or to assert that a tradition of a particular character or cultural type being white or male or straight means it must always be so. It might be possible to configure a critique so that appropriation from below is always ok and appropriation from above is never ok, but that kind of categorical distinction itself rests on the illusion of power being rigid, binary and fixed rather than fluid, performative and situational.

What I think many activists mean to forbid is not appropriation but disrespect, not borrowing but hostile mockery. The use of costumes as weapons, as tools of discrimination. But it’s important to say precisely that and no more, and not let the word appropriation stand in for a much more specific situational critique of specific acts of harmful expression and representation. “Appropriation” is being used essentially to anticipate, to draw a comprehensive line proactively in order to avoid having to sort out with painful specificity which costumes and parties are offensive and which are not after the fact of their expression.
I’ve been trying to remember Halloween costumes from my years at Yale. I don’t remember the types of costume that the administration felt compelled to warn students against this year. In fact, I have a hard time imagining anyone in that period thinking variations on blackface would ever be appropriate—and I do remember clear moments of racism and other bigotry. But maybe I just didn’t go to those parties.

10 November 2015

The Emerald City in the Gutter

Here’s another view of the map of Oz as issued by Reilly & Lee. Can you spot two big differences between it and the map shown last week, from David Maxine’s Hungry Tiger Talk blog?

One difference is that this is a later reprinting of the map that first appeared in Tik-Tok of Oz (1914). As David discussed, the compass rose originally put east on the left and west on the right, contrary to the usual approach. At some point in subsequent decades, the publisher changed the labels so “E” was on the right as usual.

Of course, that change also meant the map showed the Winkie Country to be east of the Emerald City instead of west, as all of L. Frank Baum’s books described it. But his successors Ruth Plumly Thompson and John R. Neill started to state that the Winkies lived to the east, conforming to the reprinted map and its conventional compass.

Another difference is that the version of the map above is a broadside while the image David showed was scanned from an early copy of Tik-Tok of Oz, where it served as the endpapers. And that highlights a feature I find really interesting from the perspective of book design.

This map had to look good both as endpapers, when a thin strip of its middle would be concealed in the book’s binding, and as a poster or broadside lying flat. The artist accomplished that by making sure that almost no sites and no lettering fell within that central strip. Some large labels bridge the strip, such as the word “GILLIKIN” in the top quadrant—but there’s a little extra space between the second I and the K that could disappear into the binding.

The Emerald City was a challenge because Baum was clear that it’s in the middle of Oz—and thus in the middle of this map. How to keep it from vanishing into the gutter? The artist’s solution was to depict the city as a horizontal oval, with the word “Emerald” on the left and “City” on the right. (David Hulan once pointed out that the oval approximates an “emerald cut” in jewelry.) Then when the central strip of the map is hidden (look back on David’s map), the city appears as a circle and its full name remains legible.

On the accompanying map of Oz and surrounding countries, shown below, the Emerald City is safely off-center. And it appears as a circle, as it would appear in the endpapers form of the Oz map. This time the artist tried to keep other labels and locations out of the central strip. In the image from Wikipedia below, you can see where that got tough.

08 November 2015

“Some outstanding work” in Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder

Here are nice quotes from reviews of Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder, edited by Kristen L. Geaman and published this year by McFarland.

John DeNardo, Kirkus Reviews:

“Dick Grayson, aka. Robin, Batman’s young sidekick, [has] been around nearly as long as the caped crusader but rarely sees any media attention. That is, until now, with this collection of scholarly essays. Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder: Scholars and Creators on 75 Years of Robin, Nightwing and Batman is an interesting collection that features critical analyses and essays about the most overshadowed sidekick in comics. Also included are interviews with the Boy Wonder’s past and current creators Chuck Dixon, Devin Grayson and Marv Wolfman. Collectively, these essays examine Robin’s place in comics and his evolution across the decades—all within various contexts like trauma, friendship, feminism and masculinity.”
Nick Smith, ICv2 (4 Stars out of 5):
“Some outstanding work . . . for anyone who wants insights into the detailed history of Dick Grayson, as Robin and as Nightwing, and into the creative processes that have guided the character over such a long time, this is a valuable work, well worth reading. It should also be of interest to anyone interested in writing any company-owned character, because the history and interviews may prevent career-threatening pitfalls. Its price may keep it out of the hands of some fans, but it belongs in most libraries, at the least.”
As I wrote last week, the preview function on Barnes and Noble and Amazon websites offers an overview of the book and a good chunk of the first essay, by me.

04 November 2015

A Golden Time for a New Golden Compass?

The news that there’s a deal for a television adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series is very intriguing for us fans. It also shows how the economics of special-effects adventure dramas have changed in recent years.

In 2007, New Line’s adaptation of The Golden Compass cost an estimated $180 million to make. But that movie just didn’t capture the books’ magic, earning only $70 million in the US. That was so little that New Line’s parent corporation restructured the division the next year, bringing it under the control of Warner Bros. (The film made more overseas, but most of that money went to distributors, not the studio.)

Now television shows like Supergirl can afford digital visual effects on the same level, despite having a lower budget. And miniseries have become quite lucrative. So it’s possible to conceive of a His Dark Materials adaptation that’s not only visually stunning but tells the complete story of the three books.

Philip Pullman is part of this new deal. So is New Line, perhaps because it still holds the dramatic rights, and Scholastic. The production company, Bad Wolf, is new, without any completed projects, but its founders have brought on the BBC, their former employer. They also have ties to HBO, which would be a prime customer for the series in the US. All that makes me feel a little more hope than usual that this announced deal will lead to an actual show.