John Rea Neill (12 November 1877 — 13 September 1943) was a commercial illustrator primarily remembered for illustrating thirty-five volumes in the Oz series of children's books—thirteen Oz books by L. Frank Baum, nineteen Oz books by Ruth Plumly Thompson, and three of Neill's own. Today his pen and ink drawings have become identified almost exclusively with the Oz series, but Neill's career encompassed much more.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, John R. Neill did his first published illustration work for Philadelphia's Central High School's newspaper in 1894-95. His first professionally published work may have been illustrations for the Philadelphia North American newspaper's 1894 serialization of H. Rider Haggard's novel Heart of the World. Neill studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and produced advertising art for the Wanamaker department store in Philadelphia. He worked for several Philadelphia newspapers as a prolific illustrator and became a staff artist of the Philadelphia North American newspaper, for which he also produced the comic strip "Toyland" (1905-06) and the Sunday comics page "The Little Journeys of Nip and Tuck" with verses by W. R. Bradford (1909–10). Neill's newspaper series "Children's Stories That Never Grow Old" was re-issued in book form by Reilly & Britton starting in 1908, and remained in print into the 1920s. Among the many novels he illustrated for newspaper serialization was L. Frank Baum's The Fate of a Crown in 1906.
Neill did a great deal of magazine illustration work, largely forgotten today. He worked for an extremely broad range of publications, both famous and obscure, including The Ladies' Home Journal, The Delineator, The Saturday Evening Post, Argosy, Vanity Fair, Woman's World, and Boys' Life. Beginning in 1909, he produced a series of Neill Gift Books, volumes of poetry furnished with his illustrations. These volumes included Hiawatha and Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Snow-Bound by John Greenleaf Whittier, and The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. Neill had begun work on Thanatopsis by WIlliam Cullen Bryant when the series was cancelled by the publisher. Neill illustrated a wide range of other books, including more than a dozen series of books for boys and girls credited to such authors as H. Irving Hancock and Jessie Graham Flower, published 1910-14 by the Altemus Publishing Company of Philadelphia — The Battleship Boys, The High School Boys, The Automobile Girls, etc.
Neill was not as prolific a writer as he was an illustrator. His verse appeared with his illustrations in The Sunday Magazine, including the series "Life Among the Macaronis." A couple of his short stories appeared—also with his illustrations—in Boy's Life magazine. In addition to the three Oz books he wrote and illustrated, he had completed the draft of a fourth, The Runaway in Oz, at the time of his death in 1943, but had not finished any illustrations for it. Due to World War II paper restrictions and falling sales of the Oz series, publisher Reilly & Lee decided not to issue The Runaway in Oz, and it lay incomplete until 1995, when it was published by Books of Wonder with illustrations by Eric Shanower. Neill left a second unpublished book-length manuscript at the time of his death, The Foolosopher, a picaresque story with fantasy elements set during the American colonial era. Neill completed many illustrations for The Foolospher, but the project remains unpublished.
Neill's association with Oz began with The Marvelous Land of Oz, L. Frank Baum's second Oz book, appearing in 1904 as the first publication of the newly formed Reilly & Britton Company of Chicago. (The first Oz book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was illustrated by W. W. Denslow and published by George M. Hill in 1900.) Neill continued as the primary illustrator of Baum's books for childen, illustrating not only the Oz books, but several of Baum's other children's fantasies, including John Dough and the Cherub, The Sea Fairies, and Sky Island.
Neill continued to illustrate Oz books after Baum's death in 1919. Neill's artwork was praised for helping give the Oz books of Baum's successor, Ruth Plumly Thompson, legitimacy in the eyes of Baum's fans. Neill eventually succeeded Thompson as the designated "Royal Historian of Oz." The three Oz books Neill wrote for Oz book publisher Reilly & Lee appeared one a year from 1940 to 1942. These were The Wonder City of Oz, The Scalawagons of Oz, and Lucky Bucky in Oz.