Happy and profitable holidays…?

Note: This post has been moved from my old blog. Enjoy!

First, a little backstory. In 1900 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published, to great acclaim. The author, L. Frank Baum, and illustrator, W. W. Denslow, produced one more book together (Dot and Tot of Merryland) and then had a falling-out over the distribution of profit from a stage extravaganza loosely based on the Wizard. Fast-forward to 1904: Baum is preparing the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz. Denslow has produced a series of picture books and has collaborated with writer Paul West on a children’s novel, The Pearl and the Pumpkin. As a result of the lawsuit both men are legally entitled to use characters from the Wizard – and in 1904 they both do. Denslow produced a picture book, Denslow’s Scarecrow and the Tin-Man, and was then moved to start a comic page (an illustrated story for the comics section of newspapers) at the end of the year. His first installment, Dorothy’s Christmas Tree, is a charming little story about bringing Dorothy a Christmas tree and gifts, as Santa Claus does not deliver to Oz – a most unusual situation.

Dorothy's Christmas Tree by W. W. Denslow

Dorothy’s Christmas Tree by W. W. Denslow

Meanwhile, L. Frank Baum was working to publicize The Land of Oz by producing Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz, his own comic page series, with cartoonist Walt McDougall. Their series begins on September 4, 1904. Neither series runs terribly long (both end in 1905) but they do both have a Christmas tale. Baum and McDougall’s Christmas page, “How the Wogglebug and his Friends visited Santa Claus” Dec. 18, 1904, is the one we’re interested in here.

A mediocre image (taken with my iPad) of the Queer Visitors Christmas page

A mediocre image (taken with my iPad) of the Queer Visitors Christmas page

McDougall was a decent cartoonist, with a long career, but his art equals neither Denslow nor the illustrator of the rest of Baum’s Oz novels, John R. Neill. Baum was easily the better writer than Denslow, but in this case he miscalculated badly. His story tells how the Oz characters, visiting Earth (Oz is apparently on another planet in this series) learn about Christmas and go visit Santa. Once again, Christmas is unknown in Oz, a situation Baum would later ignore. To help Santa out they make toys of themselves, dolls or action figures, if you will, that Santa can distribute to the children. Santa is delighted, but sad that they did not make more of them: [Santa] added: “Never mind; I’ll make them go as far as I can, and these toys are so pretty that next year I will make a lot of them myself, so that every child may get one for Christmas…” So here we get Santa plugging an as yet unmade line of toys so that kids would look for them next year. As blatant an ad as you might see today, and clumsy in that there aren’t enough (if any were made at all) to distribute this year. Commercial tie-ins are all very well – and McDougall rises to the occasion with delightful drawings of the Oz characters with their toy doppelgangers – but this could have been handled far better. I’m not aware that these Oz toys were ever made, which is a pity. Who wouldn’t want a toy of Prof. H. M. Wogglebug, T. E., a man-sized insect with 4 arms and 2 legs? A side note on that topic: McDougall and Ike Morgan, who illustrated a short, very poor book about the Prof. Wogglebug (The Woggle-Bug Book, 1905) seemed to have worked from the same description, whereas John R. Neill shows the Wogglebug (not hyphenated in the novels) with only 2 arms and 2 legs. Morgan’s cover art is below:

702px-Woggle-Bug_Book

The Baum/McDougall strip of the following week (Dec. 25) has no holiday theme. Santa Claus would be one of the many distinguished guests at the birthday party for Princess Ozma of Oz in Baum’s 1909 novel, The Road to Oz. Let us hope he visited that magic land regularly thereafter.

Both the Baum/McDougall and Denslow Oz comic pages have been collected into a book by the Sunday Press.

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