Since there is a rather important even happening today that may be distracting me, I decided I would do a lighter post about a children’s illustrator that was a HUGE part of my childhood. I just accidentally stumbled across him when I was researching images of Topsy (from the Harriet Beecher Stowe book Uncle Tom’s Cabin) for another piece I want to do. Not sure if that post is going to ever come to fruition or not: it involves Yoo-hoo, Mountain Dew, and the unlikely success of reality television’s Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
Anyway, in that process, I found this 1908 image and it’s pretty much the racist, caricatured image of Topsy common at the time. A whole book could be written on Topsy alone and her interesting Jim Crow evolution. Yet the illustration style overall (more Eva than Topsy) struck a nostalgic chord with me instantly. Then I put my finger on why! The illustrator is the creator of my childhood memories of the Oz books: John R. Neill! Of course he did other work besides the Oz books but I guess I just hadn’t realized it extended to older classics like Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Honestly I don’t think I’d ever seen a bit of his work outside Baum’s books.
To me Oz will always be L. Frank Baum + John R. Neill (apologies to MGM, Judy Garland, and W.W. Denslow). So, just for the hell of it here are some illustrations—
This picture (above) is from Tik-Tok of Oz (1914). Can any science fiction historians confirm or deny if L. Frank Baum’s Tik-Tok is fiction’s first robot or not? I’ve heard he is, since he was 100% human-created and mechanical as opposed to Baum’s Tin Woodman from the first book (1900) who was a regular flesh and blood man who had become tin via magic and supernatural methods.