Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I am Tik-Tok. I am De-lic-i-ous!

This last week I wanted to make a surprise birthday cake for a friend named Freddy. There was little doubt what the theme would be - Freddy is an avid Return to Oz fan who adores a certain Tik-Tok. So the subject matter wasn't what was troubling me. It was how to do it! These things must be done delicately!

I had already decided on a fairly fancy dinner of Beef Wellington, so I wanted a special dessert. I remembered a cake developed by Julia Child called le bombe aux trois chocolats. When I thought of that cake, which is molded in a round mixing bowl, I knew what had to be done. It would become Tik-Tok's face. Here he is!

As I mentioned, Julia Child's recipe bombe au trois chocolates is a molded cake. The outer layer is brownie-like, carefully fitted into the bowl, and filled with a very dark, rich chocolate mousse. Then melted chocolate is poured over the whole thing. Those are the three chocolates (trois chocolats) in the name of the recipe.

My first step was to select a bowl the size I wanted the finished cake to be. Then I made a paper pattern to be used to cut out the assorted shapes of cake needed to line the bowl. I cut a small circle for the bottom of the bowl and a large one for the top. I then divided the side of the bowl into eight wedge-shaped pieces. I spent a lot of time on the side-pieces. You could do it much sloppier and it would probably work fine. But I have a perfectionist streak.

Next I made the mousse (shown at left). After folding in the egg whites it looks a lot like ice cream! There was almost a pound of chocolate in the mousse. I used Trader Joe's 72% Dark Belgian Chocolate, supplemented with a couple squares of unsweetened chocolate. This mousse also contains a pack of gelatin to give it a bit more body to keep it stiff.

Next up was making the sheet of Brownie Fudge Cake. After it cooled about ten minutes I removed it from the pan and flipped it over. It was baked with a layer of wax paper under it to facilitate the flipping.

I then laid out the paper pattern pieces on the cake and carefully cut them out. I made a small circle for the bottom of the bowl, a big circle for the top, and eight angled side-pieces. Note how each edge of the angled pieces is slightly curved to make a good fit!

Here are all the cake pieces cut out. I then lined the molding bowl with plastic wrap for easy unmolding and arranged the pieces in the bowl pretty-side out. I found that despite my careful patterning of the eight sides I still had a half-inch gap to fill. So I simply cut a little wedge out of the cake scraps to fill the gap and made a mental note to hide the patch under the chocolate drizzle.
Here I began filling the cake-lined bowl with the chilled mousse. For a bit of additional support I added a layer of cake scraps when the bowl was half filled with mousse.

When the bowl was almost full, I topped it all with the big circle of cake, pulled plastic wrap over the whole thing, and refrigerated it overnight, still in the bowl, with a weighted saucer on top.

Now to turn the cake into the Return to Oz Tik-Tok. I looked at photos and decided what details to use and whether anything could be done with preexisting materials. I knew I'd have to make/mold several parts, but the mustache seemed like it would be difficult to make from scratch.

I recalled that Godiva made some chocolate shells that I thought might work for the mustache. But they were made of milk chocolate and that dictated that his head be drizzled in milk, rather than dark, chocolate. So be it! I then thought, "Gosh, Tik-Tok's nose looks an awful lot like a Rolo!" So that's what I used. His eye sockets and ears were created by pouring the melted chocolate on wax paper until it was about an 1/8" thick. I used some circular cookie cutters to cut the shapes while the chocolate was still a bit soft. The inner cut-outs from the eyes became Tik-Tok's ears. The trickiest part was making his hat. In the photo above you can see I've positioned a piece of paper to get the curve around the head correct. I then drew another curve to create the outer brim which gave me a pattern. I cut the hat shape out of a piece of thin foam core and used the resulting hole as a mold. I taped the foam mold to the countertop over some wax paper, poured in melted chocolate, and scraped off the excess. When it was cool I popped the chocolate hat brim out of the foam core. Voila!

Here is the cake soon after I poured on the melted chocolate and began positioning the facial elements. I made rivets for the hat by using an exacto-knife to saw the points off chocolate chips. I made six facial rivets the same way. I attached the rivets by using melted chocolate for glue. Once all the chocolate work was done I chilled him to firm everything up.

The last step was the eyes. I squirted blue glitter cake gel and green cake gel into his eye sockets, mixed them a bit, and smoothed the mixture with a spatula. Then with my (incredibly clean) finger dipped in water I smoothed it out more. And then Tik Tok was ready. He was a big hit at the birthday dinner. He was very tasty, too!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Denslow in Egypt

One of the pleasures of attending World Con last week was the chance to browse the bookshelves in the Dealers Room. I found several neat little books and quite a few more books at a couple bookstores and antique shops on the drive up and back.

One of the books from World Con proper was Enoch the Philistine by LeRoy Hooker published by the Rand McNally Co. in 1898. I bought it because it features a rather elaborate cover design by W. W. Denslow, illustrator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

I have a number of books with Denslow covers, but what struck me about this one in particular is the unusual use of a second cloth to create part of the image. The royal blue evening sky is created by applying a blue cloth over the desert brown cloth. There is also quite a bit of gilt stamping: the title and author's byline, the stars at the top, and the comet on the back.There are also four stamping colors in addition to the gilt: dark blue, bright green, a bloody brick red, and the light sandy gray of the pyramid which seems a bit faded.

The book is subtitled "A Traditional Romance Of Philistia, Egypt And The Great Pyramid." The announcement in Publisher's Weekly of November 5, 1898, says, "the story of the spiritual significance of the Great Pyramid is supposed to be told in the words of Enoch, a shepherd of Philistia, who superintended the erecting of the monument according to directions supposed to have been found in the Roll of Enoch the son of Cain. This builder was a great astronomer and arithmetician, who also built the great Egyptian canal and changed the current of the Nile. He live to be one hundred and four score years. His tender love for his wife Zillah furnishes the romance of the story, which is really a historical picture of the days of Abraham and Melchizedek."

If by chance that blurb has piqued your curiosity enough to want to read the book, here's a link to a free online version.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sis Sez Sunday - 55

Poor Sis, what sneeze through yonder window breaks. . . .

This installment of Marge and Ruth Plumly Thompson's SIS SEZ page first appeared in King Comics, No. 49, in May 1940. If you love Marge's Little Lulu you're sure to get a kick out of Sis!

Please note that if you click on the image it will expand to a full-size version which will make it much easier to read! All of the other blog images will similarly enlarge.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lost Prince Too Fan of Woo

Today's blog is a quickie as Eric and I are still at World Con. But I wanted you to know that this month's Hungry Tiger Tale is now posted on our main website. This month it's a short story by Ruth Plumly Thompson, "Lost Prince Too Fan, of Woo."  This little-known tale of RPT's was originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger on March 7, 1920.

If you haven't explored our FREE monthly Tiger Tales I urge you to do so! They are all archived (click here) and there are a lot of really good stories.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Renovation Time!

Well, Eric Shanower and I are off to Renovation - the 69th World Science Fiction Convention, which is being held in Reno, Nevada, this year. The convention begins today, August 17th, and runs thru August 21st.

You can find us in the Dealer's Room at Tables E-5 and E-6. So come say hello and buy a book if you like.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sis Sez Sunday - 54

Gosh, Sis hates ironing even more than I do! At least I don't fight with the ironing board.

This installment of Marge and Ruth Plumly Thompson's SIS SEZ page first appeared in King Comics, No. 49, in May 1940. If you love Marge's Little Lulu you're sure to get a kick out of Sis!

Please note that if you click on the image it will expand to a full-size version which will make it much easier to read! All of the other blog images will similarly enlarge.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Those Bradford Books

The Bradford Exchange has begun reissuing the fourteen Baum Oz books in facsimile editions. They are a bit pricey, but considering the limited sales potential, I think they are fairly priced. The closest any other publisher has come to facsimiles is Books of Wonder's hardcover series - though they never claimed to be true facsimiles. Please click on any of the images to enlarge them to look at the details.

The Bradford Edition
The Bradford books are handsomely produced - especially the stamped covers. But their reproduction of the color plates is sloppy and IMHO inept. Now some might say there isn't anything better out there, and I'd have to agree. But Bradford wasted a huge opportunity to do it right. Considering the money spent producing these volumes, it's a shame they didn't have a better graphic designer prepare the scans of the color plates.

For the sake of this critique I'll focus on a single plate from The Marvelous Land of Oz. I picked it at random. It shows Jellia Jamb serving as translator when Jack Pumpkinhead meets the Scarecrow. The Bradford printing is shown at left. At first glance it doesn't seem awful by any means.

The 1904 First Edition
In the original 1904 printing you can see there is some plate damage on the left hand side of the image, as well as that dark greenish blue edge. The original plates are also a little bit out of registration (the four printing plates for the different colors are not perfectly aligned). Now perhaps the Bradford Exchange, in their desire to create facsimiles, felt a need to reproduce the plates "out of register" as indeed they are in the original edition. But the Bradford image is even more out of register (than my copy anyway) and the throne, canopy, and Scarecrow are all much darker. The Bradford plate above is very grainy, too, probably from too much "sharpening" by their graphics person. Both images were scanned at 600 dpi with the same basic settings for this blog.  

But in my opinion the most disappointing difference between the two is the loss of all the detail in the original line art. Here is a close-up of Jellia Jamb's face. The original is on the left, the Bradford is on the right. These are both unadulterated scans from the two books.

It's just not good enough - and when one compares section by section, ALL of the color plates suffer from this problem of grainy, blobby, detail-less reproduction. Some of this loss of detail comes from the aforementioned poor registration of the Bradford printing. But if my basic scan above can capture the detail, then they should have been able to do so as well. Is Bradford deliberately not fixing things like bad registration because the first edition is also out of register? If that's the case, I wonder if we will get an ugly glue blob on page 221 of the Bradford edition of Ozma of Oz. The registration in Bradford's The Marvelous Land of Oz could have easily been fixed. Just to see if it were possible, I took my basic scan of the original plate above and attempted to bring the four colors into registration.

Please CLICK to enlarge!

It took me seven minutes of work, including scan time, to align the image - and my results would have been better still had I scanned it at 1200 dpi instead of 600. Personally I would prefer the color plates looked good rather than accurate. Sadly, Bradford's color plates are neither.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Oz, un mundo fantástico!

I recently got a very interesting and quite pretty Return to Oz book.  

Oz, un mundo fantástico is a Spanish picture book published by Everest in 1987. The hardback book measures approximately 8 1/2" x 11". What makes the book so interesting is that it is illustrated with drawings - not just photos from the film like most of the foreign Return to Oz books feature. And the illustrator has borrowed (or ripped off) character designs for many other Disney films to create the illustrations. It's kind of neat actually.

On the cover you can see that Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Scarecrow are all based on their RTO film likenesses. The Dorothy does not look like Fairuza Balk but she looks very familiar. Alas I haven't been able to place her. Note that Billina is green! I have no idea why, but the ultra-rare Japanese stuffed Billina was green, too.

Ok, now the fun starts! Notice that Toto is actually Tramp from Disney's Lady and the Tramp. Aunt Em looks a bit like the wife in that film, too. But I could be wrong. Anyone recognize Uncle Henry? Note too how much that copper lamp on the table resembles Tik-Tok. As always, you may click on an image to enlarge it.

Look who the illustrator picked to play the blonde girl from Dr. Worley's hospital! Can you identify the character filling in for Nurse Wilson. I really like the way the illustrator has made each spread work as both a double-page illustration as well as two "single" pages - a trick created by having one background serve for both pages.

Here we get a Nome King created by "petrifying" one of the Kings from Sleeping Beauty. This double-page spread isnt quite as successful as the others.

So where did this Lion come from? He too looks familiar and he doesn't appear to be very based on the RTO lion. These were only a few of the pages - it's a handsome volume and very atypical of the foreign RTO books. This hardcover also features a second story, El patito feo (The Ungly Duckling).

There is also a much smaller paperback version of this Return to Oz book. It does not have a second story and it lacks one page of Return to Oz artwork included in the hardcover edition.

And a special thanks to Sam of Oz - he knows why :)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Janis Joplin in Oz

So what did then-future rock star Janis Joplin do during her summer job at the public library in Port Arthur, Texas?  She made drawings of Oz characters!

At left is a Janis Joplin drawing of our hay-stuffed friend the Scarecrow, clearly modeled after one of John R. Neill's drawings from The Patchwork Girl of Oz.

You can read more about Joplin's life, death, and little-known talent as a painter at this website.

You can also buy very pricey limited edition giclée prints, signed and authorized by the Joplin estate, of both the Scarecrow and Jack Pumpkinhead. Joplin's brother says the Baum books were family favorites.

So to paraphrase a Joplin song, if you got dem ole Munchkin Blues again, mama - you can cheer yourself up with a Janis Joplin Oz print.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Stuffed with Pins!

Not a long post tonight but I thought I would share the news that my Return to Oz Tik-Tok pin just got a friend.

I really rather like these pins now - which is odd, because I never much cared for them in the mid-late 80s when they were a lot easier to find.

Longer blogging will return soon - convention season has just taken its toll on my blogging time.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sis Sez Sunday - 53

Here's a bit of winter cool for all of you suffering in the heat wave that's striking much of the country. I love the man in the painting's beard.

This installment of Marge and Ruth Plumly Thompson's SIS SEZ page first appeared in King Comics, No. 47, in March 1940. If you love Marge's Little Lulu you're sure to get a kick out of Sis!

Please note that if you click on the image it will expand to a full-size version which will make it much easier to read! All of the other blog images will similarly enlarge.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Return to Oz - Return to the '80s

A friend from England just sent me this charming little record. I've known about it for a while; I even have an mp3 recording of the song. But until now I didn't have the actual 45 rpm disc. Now I do.

The song is wonderfully mid 80s and extremely Ozzy in its lyrics. I'm not sure why Victoria Wood recorded it. It was not used in the film in any way. Wood is best known in the UK for writing humorous songs. This one is fairly atypical. But I actually really like it.

So, click the video below to hear Victoria Wood's Return to Oz!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Banner Elk and The Land of Oz

Eric Shanower at the Gates of the Emerald City.
This coming weekend the International Wizard of Oz Club will be meeting in Banner Elk, North Carolina, at the site of the long-defunct Land of Oz theme park.

In many ways I wish I was going. Several close friends will be there, and it would be a great chance to meet some friends I only know from on-line. But I am not going.

While travel funds being tight is certainly a part of it, the biggest reason I decided not to go was that I had gone to the park in its heyday when I was a kid. Frankly, I was afraid of messing with those ever more distant memories.

Many of those attending the con and most actively involved in what remains of the park are too young to have ever gone to this Land of Oz when all was new and vital. For these Land of Oz newbies I suspect it is easy to look at the remnants and see the landscape as one-quarter full. I fear I would only see it three-quarters empty. In any case, I'm unwilling to risk my memories of the functioning Land of Oz park.

Eric's sister (in red) watches the Magic Moment show.
My partner Eric also went to the park back in the day. Indeed, that is Eric Shanower and his Dad (in the photo above) standing outside the gates of the Emerald City. I don't have any personal snapshots of my visit, though I still have all of the souvenirs I bought, except for two felt Oz flags.

I first heard of the Land of Oz park when I was six. My family and I were traveling in Texas to visit my grandmother, and the Holiday Inn magazine had an article on the park. I desperately wanted to go - having no conception that North Carolina was not an easy drive from Lubbock, Texas. I didn't get to the park until I was thirteen, when we were on a family vacation in Atlanta.

I really liked it. It felt  like going to Oz - albeit more MGM's Oz than L. Frank Baum's. The trip through the storm cellar during the tornado was very effective and the skewed perspective in the ruined house was really very amazing and disorienting.

The show in the Emerald City.
Photographs copyright © Eric Shanower 2011.
While it was called a theme park, in reality it was a walk-thru stage musical. There were no rides, no concessions, just pure fun and entertainment. All of the shops, food, and souvenirs were kept in the Emerald City where the journey ended. My dad, a grumpy, pessimistic, anti-corporation, anti-big-business radical LOVED the park. He was so impressed that they weren't nickle and dime-ing you every step of the way.

I think I might be able to deal with walking thru what remains of the park if I were alone - just absorbing and taking it in. Letting a curve of the Yellow Brick Road bring back a memory. But I'm not gonna risk it with a hundred Ozzy friends. Have fun, guys :)