REMEMBERING DICK MARTIN: HE WAS POST-DENSLOW & NEILL; HE WAS PRE-GABRIEL GALE — AND HE WAS BOTH COMPATRIOT AND OZ ILLUSTRATOR EXTRAORDINARE!

by John Fricke

[Above (from left): These are the rear and front panels of Dick Martin’s splendid dust jacket for L. Frank Baum’s THE VISITORS FROM OZ. Adapted in 1960 by (an uncredited) Jean Kellogg, the ten short stories selected for this “new” Oz book had originally been written by Baum more than fifty years earlier as a continuing series for the comic sections of Sunday newspaper supplements. Dick Martin discovered them by chance circa 1957 and brought their existence to the attention of The Reilly & Lee Company, Oz publishers, as a proposed story book. When R&L decided to go ahead with the project a couple of years later, Dick received his first professional “Oz job” as the book’s illustrator and designer.]

Gabriel Gale and I recently finished another round of promotional work on behalf of the new book, THE ART OF OZ, which — of course — is built around his exciting, colorful, and glorious depictions of many of L. Frank Baum’s original characters. That Rizzoli volume also honors the first two preeminent illustrators of Oz: William Wallace Denslow, who did the pictures and design for Baum’s initial Oz book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900), and John Rea Neill, who started in with Baum’s THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ (1904) and continued through 1942 and thirty-four additional titles. (He wrote the last three of these, as well.) Neill also did the art for Baum’s six LITTLE WIZARD OF OZ short stories, several of Baum’s “Borderland of Oz” fantasy volumes, and his own OZ TOY BOOK.

If you’ve been reading here for the last year or two, you’ll know that I was recently privileged to conduct lengthy interviews with Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, the Wizard, Glinda, and Professor Woggle-Bug — from which I thereafter wrote the text for THE ART OF OZ.  I also selected the quotes from Baum’s books to accompany much of Gabe’s work therein, and I chose the Neill and Denslow art that demonstrates the portraiture they created of the Ozian citizenry. All of this was a pleasure, of course, because beginning at age five, I was ever more steeped in Baum’s creation and was then, across the next two years, introduced to Denslow and Neill’s work, as well. Those artisans spectacularly informed my preteen years as to “what Oz REALLY looked like.” 😊

They had, however, a most worthy overall successor, who began creating his own professional Oz artwork circa 1959 and thrived throughout the next decade — and beyond. He was openly joyous in his Oz illustrations and also became a great, good professional associate and wonderful friend. As I now reflect on and review THE ART OF OZ and its pictures in my grateful mind, I find my heart unhesitatingly strays to memories of the gentle, genial, dry, wry, funny, caring, sharing, passionate, compassionate, and comprehending Dick Martin.

I think I first became aware of Dick in 1960, when The Reilly & Lee Company — publishers of the then-thirty-nine books in the Oz series — announced they would issue that autumn a “new” Baum Oz book, THE VISITORS FROM OZ, as “Pictured by Dick Martin.” In my nine-year-old enthusiasm, I wrote to them in Chicago for more information, and someone from Reilly & Lee sent me four, full-color page “proofs” of Dick’s VISITORS work in acknowledgement and as a preview. His drawings were bright and glowing and crisp and modern — not in the Neill or Denslow styles, but respectful of their traditions, and in a Martinesque approach that seemed rightfully and righteously appropriate for Oz in 1960. 

I was, to put it mildly, immediately and happily dazzled.

Over the next couple of years later, I saw Dick’s name associated with Oz in such periodicals as HOBBIES Magazine; as one of the first credited as “a notable” collector in the Reilly & Lee 1961 Baum biography, TO PLEASE A CHILD; and as the illustrator of picture-book abridgments of Baum’s first four Oz titles. I joined The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc. (ozclub.org) in July 1962, at which time Club secretary Fred M. Meyer sent me a raft of present and past issues of their periodical, THE BAUM BUGLE. A number of these, dating back to 1959, featured more Martin Oz drawings or adaptations on their covers.

[Above: Three of Dick Martin’s first Oz illustrations provided cover art for early editions of THE BAUM BUGLE. The drawing for the “Anniversary Issue 1959” (the Club was then three years old) shows Denslow’s concepts of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman as they wonderingly consider a crowd of their namesakes — albeit drafted by diverse artists for other editions of (or promotional matters regarding) THE WIZARD OF OZ. Especially across the preceding three years, newly-drawn Oz pictures had proliferated in children’s books, as Baum’s original text had gone into public domain in 1956; Dick’s semi-jokey (and typical) approach to the situation is referenced in the dialog caption. (“Hippocampus,” incidentally, refers to original OZ illustrator Denslow himself, who frequently “signed” his work with a sketch of a seahorse.) The cover for the next issue, August 1959, offers Dick’s early approach to Dorothy Gale, as she and two boon companions frame a drawing of Baum himself. Finally, the August 1961 cover displays a much refined Martin style while simultaneously heralding the first Oz Club convention — to be held that September at the Bass Lake, Indiana, summer home and lodge run by Baum’s son, Harry Neal, and his wife, Brenda. Onboard the balloon (in front): the Woggle-Bug, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, Princess Ozma, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Wizard, and (in the rear) the Patchwork Girl, Glinda, and Jack Pumpkinhead.]

When I joined the Oz Club, I asked Fred if he thought it would be all right for me to write to Dick. I was immediately encouraged to do so and provided with his address. That launched a sporadic correspondence that continued until just a few months before Dick’s premature passing on February 14, 1990.

Far better, Dick and I also became “in person” friends, commencing at the June 1963 Oz Club Convention in Indiana. His kindness and warmth to someone twelve years old — and thus more than two decades younger than he himself — was, I learned, typical of the Martin acceptance and encouragement of sincere Oz enthusiasts. Our meetings then continued on a virtually annual basis across many conventions, as well as on my own periodic visits to Chicago and during a five-year tenure in suburban Evanston while I was in college.

In short, we started as Oz-fan friends, but became genial, comfortable pals. Dick was a quiet and extremely private individual, but his particular reserve never kept him from being a delightful companion. We periodically worked together over the next twenty-five years on Club matters, including THE BAUM BUGLE; yet well beyond the organization and its activities, he never stopped encouraging me personally or professionally. (He even journeyed to Milwaukee with fellow Club members Jack Van Camp and Jim Haff to attend a one-man concert I did at The Pabst Theatre there in 1977.) Dick’s last written communication — in August 1989 – contained his jubilant congratulations on the publication, just weeks earlier, of my own first book, THE WIZARD OF OZ: THE OFFICIAL 50th ANNIVERSARY PICTORIAL HISTORY. 

So . . .! Having delved into Denslow and Neill across 2020 and 2021 for THE ART OF OZ, my attention and affection have now been drawn to their immediate and official Oz book successor. Above, you’ll see Dick’s front cover design for Reilly & Lee’s fortieth book in the Oz series: MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ (1963). Merry is the scarlet horse being ridden by the book’s protagonist, a young orphan boy, Robin Brown; their saga was the work of preeminent juvenile scribe Eloise Jarvis McGraw, with an assist from her daughter, Lauren Lynn – now Inanna — McGraw. (Dick’s art also shows Dorothy astride the Cowardly Lion, and Halidom court page Fess astride the Unicorn.)

In succeeding years, the Oz Club itself published two further Oz books by eminently notable and nifty historian Ruth Plumly Thompson (YANKEE IN OZ in 1972 and THE ENCHANTED ISLAND OF OZ in 1976) and another by Eloise and Lynn (THE FORBIDDEN FOUNTAIN OF OZ, 1980). Dick was the logical and desired artist for such projects, and his cover designs for two of those titles are shown here:

Dick continued to work for the Oz Club, whether as BUGLE editor, color-cover “separator,” or convention auctioneer. He fulfilled several score assignments from Reilly & Lee, the latter including new or revised dust jackets, editions of the promotional OZMAPOLITAN newspaper, bookmarks, and posters – all of these were Oz-related – and the pictures for several of their non-Oz children’s books. There was his own freelance work at times as well, but he later admitted that he couldn’t escape Oz. As early as 1958, Dick coauthored (with Alla T. Ford) and designed the book, THE MUSICAL FANTASIES OF L. FRANK BAUM. In 1969, he illustrated the first book assemblage of L. Frank Baum’s ANIMAL FAIRY TALES, published by the Oz Club; eight years later, he and David L. Greene co-authored THE OZ SCRAPBOOK (Random House, 1977). Among many other innovations, Dick crafted three “activity” projects for Dover Publications: CUT & ASSEMBLE THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ (1980), CUT AND MAKE “WIZARD OF OZ” MASKS IN FULL COLOR (1982), and CUT & ASSEMBLE “THE WIZARD OF OZ” TOY THEATER (1985). He drew the oversize and glorious THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF OZ PANORAMA poster/map for Books of Wonder (1988), art folios for the Oz Club (AN OZ PICTURE GALLERY in 1984 and AN OZ SKETCHBOOK in 1988), postcards, greeting cards, and even created Oz mini-games.

[Above: A 1987 Martin portrait shows Princess Ozma of Oz as framed by her loyal subjects, (clockwise from bottom left) the Sawhorse, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Tin Woodman, the Glass Cat, Eureka the Pink Kitten, the Scarecrow, the Patchwork Girl, and the Woozy.]

Certainly one of the capstones of the Martin Oz career/association came when he accepted Fred Meyer’s invitation to illustrate AND write an Oz book of his own. THE OZMAPOLITAN OF OZ (1986) was the result: a perky yet resonantly meaningful account of Dorothy and Eureka’s journey as they accompanied the junior editor of the official Oz paper on a news-seeking expedition. As Dick later admitted, writing the book “was NOT the realization of a life-long dream. I never had any intention – or even the slightest desire – to write an Oz book! I felt very complimented [to be asked] (though very unenthusiastic) and said I’d ‘think about it.’ Word got around among my friends, and my thinking-about-it was interpreted as working-on-it. Then I felt I really DID have to give it a try. . .. The book was no ‘labor of love’ when I began it – but it WAS by the time I finished it!”

The final product was (and has ever since been) lauded by Oz fans, and Dick’s primary cast of characters who embark on “the OZMAPOLITAN EXPEDITION” are shown below in his cover art. Dorothy and Eureka are joined in the newspaper office by Tim (“a young Gillikin boy with a rather mysterious past, who lands a job on the paper”), and Jinx, a “printer’s devil” Mifket and an ornery character whom Martin adapted from Baum’s “Borderland of Oz” book, JOHN DOUGH AND THE CHERUB:

There’s no question that the nine illustrations with this month’s blog can’t begin to do justice to the scope of Dick Martin’s ability, creativity, or imagination. I urge any and all of you who venerate Oz (especially in its pictorial aspects) to seek out his work; it’s drawn, literally and figuratively, for YOUR own enjoyment out of HIS own enjoyment for – and his veneration of — Baum, Ruth Thompson, Eloise and Lynn McGraw, Neill, Denslow, and many others.

I feel blessed to have known him and to have had him as my preteen and teenage pictorial “bridge” to countless Oz illustrators to come. There were already innumerable Ozian worlds and landscapes to explore by the 1960s – and there have been innumerable INNUMERABLE more ever since. (Preceding duplication intentional!) But there’s no mistaking a Dick Martin picture.

And if you knew the man, there was no mistaking his tender heart, Ozzy and otherwise. Thanks for reading and remembering him with me.