INTERVIEW: Galen Dara, Illustrator of Oz Reimagined

Galen Dara has done art for Edge Publishing, Dagan Books, ApexScapezineTales to Terrify, Peculiar Pages, SunstoneLovecraftZine, and Lightspeed Magagzine. She is on the staff of BookLifeNow, blogs for the Inkpunks, and writes the Art Nerd column at the Functional Nerds. When Galen is not online you can find her on the edge of the Sonoran Desert, climbing mountains or hanging out with a loving assortment of human and animal companions. Follow her on Twitter @galendara.

Oz literature has a long history of illustration.  What was it like continuing this tradition?

Intimidating and exciting. I spent time searching out early Oz illustrations by John Rea Neill and William Wallace Denslow in addition to looking for pop culture interpretations. I’d read most of the stories for the anthology before starting the cover and was simply blown away by what these authors were doing. I got a tremendous amount of inspiration from them. It was quite the roller-coaster of emotions trying to do justice to such iconic beloved imagery, to do justice what the authors had created.

While all the stories we gave you deal with the mythology of Oz in one form or another, overall they’re wildly different in terms of the voice, tone, sub-genre, etc.  At the same time, you’re often dealing with the same characters and milieus over and over.  How much did your mindset change from piece to piece?

Each story was so unique and for the most part I had a pretty clear idea early on how it would be illustrated. Many of them explored lesser-known characters or had such a wild take on a familiar character that one of my initial worries was how to do these illustrations so that they still came across as “Oz” when left standing on their own. (They are also each being featured as a single story cover.) That problem, combined with trying to avoid doing the same thing over and over again… yeah, it was tricky. 🙂  I relied heavily on color, (yellow paths, emerald green) to help with continuity.

Was there a story you found particularly challenging to illustrate? If so, which one(s) and why?

Oh, I’d say it was the cover! That tied me in knots. Trying to come up with something that would capture the essence of all these diverse stories while still evoking the original imagery. Now, of the individuals stories… the one that was the trickiest for me was probably “City So Bright,” by Dale Bailey. I tend to focus on the individual in my artwork; closeups of people. But for that story, I knew that I wanted it to be about the emerald skyscrapers, and have the union window-washers be very small in scale against them. It was different from how I usually work and we had to go back and forth a few times with it to get the effect down right but I really enjoy how it turned out.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  Can you say the same as an illustrator?  If that’s true for you, can you give us an example or two of how these illustrations were personal for you?

Ah, well, that’s an interesting question. Frequently, as an illustrator, you are just doing what needs to be done for the story. It’s a much different process than what the author went through to create the story. I was speaking to another illustrator the other day and her comment was she felt like she was trying to give a face to what their mind had created. However, “One Flew Over the Rainbow” by Robin Wasserman… that story is amazing, really struck something in me. For that one I chose to feature Tin-Girl in the illustration. She’s the narrator for the story, so that made sense, but also her character, her situation, they really resonated. I used myself as the model for Tin-Girl (not unusual, I’m my most readily available model), and it is one of my favorites of the individual illustrations. (Of course, now you will read the story and think I’m a nut case. Ah, well.)

Can you give some examples of the kind of research you had to do to illustrate these stories?

Lots and lots. Frequently, I researched the actual story reference. My knowledge of L. Frank Baum’s Oz is sketchy, so, for example, with Tad Williams’s Orlando, I had to just do some reading up on the Glass Cat. For “Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust” by Seanan McGuire, I had to refresh myself on the various nationalities living in and around Oz. (I also spent time trying to nail who the Witch of the South was. But I think that was just out of curiosity, not for a specific story. While not necessary research, it sure was fun.) Also, and this will sound funny… I had to collect whole pages full of snap shots of emeralds (and emerald-y stuff). As an artist, I really don’t use green much. I lean more toward a monochrome-with-splashes-of-red type pallet. So yes. Emeralds. And yellow-gold too. A funny thing to have to research, but there you go.

What is the appeal of Oz? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?

Here again, I just need to gush over how fabulously the authors dealt with this question. The magic, the color, the talking animals and inanimate objects. The leaving of one’s dull life and going on an adventure. The brilliant utopia with all it’s dark secrets… oh yeah.

What are some of your favorite Oz memories (whether from the books or the various movies, or other “reimaginings”), and what makes them your favorites?

I remember being deliciously disturbed by Return to Oz, having more of an affinity for that film than the MGM movie musical.

What do you think about the new Oz movie coming out in March, Oz: The Great and Powerful? Excited? Dubious? Some combination of both?

Put me on the “looking forward to it” side of that question.