Welcome to my blog, featuring various pieces from my collection of Oz books, artwork and memorabilia!

Monday, October 9, 2023

Pulpy Neill

Along with his his regular Oz work and other illustrative endeavors, John R. Neill produced a number of drawings for the adventure magazines, or pulps, of the early 20th century. Although he didn’t do the cover art of the magazines, quite a few issues are filled with his interior illustrations. These inexpensive publications were at their peak from the 1920's -1940's, coinciding nicely with Neill's career. Paper shortages during the second World War helped to bring about the decline of the pulps, and by 1957 the genre was fairly defunct.

I have three examples of this style of work, but I hadn't tried tracking down where the drawings may have been originally used. One is clearly labeled, while the other two have some notations but no definite instructions. Thanks to some swift research by Atticus Gannaway, I now know what my mystery drawings were intended to illustrate.

The labeled drawing was published in the December 20th, 1930 edition of Argosy Magazine. Argosy was the original pulp, starting in 1896 and running until 1942. For the cheap paper of the pulps, drawings were best when bold with strong line work - a style well suited to Neill! This particular illustration was used for the fourth and final installment of Murder on the High Seas, written by George F. Worts. It's shown here together with the magazine containing the first installment.

The back of the drawing bears the information of title, date and author, together with the stamp of the Frank A. Munsey Co., the publishers of Argosy.

As it turns out, the other two drawings were not used for publication, making identification a bit trickier - but Atticus did track them down!

The first was intended for a story in Adventure magazine, from February 15th, 1929. This was titled Off Finisterre, and written by Albert Richard Wetjen. A Neill drawing was used for the magazine, but it appears to be a simpler variation of the one in my collection. In both cases a man is seen on the deck of a ship, shooting a flare into the night sky. The published drawing is tall and narrow, rather than the square proportions of the unpublished version, which may explain why a different drawing was needed. The published version is more dramatic, with large areas of shadow and black sky - which may be another reason for the change. A notation reading "Off Finistere" is written on the unpublished piece.

The other drawing has the hand written caption “with every bit of his strength he swung out”, and “Headhunters p. 15” at the lower left. At first it appeared that this may have been drawn for the September 18th, 1919 issue of Adventure magazine; a story titled Head-Hunters and Gold was published, along with a different Neill illustration. But this was not the case, as Atticus soon found another tale. This was simply titled Head-Hunters, by Sidney Herschel Small, and was published in the June 20th, 1931 issue of Argosy. Once again a Neill drawing was used to illustrate the story, but this time I think it lacks the drama of the unpublished piece.
Far more dynamic than the sedate image showing natives filing through the jungle, the unused illustration pictures the hero swinging on a vine, about to attack the cannibals. In case of any doubt regarding its intended use, the handwritten caption precisely matches the printed moment in the story.