Top 10 Oz Illustrations, Part 8: Tik-Tok of Oz, Illustrated by John R. Neill

This eighth installment in the Oz series has a very interesting story behind it. Because L. Frank Baum sold the theatrical rights to his first two Oz books, he found he couldn't reuse some of the characters for a play based on his third Oz book, so he invented new characters to replace those he couldn't use, and he changed the plot significantly. The result was the highly acclaimed 1914 musical The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, which would later form the basis for this book.

Choosing the top 10 illustrations from this book was a somewhat daunting task, as I never cared much for the illustrations, (or, in fact, for this book at all.) Baum's fatigue with the Oz series has become evident by now, which, to varying degrees, had an impact on the rest of the series.

Hopefully you'll enjoy the illustrations I chose for this article anyway.

10.) Chapter 17 headpiece: It's hard to tell what these facial expressions are in response to, but John R. Neill's skill with faces is evidently still going strong. From the mischievous smile on the Shaggy Man's face (at left) to the wary expression on Private Files's face (at right,) this image could very well be a story in and of itself.

9.) Full page illustration from Chapter 8: This illustration is yet another wonderful example of Neill's proficiency with expressive movement. (Now, is it just me, or does it look like the Shaggy Man's dancing to a Michael Jackson song?) And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the cloud in the background, which makes for a beautiful finishing touch.

8.) Full page illustration from Chapter 17: And over here we have the Shaggy Man (literally) in a bind. (Not much room for dancing, is there?) I chose this one because of its spontaneous pen technique, which is unusual for Neill. If you look closely at certain details in the image--for example, the legs of the Nome at bottom right--you'll notice a much more loose and fluid pen line. Maybe Neill was in a rush? Could be, but he still handles the task with aplomb.

7.) Chapter 17 tailpiece: Just as with number 9 above, Neill shows superb skill in dealing with expressive movement. Only here, there's a lot more fluidity than on the previous illustration. Notice the graceful arc between her legs, leading from one leg to the other seamlessly, and how he puts the weight on her right leg. In fact, the movement of the figure is so well executed that, even if her billowing gown were left out, it wouldn't lose any of its flow.

6.) Color plate from Chapter 12: Again, lots of expressive motion here. But what really sets this image apart is its dramatic use of lighting and shadow. It's evident that the light source is off of the bottom left, (and lighting a subject from the bottom always makes for very dramatic scenery.) Also, the dimness of the light gives a warm glow throughout the image. It isn't easy to draw this kind of lighting, but Neill handles it masterfully as usual.

5.) Full page illustration from Chapter 20: This image definitely has a fanciful, almost dreamlike quality to it, which is why I chose it. You can tell there's a sense of magic all around, from the path lined with jewels to the string of leaves hanging at the top. Interestingly, it all appears to swirl around the isolated figure of Betsy Bobbin at bottom right, emphasizing her stupefied and enchanted reaction to everything she sees.

4.) Full page illustration from Chapter 24: Here we get the best of both worlds. Besides the expressive movement of Dorothy's figure as she excitedly runs down the stairs, (hopefully taking care not to trip,) we also see the precision with which Neill handles architectural subjects. The composition, which swooshes from the top to the bottom in a sort of arc, is also interesting.

3.) Double page spread from Chapter 6: What there is to love about this image from a technical standpoint, I can't really say. All I can tell you is that there's this wildly bizarre quality about it that is both shocking and delightful at the same time. One could almost make up a whole story from this image alone, and I'm sure it would be a real acid trip.

2.) Tailpiece from Chapter 15: There is no better way of describing what I like about this image than to quote from a previous entry where I talk about a similar illustration:

"This one is very much unlike his other ornaments, in that he got really creative with the angle at which he viewed his subject matter. Who else but Neill would just draw the feet and nothing else? Probably someone with real creative chops!"

And those same creative chops are evident here in this new image of an old subject. Thank you, John!

1.) Portrait of Betsy Bobbin (Tailpiece from Chapter 11): This image is both simple and realistic at the same time. On the one hand, we see broad, calculated pen strokes, which keep things interesting; and on the other hand, there's an unusually lifelike quality about it, which almost makes me wonder if he used a real live model for reference. (He has actually done this with other portrait illustrations, most notably the portrait of Dorothy from The Patchwork Girl of Oz, which he modeled after his daughter.)

Aside from this, we also see his beautifully done (as usual) hand-lettering. And to top it all off, the border he draws around the image tapers into the main subject at bottom. (As a side note, it doesn't take much looking to find many examples of this border technique throughout the Oz books. In fact, you might even find a few in this series of articles...)

Do you agree with this list? Which Tik-Tok of Oz illustrations did you like the best? As always, you are welcome to comment your observations and opinions below.

Till next time!

P. S. I hope you are well and safe during the current Covid-19 pandemic, and that you are taking all necessary precautions. For the latest on this virus, please visit cdc.gov and who.int.



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