Wednesday, February 11, 2009

John R. Neill - An Appreciation - Volume 1

This will be the first of what I hope will be many blogs about John R. Neill's work on the Oz series. These blogs will be sporadic, but I will try to keep them numbered.

Just yesterday, I finished re-reading my third Oz book in a row, which was The Road To Oz.

I'm not going to do an analysis just now, but I will say that this book is one of the favorites of many Oz fans, yet it is often criticized as being one of Baum's weakest. I'll save these points for an analysis later on, but right now, I want to focus on the illustrations.

We know Neill was the second illustrator of the Oz series, but because of his illustrating thirty-five of thirty-nine Oz novels published by Reilly & Britton (later Reilly & Lee), his work has become more cherished than the art of any other Oz artist.

Neill started drawing at a young age, and indulged in it frequently. The Baum Bugle of Autumn, 1964 (which I'm using for reference), even says his mother would use his love of drawing him to avert him from getting into serious trouble. Neill originally started to study to become a doctor, but when his professor noted how he illustrated his studies, he was told, "If I could draw like that, I wouldn't try to become a doctor." Neill went to Art School, and soon became a professional artist, illustrating for newspapers, magazines, and children's books.

The work that put him in the position he is best remembered for happened in 1904, when he was commissioned to illustrate The Marvelous Land of Oz. While Neill's art was a little in the style of Denslow, without a lot of detail, and designs of previously established characters based on his style, his style was prevalent. Although the Tin Woodman still has his cylinder body and limbs like Denslow's, Neill's first version also gave him a cylindrical head, with odd braces to keep it steady. When he returned to Oz later in Ozma of Oz, the Tin Woodman's head is more reminiscent of Denslow's, the braces lost forever. (Neill later returned to the cylindrical head.)

Neill's Dorothy is strikingly different from Denslow's. Denslow's Dorothy could be no older than eight, and looks a little pudgy at times. Her hair is in thick braids, and in color plates, is colored with alternating lines of yellow and red, which has been interpreted as brown or red. Neill's Dorothy is older, thinner, and has a stylish blond bob. (One could say that Neill failed to draw her as a Kansas farm girl, but the person would be forgetting that in both Ozma of Oz and Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Dorothy is on vacation with Uncle Henry, not at home on the farm.)

Neill revealed in The Road to Oz that he was well aware how different his Dorothy was from Denslow's, as is shown in this illustration, probably one of the most popular images from the book, if not the whole Oz series:

In fact, The Road To Oz has some of Neill's most lavish illustrations. While there were no full-color pictures (instead of spending money on that, the publishers printed the book on multi-colored paper), Neill drew many full-page illustrations, and in doing so, showed how endless the possibilities of Baum's fairyland were, best summed up by this early illustration:

The Road To Oz also features the first appearance of Polychrome, and in doing so much detail, Neill perfectly captured how the Rainbow's Daughter would look. This picture is my personal favorite illustration of Polychrome:

I noted that Neill makes two corresponding pictures. One is the last illustration of chapter two, the other is the last of chapter five, both chapters telling how Dorothy, Toto, and the Shaggy Man were joined by a new companion:

Neill gets to draw some of Ozma's guests, characters from other Baum books that he had not illustrated (with the exception of John Dough and the Cherub), and while all his pictures are exquisite, I found one to be the only John R. Neill picture I was dissatisfied with. Queen Zixi of the land of Ix, I felt, was better portrayed by her original illustrator, Frederic Richardson. Here is Neill's Zixi, followed by two by Richardson:

Neill excels in other illustrations, though. In this one, note how the Scarecrow, being clumsy and unable to drink, is tipping his glass of lacasa most precariously:

And, well, I really love Neill's artwork, and a lot more can't be said about his work on Road, unless I wanted to analyze every picture he drew, which is possible, but would make for long loading times for you and a long time blogging for me.

I'll close with this picture of the Wizard sending Ozma's guests home in his bubbles, which I feel sure were the origins of Glinda's bubble in MGM's The Wizard of Oz:

All images are hosted from The Ozmatron, except those from Queen Zixi of Ix, which is from this blog.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

I wonder why Neill chose to draw Zixi with dark hair, when QUEEN ZIXI described her as a blonde.