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Archive for April 2010

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Old Man Sketch

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TothPix: Torpedo 1936

Alex Toth is easily my favorite comic book artist.

I've bumped into the occasional artist who just doesn't get all the hubbub about Toth's work, but most I've met admire and/or emulate his talent. He died in 2006, never having been firmly identified with one character, but rather left us a tremendous body of work that spanned from the earliest days of superhero comics 'til the '80s, through some of the best romance comics drawn, stacks of TV and adventure adaptations, years of character designs in the animation, the creation of Space Ghost, some top notch war and horror comics for DC and Warren in the '70s, tons of short stories and his superb mature work on Torpedo 1936 and his own Bravo for Adventure.

His art is no nonsense, and "less is more," stripping out all but what is essential, his storytelling and composition clear yet daring, his draftsmanship rough but elegant.

I've spent a lifetime pouring over his work, lucky if a bit sticks here and there. So, starting this week on my blog, I'll feature a Toth panel, page or illo with a few thoughts about what I think made him so great.

This panel (above) is from one of my all-time favorite stories Toth drew, the first Torpedo 1936 story, a gangster series written by Sanchez Abuli, drawn in 1981. One can see at a glance, how he's cropped and framed to panel, spotted his blacks to lend weight and establish composition. A few strokes capture perfectly the character, mood and expression of the bald mob boss, as well as the black tie & buttons, flower, hanky and cigarette. Just a few well-placed marks add all the texture necessary and to keep the image from coming off too flat.

Now, this is not my favorite panel from the story, but I've highlighted it here as others would give away too much of the story. It's brilliant. For context, the full page is below.

Toth drew only one more Torpedo 1936 story, begging off as the scripts, he said were becoming too violent. It's apparent that with the second story, as good as it is, he was losing interest; it does not reach the level of this first story. Though he left, the series went on to retain the high standard Toth set with the art chores taken over by the astounding Jordi Bernet. These books have recently been repackaged in hardcover format, having been out of print for many years.

For more by and about this amazing artist, you can't beat the first and Official Alex Toth Website, which features stories annotated by Toth himself, tons of art, a Toth "page of the day," fan art and forums, and the latest news. Whether a long-standing Toth aficionado or newbie, make sure to browse my other Tothpix posts, and the Resources links at the right sidebar.

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Carina Nebula

No, this post isn't about the latest Romanian Olympic phenom gymnast. It's about time, it's about space...

It's about the most recent photos captured by our pal the Hubble telescope. It gives us...The Carina Nebula!

Striking, colorful, mind-blowing.

Sure, the HubbleSite describes this as...

...the top of a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust that is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby bright stars. The pillar is also being pushed apart from within, as infant stars buried inside it fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming from towering peaks like arrows sailing through the air.

But it looks more to me like some kind of scary, big-bodied, tiny-headed, horned Space Creature conjured up by H. P. Lovecraft or something you'd see in the latest Hellboy movie. More than anything, it reminds me of some of the images Jack Kirby poured forth from his imagination and spilled out for all to see with misaligned and screened color on cheap newsprint.

Only now, we see this real Space Stuff, beyond even what Kirby imagined.

Incredible.

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Bedbugs Prize Packages

With my childrens book, Night of the Bedbugs now widely available, all fans, both young and young at heart have a chance to win a Bebdugs Prize Package simply if you click the "Like" button at the Bedbugs Facebook page. Each prize includes a signed, personalized piece of original Bedbug art, a Bedbugs button of your choice and a hand-drawn Bedbugs marble. Here are a couple sketches that have already been awarded:

Join now and spread the word - everyone has a chance to win!

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Taking a Leap

Wow.

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Do Wacka Do: Roger Miller Sketch

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Dang Me: Roger Miller

Roger Miller was a one of a kind American singer/songwriter, defying genre. Though he's best known for his big 1965 hit, King of the Road, and is usually classified as a country artist, he wrote perceptive and poignant ballads and love songs, signature nonsensical and improvisational honky-tonk tunes, and later in his career also wrote the award-winning score Big River, the musical adaptation of Huck Finn.

I was taken with his music as a child listening constantly to my Dad's album, Roger Miller: Golden Hits. King of the Road has a great groove, with hip finger-snappin' and lyrics that paint a picture and tell a story. His other tunes were playful and jaunty, skirting the edge of but avoiding novelty or out-and-out childrens music. One of my faves as a kid was his silly My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died (which I thought was on the Golden Hits album, but must've been the B-side of King of the Road). His energetic and distinctive songs are delivered with a vocal style unmatched, peppered with a bevy of yodels, raspberries, pops, laughs, falsetto flourishes and a honky-tonk scat all his own.

Revisiting his catalog as an adult, I found his tunes retained their charm and wear well. If I winnow down a playlist to what I consider his best, twenty-five tunes clock in under fifty minutes, most songs about two minutes or less. When reading that he was sometimes frustrated when he tried he couldn't sound like those artists he admired, understanding eventually he could only sound and write like himself. I'm reminded of Maurice Ravel telling George Gershwin when the latter asked to study with the former, Ravel replied, "Why be a second rate Ravel when you're already a first-rate Gershwin?"

It's been said he was trying for a Bobby Darin vibe with King of the Road. What's ironic is that he inspired many other artists like Mac Davis and others, some of his tunes covered in the '90s, becoming #1 hits again. You can't go wrong starting with the Golden Hits collection, but if you want to dig deeper, the posthumous four-disc King of the Road: The Genius of Roger Miller contains tons more.

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Bedbugs Booster Club Illo

As my childrens book, Night of the Bedbugs is now in stores, we're just about ready to launch an expanded Bedbugs web site. In preparation, I did this illustration for the Bedbugs Booster Club. It's, y'know...for kids.

From the site, you can click the Bedbugs Facebook icon to become a fan and learn the latest news, get a chance to win a special Bebdugs prize package, which includes a piece of original Bedbugs art. Order the book online, or go to your local Borders or Barnes & Noble to pick up a copy. The Bedbugs bandwagon is just pulling out, folks. Climb aboard - we're just getting started.

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Leo Kottke: Guitar Master; Sit-down Comedian

I was going to sketch Leo again, but this photo is so nice, I couldn't bear to use it. It's a perfect work of art all its own.

Though I've been listening to his music for twenty-five years, I didn't get to see him play live 'til late 2008. Half of Los Lobos opened for him with a sweet acoustic set, then Leo came out. He said his agent off-stage had just told him to talk more, but he wasn't ready, so played 3-4 songs right off. Once he got warmed up, though he talked plenty. About halfway through the show you realize he's not only a guitar virtuoso, but a superb storyteller and comedian. He interrupts his playing with chat and vice versa, tuning while he relates a long-ago meeting with musical luminaries or what he's been reading. His singing voice is an acquired taste, but he was in fine form that evening. If you get a chance, see him play live - it's a treat.

But it's hard to go wrong with most of his studio and live recordings. 6- And 12-String Guitar is a great starter, and Guitar Music. He's a master of slide guitar and has a great touch on ballads, too. This video from a German show in the early '80s shows what fun he has playing, and and it's still true. There are some other great Kottke videos on YouTube; don't miss his story of meeting Bob Dylan.

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Sketching Leo Kottke

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