Top 10 Oz Illustrations, Part 7: The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Illustrated by John R. Neill

No more Oz books! That's what L. Frank Baum declared after he was finished writing The Emerald City of Oz. After giving his readers plenty of advance warning, and even using a nifty plot device to remove any possibility of continuing the Oz series, he was very much relieved. But that sense of complacency was soon shaken to the core by the persistent demand for a seventh installment.

The ever obliging Baum, of course, conceded to write this seventh Oz book, (as well as seven more, which he would continue to write until his death in 1919.) The result is this handsomely illustrated volume.

In today's entry, we will be exploring the top 10 illustrations from this glorious revival of the Oz series.

10.) Dedication: In this book, one will notice many instances of the hand-lettering that is such a hallmark quality of Neill's work, and this is just one example thereof. But what I especially like about this image is the exquisitely dreamy and airy line work. The boy with the book is given more emphasis and solidity with bold, direct, and deliberate strokes, but the light and loose pen lines around him give the impression that he is definitely lost in a deep, serene daydream. Paradoxically, although the lines are light and thin, it's the context of the image that gives them equal emphasis. We know this kid's mind is in a completely different place, which only forces us to pay attention to lines that, by their very nature, are usually relegated to the background. And yet, as we continue to follow the light lines, we arrive at the subjects of his reverie, which are given almost the same emphasis as the main figure himself. Our time spent staring at the clouds was not wasted, and the result is that, just like the boy, we are also staring into the clouds as we join him on his mental journey.

9.) The Shaggy Man cuts down a tree (From Chapter 12, The Giant Porcupine): The composition of this image, forming a sort of half circle around the right side, is the most noteworthy part. For context, the Shaggy Man has just cut down a man-eating plant that almost devours the main protagonists. He is the hero, but also, knowing the character himself, and his benevolent, almost Santa-Claus-like demeanor, this composition is very fitting. We subconsciously feel the same sense of rescue and protection by the enveloping, hug-like shape of the composition. Additionally, the leaves at the top of the image, just behind the Shaggy Man's head and shoulders, are rendered with a kind of half-tone printing technique, thus giving them less emphasis, and throwing the Shaggy Man's figure into sharp relief.

8.) Chapter 19 head: To better interpret the technique of this image, one need look no further than the passage at bottom: "It is certain that Jack Pumpkinhead might have had a much finer house to live in had he wanted it, for Ozma loved the stupid fellow, who had been her earliest companion[.]" This implies that he is in his element when living rough. And Neill has evidently taken this into account, because the line work, with its rough edges and ragged crosshatch technique, definitely texturizes the image in a very rustic, roughshod, country-boy-like way. We know we are in farm country, and it's this edgy pen technique that transports us there.

As a side note, I probably should also mention that this book has way more color than any of the previous volumes. Whereas all the other Oz books until then were illustrated with a two-color palette, along with a relatively generous smattering of full-color plates, (and some with only the color plates,) this book takes it to the next level, with both full-page and half-page illustrations brimming with color. There are even full two-page spreads that boast the same vibrancy. As far as this goes, I can't think of any other Oz book, before or since, that equals The Patchwork Girl. Needless to say, we will be seeing more of these full color gems as we continue this journey.

7.) Chapter 1 head: Again, more color here! (But one thing that confuses me is, why is Ojo wearing a red suit and a yellow hat if he's a Munchkin? The Munchkin color is blue, as every Oz fan knows...) But, no matter, this is a wonderful example of the color that is such an integral part of this book. Need I say more?

 6.) Chapter 12 head: Obviously, I can't get enough of the color in this book, but I thought I should briefly mention the composition of this image. The cloud in the background appears to be framing the figure of Ojo, thus casting him in relief, but I also have to admit that I had to include this because I've always had a thing for John R. Neill's clouds. (Maybe that could be an idea for a book? "The Cloud Technique of John R. Neill," perhaps? Well, we'll just have to wait and see...)

5.) "I Hate Dignity" (From Chapter 11, A Good Friend): Since the title character of this book is a girl made from a crazy quilt, it makes sense that Neill should choose such a limitless use of color throughout. This image not only makes it obvious, but another thing I especially like about it is how expressive it is. Given how common it is for Neill's work to have this fluid, dancing quality, I have already mentioned it numerous times in other entries, but I think it needs to be mentioned again here. Also, the way Scraps's left foot curls up (further emphasizing that she's stuffed with only cotton and has no bones,) adds a nice touch.

As a side note, the hand lettering at lower-left is just one example of how creative Neill gets with the captions in this book, working them cohesively into the image rather than allowing the publishers to add them in typographically after the fact. This definitely adds to the book's vibrant visuals, and is a big part of why it's so special.

4.) Ojo (From Chapter 15, Ozma's Prisoner): This image is the tailpiece of its respective chapter, and as such, it's supposed to have a certain decorative quality. So what Neill does here is to only draw the definitive parts of the image. All the rest is left to the imagination. And this goes to show that the quality of an illustration is sometimes determined equally as much by what is left out as what is included.

3.) Dr. Pipt stirs his Powder of Life (From Chapter 2, The Crooked Magician): Another commonly seen quality of Neill's work is his dramatic use of lighting and perspective. The light coming from the fires heating the cauldrons at bottom cast an ominous glow over the figure of the crooked magician. (Interestingly, he is not an evil character, but when I first laid eyes on this image many years ago, I assumed otherwise.) Although this image can be misinterpreted in that way, I think it's safe to say that this sinister depiction is really intended to evoke the promethean nature of this character and his project, which is to have a momentous impact on the plot of this book, (and, arguably, on the whole trajectory of Oz history.)

2.) "I demand that you set this poor Muchkin Boy free" (From Chapter 18, Ojo is Forgiven): In number 8 above, I briefly mentioned that there are two-page spreads with the same color intensity as many of the other images in this book. This image is one of them, and I place it in the number 2 spot only because it also includes one of the hand-lettered captions that are often used throughout. These two qualities make it a paragon example of all the aesthetic elements that set this book apart from the rest.

1.) The End: A climactic finish to a sumptuously illustrated book! I place this in the number one spot because no other Oz book prior to this one has ever had the audacity to take up a full page to announce the end of the story. (And only two of the subsequent Oz books do this.) We applaud you, John!

Do you agree with this list? Which Patchwork Girl of Oz illustration was your favorite? Please let me know what you think in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Till next time!



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