Tommy Kovac's "The Royal Historian of Oz" begins with a screed by Frank Fizzle, the book's protagonist, proclaiming Oz fiction a dead art. But when Frank's father, an Oz enthusiast and terrible author, stumbles upon a discovery that may give him some claim to the Royal Historian title, the adventure that ensues extends beyond the literary realm. Written by Kovac and illustrated by Andy Hirsch, the first of five issues ships in June from SLG Publishing, and CBR News caught up with Kovac to discuss the series, the history of Oz, and his upcoming appearance at the National Oz Conference.
"L. Frank Baum referred to himself as 'The Royal Historian of Oz,' and when addressing his readers he said he was merely relating the stories about Oz that he heard from the characters themselves. I always liked that, when I was a kid, that there was never anything in the books that took you out of the fantasy. It was perfect escapism," Kovac said. "Baum died after writing 14 Oz books, and the publishers of the original Oz books turned to one writer after another to continue Baum's famous creation, but none achieved any real success."
Kovac's story follows would-be Royal Historian Jasper Fizzle and his doubting son, Frank. "The father, Jasper, is a failed writer who desperately wants to be the new official Royal Historian of Oz. Unfortunately his Oz books are so terrible they're not only rejected, but the Official Oz Society is threatening him bodily harm if he doesn't stop writing about Oz," the writer told CBR.
"Everything changes when Jasper discovers that Oz really exists, and he commits a desperate crime that results in his teenage son, Frank, being kidnapped and held for ransom in the Land of Oz," Kovac continued. "Poor Frank is so sick of Oz by this time, because of his father's obsession with it, that being trapped there is his worst nightmare. Until he starts hanging out with the Tin Woodsman, which is pretty fun."
Jasper's crime involves spiriting away an entire of caravan of what Kovac describes as "awesome stuff" from the land of Oz. "He has one of Jack Pumpkinhead's rotting heads (which speaks mushy gibberish), the Wicked Witch of the West's broom, instant knowledge pills from Professor Wogglebug's college, Scoodlers, donut people, lunchbox trees, and even a winged monkey named Zik, who becomes Frank's new BFF," the writer said.
"Meanwhile, in the mortal world, the ghost of the Wicked Witch of the West has discovered Jasper's Oz caravan, and will do anything to get to a certain artifact.
"Frank is kind of a brat, and Jasper is a thief, but in the end they both find ways to redeem themselves."
Kovac, for his part, has a long history with L. Frank Baum's Oz books and will be conducting a presentation at the National Oz Conference at Fresno State University May 14-16. "I started reading the original books when I was in about 3rd grade," Kovac said. "Before that, like every other human being in the civilized world, I had seen the movie, and of course loved it. But once I became attached to the blond & sassy version of Dorothy in the original books (due largely to illustrator John R. Neill, who illustrated 13 of the 14 Baum books), I completely rejected Judy Garland's whiny, weepy, chicken-shit portrayal.
"I read and re-read every one of Baum's 14 Oz books numerous times, and found solace in returning to that world whenever things were rough in my childhood. Not because of things at home (I have awesome parents), but because I was a total gay nerd who got teased a lot at school. Or pretty much as soon as I walked out my front door. Then I turned goth, which added a whole new layer of teasing.
"But Dorothy (the book version), and Scraps the Patchwork Girl, the Scarecrow, Nick Chopper, the Cowardly Lion, the Hungry Tiger, Ozma, etc... all those friendly characters were always there for me. Every book in the series was an exciting new adventure, with new friends and new places," Kovac continued. "I even took them on family vacations with me, and my mom & dad and I took turns reading chapters out loud. My mom's favorite character is Billina the talking chicken."
Regarding his upcoming appearance at the National Oz Conference, Kovac said, "For the presentation they've paired me with Gina Wickwar, who has written several Oz books published by the International Wizard of Oz Club. It makes sense because I'm writing this comic book series about Jasper Fizzle, who wishes he could achieve what Gina has! In my series, the Official Oz Society, which seems much like the Oz Club, is represented by two villainous enforcers who will do anything to maintain intellectual & creative control over any and all things Oz-related. Poor Jasper will never have the sense of validation Ms. Wickwar has."
Kovac added that his perspective in creating and developing the concept will also play into the conference discussion. "I plan to talk about the ownership so many Oz fans feel about the world and the characters. Especially in a time like now when it seems like everyone is doing something Oz-related in every form of media," he said. "When Dan Vado at SLG asked if I would develop something Oz-related, my first thought was that everyone would think, 'Really? Is that necessary?' So I decided to play with that issue of people strip-mining the classics, and it seeming like nobody has any original ideas anymore.
"I'm sort of making fun of myself with my version of the Official Oz Society, because my knickers get majorly twisted when I see someone take Baum's creative property and do something I think is lame or just plain wrong," Kovac continued. "For instance, I never, ever, ever want to see Dorothy portrayed as being 'sexy.' Even just Halloween costumes like that seriously piss me off. It's gross and wrong. See how opinionated I am? It's because those characters are so real in my head, seeing them fucked with is like slander, or defamation."
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Kovac wouldn't mind seeing a real-life version of his Oz Society's knee-breakers. "I would totally apply for that job!" he said, adding, "I'd bust some heads.
"Oh, wait - if they really had enforcers, they might come for me."