Kingstone Media Christian Comics, A Review

101 questions Cover, Copyright Kingstone, All Rights Reserved.

101 questions Cover, Copyright Kingstone, All Rights Reserved.

I recently had the pleasure of discovering a brand new line of Christian comics that completely caught me by surprise. I do not impress easily and not only does this series impress me, it completely blows me away!! First, I’d like to discuss their “201 Questions” title. This book covers 15 topics that could be described as “paranormal” (but isn’t the entire Bible paranormal after all?) in that it deals with subjects like angels, demons, aliens/UFO’s, ghosts, dinosaurs, the Nephilim, and others. These are all subjects I’ve studied on my own and these are all subjects that I’ve discovered that most Christians wont even discuss and will even take a step back from you and give you a strange look if you even bring them up. This is why this book completely caught me by surprise. Not only does this book tackle these on the fringe subjects but it’s come to the same conclusions I have. I have also read many books by Christian authors on these topics and it’s such a breathe of fresh air to read a book about them that doesn’t delve into kooky convoluted conspiracy theories about the Bohemian Grove or 9/11 “truthers”. This book simply takes the entry and provides you with a simple cliff notes version of what the Bible says about the subject and provides you the scriptural verses at the bottom of each page where you can look it up yourself. I’m glad someone has done a book like this where these topics are made simple for those who know little or nothing about them and can then open up the discussion for more. I also look forward to further issues in this series and will be recommending it to all of my friends.

Kingstone Bible Cover, Copyright Kingstone, All Rights Reserved.

Kingstone Bible Cover, Copyright Kingstone, All Rights Reserved.

I also picked up their Kingstone Bible. This book collects six smaller issues into a larger volume and it appears that they are doing an even more expanded compendium in the future. Like the “101 Questions”, this Bible provides the Scriptural references at the bottom of each page which is something I always find helpful with comic book Bibles. I own several of them and this one has something different to it that I enjoy more than the rest. I also, wholeheartedly recommend it to both Christians and non-Believers who are curious what the Bible is really about but are unwilling to actually crack one open. This might make it easier for them to go to the source material once they have a general understanding of what they’re reading. Since I’ve grown up reading the Bible my whole life it’s sometimes easy to forget that many people have not and that makes it difficult for them to read or comprehend the old style English.

Both books have very strong and dynamic artwork and, in many cases, it’s among the best I’ve ever seen in a Christian comic. The Bible book is an anthology of several different artists but I actually prefer this because it makes each story distinct and stand out from each other visually. I also give them points for not going overboard in the 3-D coloring of the pages as so many modern comics frequently do. They’ve kept the artwork in the traditional realms of the comic book graphic and this should be applauded.

I read that Kingstone Comics hopes to become the Marvel Comics of the Christian Community and I wish them luck! In the meantime, I’ll be back for me and hope you will give them a chance too.

You can visit their website at http://kingstonecomics.com/

America’s Forgotten Fairyland

L. Frank Baum & the Oz Characters

L. Frank Baum & the Oz Characters

I’ve always been drawn to things from the past. I like old movies, I enjoy classic TV series, I value vintage cartoons, I treasure old time radio, and I cherish forgotten books. Today I’d like to tell you the great American story behind the greatest American fairy tale ever created, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. I’m going at this from memory so forgive me if I’m a little over-simplified on the details.

Most people are familiar with the 1939 MGM “Wizard of Oz” movie starring Judy Garland but as important as that film is to Hollywood history that film is nothing like the book it originated from and has probably led to the downfall of its original source material than any other film based on a classic work. Everyone knows of the Harry Potter and Twilight crazes in recent memory but the popularity of the “Oz” phenomenon by far dwarfs them both. Not even Star Wars may be close to recapturing the popularity that was “Oz” and yet few today are even aware of it. No other franchise can claim as many volumes with a run spanning over 50 years launching as many spin offs as “Oz” did and that just proves how truly unique of a property it is. Many of the characters from the original book have become so famous that they are even known by people who have never ever read an Oz book. They have become deeply woven threads into the tapestry that makes up America that it’s rather difficult to think of a time when they didn’t exist and they are Americana at its best. So how did it all begin?

Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The land of Oz and its inhabitants came from not myth, legend, or folklore but from the mind of a man, L. Frank Baum. He was a man who struggled and failed at every career he’d tried until he began to write down the stories he told to children. “Oz” was only one of these stories but by far became his most successful work. When the book, a book he had to help shoulder the production costs to even see printed, was released in 1900 it was the surprise hit of the season. It instantly spawned many imitators and within months it was licensed for an elaborate stage production in 1901 that bore little resemblance of the book. It was because of the popularity of this stage play that “Oz” is said to have surged in popularity and continued its original run into the following decade.

Baum continued to write other stories, averaging about four books a year over the next twenty years (often while fighting off a life threatening illness)  and even dawned various aliases as he spread out into other genres. Even after having a falling out with the illustrator of the original book, W.W. Denslow, over the stage production led to brighter futures ahead when a young Philadelphian illustrator John R Neill became Baum‘s frequent illustrator. Denslow did alright for himself for a while though. He made so much money on “Oz” that he purchased himself an Island in the Caribbean and crowned himself king. Denslow would go on to create his own “Oz” imitator a few years later, “The Pearl & the Pumpkin”. It would prove to be a tremendous flop and Denslow would die near penniless a few years later. (Incidentally, the popular Christmas time play “Babes in Toyland” was also created as an “Oz” imitator and probably the most successful of the group.”

In 1904 Baum published a sequel to the “Wizard” entitled “The Marvelous Land of Oz”. This was really created to be an excuse for a sequel stage production hoping to recapture the success of the original, which was still going strong at the time. Because the first was still a success the producers of that play saw no reason to back a competing production so Baum funded the sequel play “The Woggle-Bug” himself. To promote the new book and stage production an “Oz comic strip was launched, “Queer Visitors From The Marvelous Land of Oz” and it actually competed with Denslow’s own “Scarecrow and Tin Man” strip of the same time. A tie-in children’s book, “The Woggle-Bug Book” also appeared. In all three of these projects the “Oz” characters came to America on a visit. Mostly forgotten today and long sought after by collectors, none of these stories capture the magic that is found within the pages of the “Oz” books. Today all three have can be found in some marvelous reprints for the first time in decades and for the Oz aficionado they are a curiosity to be sure. But be forewarned that many of these reprints revise the original material into politically correct versions and, as we all know, historical works like these should ALWAYS Be experienced in their original form as the creator intended and not some revised edition that later generations sought to censor.

“The Woggle-Bug” proved to be a tremendous flop and received terrible reviews inevitably comparing as a pale imitation of the original but the book it was based on was a tremendous success. With most of his other fantasies having done mediocre sales at best Baum revisited Oz in 1907 with “Ozma of Oz”. In this book Baum returned Dorothy to Oz due to reader demands whereas the previous book had only featured the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman from the original story as the prominent characters because of the popularity of the comedy team who portrayed them on the stage production. With “Ozma” Baum began to develop “Oz” as a series of books with three more “Oz” books appearing over the next three years.

Because Baum had never intended “Oz” as a series of books like the works of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, or J.K. Rowling he was very much making this up as he went along. Even so, Oz is as real of a fantasy world as Narnia or Middle Earth and the inconsistencies that crept into the work add to the charm and Americana of the overall piece. Perhaps modern readers find this to be a flaw but we must remember that “Oz” was the first franchised work like this ever created and it was birthed out of the admirable American value of the need to succeed. Only in America could the “Oz” series have been created and become a flourishing success. It is clear what Baum intended was something much more along the lines of Lewis Caroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” but what he’s responsible for paved the road (perhaps it was even of yellow bricks?) for the authors and their own fantasy worlds that would come later.

Return to Oz, Copyright Walt Disney Productions, All Rights Reserved.

Return to Oz, Copyright Walt Disney Productions, All Rights Reserved.

 

Burnt out by his most popular creation, Baum tried to end the series with the 6th book, “The Emerald City of Oz”, but was forced to resume the series with “The Patchwork Girl of Oz” a few years later when his new fantasy series about the adventures of a little girl and a one legged old sea captain failed to generate the sales of any of the “Oz” sequels. The new “Oz” book was also accompanied with 6 tie-in storybooks known as “Little Wizard Stories” to promote the new book (Often reprinted today in a single volume known as “Little Wizard Stories of Oz”.) “The Patchwork Girl” proved to be such a tremendous success, even today it is regarded as being one of the best of the “Oz” books, that Baum’s fate had been sealed. Realizing that his future had been decided for him, Baum wrote a new “Oz” book every year for the rest of his life. Baum even folded his new fantasy series about the girl and the sea captain into “Oz” with “The Scarecrow of Oz” in 1915 as well as adapted an unpublished work into an “Oz” story with “Rinkitink in Oz” in 1916. In both cases it was Baum’s desire to increase their popularity through name recognition with Oz and thusly increase his sales and he’s aspirations were realized.

Baum had continued to work on “Oz” stage productions, (his first love had always been the theater) but none of them proved to be a success and caused him great financial losses. This was the driving factor behind Baum’s return and development to “Oz” as a series of books. He was also an early film pioneer and produced several silent films about the land of Oz and based on his stories. Although the films were elaborately produced and are among the earliest showcases of special effects, with some of them even utilizing experimental color techniques, these too proved to be flops as well given that people didn’t take their children to the movies yet nor was the theater exhibition system in place yet that would make films a viable venture. Baum was truly ahead of his time.

Baum’s final Oz book was “Glinda of Oz” being printed after his death in 1919 but “Oz” proved to be so popular that even the death of its creator could not stop its popularity and the series continued the following year with a new author, Ruth Plumly Thompson. This was the first time a series of stories continued without its creator, a practice which is commonplace now, but was unheard of for the day. In most cases your creative property died with you. In 1921 she continued the series with “The Royal Book of Oz” and continued to write a new “Oz” book every year until 1939’s “Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz” and returned to do two more volumes in the 1970’s. The Thompson stories are in many ways a mirror image of the works of Baum. While Baum often chose little girls to be the star of his stories, Thompson chose little boys. Whereas Baum’s stories showcased Americana, Thompson’s relied heavily on European fairy tale influences. In recent years Thompson’s story have received a bum wrap as not being very good but after having read many of them I can assure you they are quite splendid fantasy stories in their own right. As compared to the other books in the “Oz” series they’re just a different flavor of the same property.

When Thompson retired from Oz in 1940, the series’ long time illustrator John R. Neill then wrote four volumes of his own with the fourth not being printed until the 1990’s. Oz fan Jack Snow then took over the series for two more volumes in the late 1940’s and even wrote a Who’s Who of Oz characters in the 1950’s. Baum’s publishers, Reilly & Lee added two more books to the line with 1951’s “The Hidden Valley of Oz” by Rachel R. Cosgrove and 1963’s “Merry Go Round in Oz” by Eloise Jarvis McGraw and Lauren McGraw. Other Oz books by these authors would also finally see print in the 1980’s, 1990’s, and 2000’s. Reilly & Lee also had the “Queer Visitors” strip adapted into a storybook in the 1960’s.

By that point the popularity of “Oz” had finally run its course with Baum’s “Oz” books starting to fall into the public domain. This made the “Oz” series accessible to anyone who wanted to write their own “Oz” story and this began a whole new wave of “Oz” books that while aren’t regarded as being official canon some are interesting none the less. To this day dozens of new “Oz” stories are printed every few years and while everyone knows the classic MGM film there’s a whole side of Oz found in the printed works that is just waiting to be discovered. While not all of the officially recognized books are great, there are some wonderful gems among them and several of the twentieth centuries leading fantasy storytellers such as Ray Bradbury and Walt Disney can be counted among the legion of Oz fans.

So why don’t we know this? Why have the “Oz” books been tossed into the dustbin of history? It could be because for a long time the “Oz” books were seen as a waste of precious library space holding their own among the pulp classics of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Doc Savage. In a lot of ways the “Oz” books are a forerunner to the comic book which followed the same creative path as the “Oz” stories did. An undeniable factor is most definitely the long shadow cast by the ever popular MGM film. The film is so highly regarded that all films based on the later “Oz” books inevitably get compared to the original. It would be wonderful to see a series of films based on the series get made in today’s climate. With a wealth of great characters and story material it’s an obvious leap to make. But as great as the “Oz” books are, the story of L. Frank Baum is even better and isn’t an inspiring great American success story a story we can all get behind especially today?

If you’d like to read a great primer of the works of L. Frank Baum I highly recommend the book “Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum” by Michael O’ Riley. Out of all of the Baum bibliographies I’ve ever read it is my favorite because it not just tells the story of the man but the story behind his stories and it discusses many of the stories in great detail.

Oz & Beyond

Oz & Beyond

We’ll revisit the land of Oz in another post but for now here is a brief overview about what this was all about as a jumping off point for future reference.

All content, unless otherwise noted, copyright Ed McCray, All Rights Reserved.