Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ozopolis and the Winkie Convention

Kirk Kushin
One of our special guests at the Winkie Convention this summer will be Kirk Kushin, writer of the Ozzy and acclaimed new comic book series OZopolis. At the convention Kirk will be telling and showing us all about OZopolis and will also be participating in the Oz Comics Panel to be moderated by John Bell, best known to Oz folk for his blog Oz and Ends. Below is an excerpt from an interview with Kirk to be included in the Winkie Con Program Book.

How were you originally introduced to Oz and Baum? I believe it was the MGM film, but when my Grandmother gave me the softcover edition of The Land of Oz, that really sparked my imagination. I recently looked it up online and it was published by Rand McNally. I was curious because I vividly remember the weight and feel of the volume. She would always inscribe everything she gave me, so it's really too bad that it got lost in my multiple childhood moves. She was actually the person I dedicated our first issue to because it's thanks to her that I realized there was an Oz beyond the classic film.

What is most appealing to you about Oz? What do you find so intriguing that you wanted to be a part of it?  I especially remember being in the fifth grade and really wishing I could move to Oz! I recall specifically thinking I would have to take some modern clothes, because I did not want to dress up like Button Bright! But other than the fashion I think it was the Michael Herring cover illustrations that made it seem like a real place you could visit. Obviously the designs were all John R. Neill, but something about the covers on the Del Rey paperbacks really captured my imagination. So I really did want to be part of it - too bad I couldn't jump through those paintings!

So how did OZopolis come about? I had been reading the books out loud to my son and he liked to make little "detours" from the story, so we started expanding the novels on the fly. My older daughter also liked the Oz comics out there, especially the manga versions from Antarctic Press by David Hutchison, so we started doing a manga story together for fun. We really didn't get that far, but we had created a villain I really liked, so I began wondering if I could do something with her.

What are the long-range plans for OZOPOLIS? We will keep doing one or two installments a year for the foreseeable future. I've really been encouraged by the warm response it's gotten from Oz fans and other people in the comic industry.  I'm careful to try to keep the stories more or less self-contained since it's not coming out that often. But each installment does move the overall story line along toward a bigger picture.

How did you get into comics - both reading them as a kid and creating them as an adult? I was lured into comics by Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. I wasn't interested in super heroes until I was sick and my mom happened to buy me a comic. It ended up being Uncanny X-Men #141 (the beginning of the classic Days of Future Past story) and I was like, "I don't understand what the heck is going on, but I love it!" From that point on I was hooked. Many years later, I was working in commercial advertising and I was producing a spot with some sexy ninja girls, a clown, and a guy with an eye-patch. I loved the visuals because they reminded me of those old live action Saturday morning shows, so I decided to develop it further with my friends. We ended up with this Get Smart / Charlie's Angels farce called B.A.B.E. Force. I thought it had the makings of an interesting movie, so I got a booth at Comic Con. It was there that I met a gentleman who wanted to produce a comic book based on it. Even though we never got a movie deal, we ended up getting a little comic book series. But I was not happy with what the company was doing with the story, so once the license lapsed, I started self-publishing. I'm a glutton for punishment, so I've been doing comics ever since.

When did you and artist Gonzalo Martinez begin working together?  I met Gonzalo while I was doing B.A.B.E. Force and he did a back-up story for me. I told him I was interested in doing a super hero high school comic along the lines of a John Hughes movie. We really clicked, so we did about 9 issues of Super Teen*Topia together. I was looking for another project to do with him and I asked him if he'd be interested in working on an Oz project with me.

OZOPOLIS is one of the few Oz comics to present a  “traditional” version of Oz. Why do you think so many creators want to reinvent Oz in a “dark” vein? What motivated you to make OZOPOLIS so true in spirit to Baum’s Oz? I always treasured the original stories, and Baum created so many amazing characters. I wanted to go visit that big mansion on the hill I had always seen from a distance. Plus, I am not a big fan of dark stuff, so it was a really comfortable world for me to craft a story in. I always say my writing is essentially about fun, likeable people that you'd like to spend the day with, so it's a good fit for Baum's universe.

Dorothy Gale in OZOPOLIS
You and Gonzalo have given Dorothy and Ozma a bit of a makeover. How did you decide what to change and what to keep the same? Dorothy has traded in her party dress for shorts and high-tops - but the Wizard is still in a frock coat with an ascot. Well, the girls in Baum's novels were supposedly very young, but we've made them teenagers because that's essentially how he wrote them, especially in Glinda of Oz. As I mentioned, even as a boy I thought there were some fashion challenges in Oz, so it was probably a mutual decision on the make-overs.  There is a scene in the next installment that pays tribute to Dorothy's party dress, so it's gone but not forgotten! One of the things we end up discussing the most is the traditional Neill look versus an updated version. I worship Neill's original illustrations (except for those frumpy frocks), but I have to let Gonzalo process those and come up with his own take. There is a lot of thought that goes into each character, so don't expect Button Bright to show up dressed as a skater boy. We don't take "OZopolizing" old friends lightly around here!

Thanks, Kirk! I hope you'll have a great time at the Winkie Con in July! For information on attending, click here.

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