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Alumnus creates new Oz series

A Cooper Union-trained artist has hit bookshelves across the nation with the first book in his series, Ages of Oz: A Fiery Friendship. Gabriel Gale, whose name is derived from the Oz heroine Dorothy Gale, is the pen name for George Makrinos, a 2001 graduate of the School of Art. While most projects capturing the wonders of the Emerald City have been based off the 1939 film, Gale’s mission was to create an adaption that respects the source of the story. “The way I view Ages of Oz is that it’s part of a 100-year tradition starting with the original author, rather than the way other projects just build off of the movie,” he tells us.

Gale recently gave a talk about Ages of Oz, explaining the extent of his work: graphic design, character design, concept art, costume design, and even architectural design. “I realized as I was going through all of this, that it was Cooper Union that gave me this sense of being a generalist but also a specialist,” he says. “We didn’t have to choose a particular field or expression, but can still be specific about certain things.”

Gale started drawing when he was six years old. “As soon as I could pick up a pen!” Seeing his interest in art, his parents set his sights on Cooper Union at an early age. “When it came time to apply to college, the pressure was so high to be accepted to Cooper because my parents had built up this anticipation. I spent 28 days (out of the 30 days allotted) on the home test on an intensely illustrated, impeccably detailed set of seven drawings,” he recalls. But he second guessed himself before mailing it in and started over. In his opinion, it wasn’t memorable enough. He stayed up for the remaining 48-hours and created a new piece. “It broke all of the rules of the home test, and I thought they would absolutely love it or absolutely hate it, but nothing in between.” The results were favorable; he was admitted.

Gale designed a plan for his Emerald City

After Cooper, he received his master’s in architecture at Columbia University. “I wanted to add a structural understanding to my art education,” he says. While a graduate student, he was encouraged to pursue nontraditional projects. He leaned toward his interest in film, sparked by Professor Kathy High’s film studies class at Cooper. After graduation, he began researching and developing the concept for a movie which deconstructed and re-imagined elements of the 14 Oz books by L. Frank Baum. “I remember hearing George Lucas say that Star Wars is based off The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; the characters are directly correlated. This incredibly influential story never got its due.”

He hired some friends and together they spent years developing a thorough film proposal for the “Oz adaptation to end all Oz adaptations.” “I wanted to give L. Frank Baum’s book the same treatment Peter Jackson gave J.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings,” Gale says. Working off Baum’s literary framework, they created three encyclopedias: one of every character in the Baum books, one for every setting, and one for every object and magical spell. They began to see where Baum’s story had gaps, filling in their vision, and creating an overarching story called Ages of Oz, in which Baum’s books fall in the middle. “Ages of Oz is a prequel and a sequel to the 14 Baum books,” he explains.

Left: Drawing titled "Witches are coming" Right: Sketches for the Tin Woodman

The ambitious pitch was received favorably by a selection of top directors and producers in Hollywood, however they advised him to redevelop his idea as a book series first. He returned to New York and was put in touch with children and young adult writer Lisa Fiedler and secured a book deal with Simon and Schuster. Together over the course of three years, they developed the first two books in the series.

He attributes many of the essential skills on this project to his college professors. “Professor Fred Siegel, in history and social studies, made sure we thought critically about all the readings, and that sort of critical thinking is what led me to deconstruct the L. Frank Baum Oz books and read between the lines. He always used to encourage us to read between the lines of history.” Sculpture professor Hans Haacke gave him a sense of minimalism and a constant pursuit of the polemic, which he brought to the book series. As for graphic design, his mentor Don Kunz taught him the attention to detail necessary for designing the Ages of Oz logo.

The first book series focuses on the character of Glinda. Rather than the ditzy character of Glinda from Wicked (though don’t be mistaken, he is a Wicked fan), Gale’s Glinda is based on a strong female in Baum’s life: his mother-in-law. Matilda Joslyn Gage was a 19th-century women’s suffragist, considered radical compared to many of her peers. “I found in her writing so much influence on Baum, that I saw in her, inspiration for Glinda,” he says. “I thought that without Gage, there was no Baum.”

He balances this project with his full time job in architecture and design for his family’s firm. His sister, Rene Makrinos also attended The Cooper Union. She received undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering in 2009 and 2011, respectively. The project is a family affair in some ways. Rene is now handling marketing and public relations for her brother.

What’s next? “In the following series, I’ll be showing Oz today. I will cover every time period in Oz’s history.” He now considers this book series as a prequel to a new film pitch he is working on this year. He hopes to finish the series and return to Hollywood with a revised pitch.

“Once you succeed, you send the elevator back down,” Gale says. In that tone, he has some advice for Cooper students which he has learned from this project: “It is possible to overcome major setbacks. Identify the specific reason why you are creating what you are creating, and let that be your guide through the difficulties big and small. Also, it is okay to be ‘generalist’ for a time, but be ready to pour all of your artistic passion into one thing. Be able to focus and follow through to completion."

Images courtesy of Rene & George Makrinos