12 June 2024

OzCon 2024 Getting into the Game

This July’s OzCon International in Pomona will be the sixtieth annual Oz fan convention on the west coast. OzCon started as the Winkie Convention, for people who lived in the western quadrant of the USA.

These days, OzCon attracts people from all over. Co-director Colin Ayres is from Shropshire, I’m from New England, and one of this year’s guests is from Australia.

Once again I’ve been helping to plan the program. I’ll speak briefly, moderate a panel on what stories the manuscripts of the Oz books can tell us, and help with other tasks.

As the graphic above from convention co-director Jay Davis says, the schedule is up now at OzConInternational.

17 April 2024

“Outside the Box” Opening Reception in Jamaica Plain, 21 April


With friends from the Boston Comics Roundtable, I’m helping to organize an exhibit of comics art in the gallery of the Footlight Club, America’s oldest continuously running community theater. It’s on Eliot Street in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston.

A few weeks back, a volunteer at that theater contacted our group about assembling a show. Its current production is Tuck Everlasting, a family musical based on Natalie Babbitt’s novel, so he wanted to showcase art that would appeal to kids.

Many B.C.R. members have created comics for kids, and co-founder Dan Mazur published Boston Powers, a comic book with short, local superhero stories. So there was a good talent pool to choose from.

The exhibit has ended up featuring thirteen artists, including Boston Powers contributors, folks publishing on their own on paper or the web, a couple of graphic novelists (Jonathan Todd, Jerel Dye), and even a picture-book artist who works in comics form (Lindsay Leigh).

I’m represented through the work of Brendan Tobin, with pages from our “Stupendo and Secret Girl” collaboration.

This Sunday, 21 April, at 1:00 PM we’ll have a reception to celebrate the exhibit before a matinee performance of the musical. The art will remain up before, during, and after every show for families to enjoy. 

20 March 2024

The Characters of Oz “a real treat”

In the latest Baum Bugle from the International Wizard of Oz Club, Scott Cummings calls The Characters of Oz “a real treat and a fresh addition to the Oz reference shelf.”

I’m flattered by the review’s praise for my essay on the Wizard himself, especially how the “insightful comment that ‘Baum built most of his characters around contradictions’ casts a valuable light on the entire volume.” I’d been looking for a place to install that comment in Oz commentary. Those paragraphs got some extra airing back here.

Part of the brief for contributors to this collection was to examine the characters through multiple forms of the Oz mythos. The story has long sprawled across stage, screen, comics, and other media. Thanks to the public domain, there has been an explosion of adaptations in the last few decades, though only a few have really embedded themselves deep in the culture.

I could have applied my lens of “a good man but a bad wizard” to such later retellings as The Wiz, Wicked, and Oz the Great and Powerful. But I felt on surer ground looking at the Wizard as he appeared in the first forty years, from the original book to the MGM movie. That allowed for a more manageable narrative, and narrative is how I naturally think.

That choice evidently worked out, with Cummings calling that chapter, “Perhaps because of the tighter focus,…especially successful.”

Looking back, I see that approach paralleled how I looked at the first thirty years of Dick Grayson for another collection from the same publisher. So I guess that’s what I like.

19 March 2024

On the Road to CharlOz, Sept. 26–29

On September 26-29, 2024, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina; the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; and other local and national organizations will host CharlOz, a stretching over four days to explore the Oz mythos and its cultural legacy.

I’ll be there, speaking at two events on the schedule for Friday, 27 September:
  • a panel discussion of the new essay collection The Characters of Oz, featuring editor Dina Massachi and fellow contributors Mark West, Katharine Kittredge, Walter Squire, Paige Gray, Angelica Shirley Carpenter, and Gita Dorothy Morena.
  • a talk later that afternoon titled “‘My! what a lot of Kings and Queens!’: The Meanings of Monarchy in L. Frank Baum’s Fantasies.”
The schedule of CharlOz events includes many other speakers and presentations, including:
  • an opening keynote speech by novelist Gregory Maguire.
  • presentations by comics artists Eric Shanower and Janet R. Lee, puppeteer and director James Ortiz, and film restorer Nate Barlow.
  • talks by scholars Ryan Bunch, Angelica Shirley Carpenter, Atticus Gannaway, Judy Bieber, Anastasia Rose Hyden, Brady Schwind, Paige Gray, Katharine Kittredge, and many more.
  • a Saturday full of family programming.
  • theatrical, cinematic, and gallery interpretations of Oz.
The International Wizard of Oz Club will also have its national convention in Charlotte coinciding with this festival.

16 March 2024

“Historic Children’s Voices” Coming from American Antiquarian Society

The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester will launch a website on “Historic Children’s Voices, 1799-1899.”

Its introductory page explains: “The holdings to be digitized are not children’s literature, i.e., works created BY adults FOR children, but rather are direct testimony as well as imaginative works created BY children. As such, they constitute an archive of historical evidence not previously accessible.”

The materials to be digitized include diaries, letters, stories, poems, and the AAS’s “large amateur newspaper collection—most printed on home parlor presses.” There will be 15,000 pages of content in all.

Those presses were very popular in the late 1800s. When L. Frank Baum issued the Rose Lawn Home Journal and later self-published works on stamp collecting and chicken farming, he was among thousands of young people working their own small presses.

Accompanying the website, the AAS will host an in-person and online symposium on 2–3 May featuring panel discussions on “Authentic Children’s Voices,” “Archival Silences,” “Visual Culture of Children’s Production,” and “Hearing the Child’s Voice.”

On 5–9 August, the AAS will host an institute for K-12 teachers on the subject, with hands-on workshops using the collection and a field trip to Lowell National Historical Park.

19 January 2024

Detecting Style

“Red Eye” is a short story by Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane. It was published in Face Off and then in The Best American Mystery Stories 2015, where I read it.

David Baldacci, the editor of Face Off, invited established crime writers to write short stories that brought their lead characters together. In “Red Eye,” Connolly’s L.A. police detective Harry Bosch meets Lehane’s Boston private eye Patrick Kenzie.

It looks like Connolly and Lehane traded sections, Connolly writing those parts told by following Bosch and Lehane those tracking Kenzie. Usually Kenzie is the narrator of the novels that feature him, but to match Connolly Lehane wrote in the close third person.

Even beyond the central characters, the sections are easily distinguished by the authors’ styles. Connolly is stripped down, short sentences and terse observations.

Lehane’s sections, in contrast, are full of sentence fragments, aphroisms, metaphors. It’s still hard-boiled prose, but it’s not afraid of style.

The contrast reminds me of the difference between Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. And I like a little more ornament in my prose.