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Archive for May 2010

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Cinco de Mayo: These Are a Few of My Favorite Fives

These are a few of my favorite fives - Let's Sing a Song of Fives from Sesame Street: Johnny Bench, catcher of the Big Red Machine from the 1970s Cincinnati Reds. I wore his number on my uniform on every softball team on which I played.

Ben Folds Five:

Schoolhouse Rock - Ready or Not, Here I Come (5s): The Five Fingers of my right hand, without which I couldn't draw or play piano:

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

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TothPix: Ear Pinch

Alex Toth was a master of storytelling, composition, contrast and cropping. All these and more are on display in perhaps my all-time favorite Toth panel:

Now, if I got this script, my first instinct would be to show the boy's face, his reaction, expression and emotion. But Toth instead focuses on the integral action of the panel and with a few simple lines makes the reader really feel the pain, the tug of those cruel fingers on the ear lobe. He zooms way in on the shot, cropping tightly, creating a very interesting composition. And somehow he finds the space to show the stepmother's other arm pointing through to the doorway and the boy's fingers on the lower left, indicating his pain and flinching reaction. And while Toth's line is simple, there's still subtle variation in line width and some different textures on the hat, hair, collar and shading on the woman hands and arms, all used deftly, just enough to break things up and convey surface qualities. The plain coloring (maybe five total - no modeling) actually help this panel, a far cry from the coloring we usually see in comics these days.

In this story, Double Edge (written by Steve Skeates; DC's The Witching Hour #12, 1970), there are plenty of supernatural elements, themes of revenge, power and regret, which Toth handles superbly, Though appropriate and spot-on for the time, the dress and hairstyles in the modern-day scenes appear dated.The page below, however, is timeless and looks like Toth related to the material most in this story.

In the first panel, you can feel the boy's weight on the bowed bed, surrounded by the things most dear to him. In panel 2, we see the threatening stepmother from below, the boy's point of view. In panel 4, we again don't see the boys' face as he leaves reluctantly, and see a glimpse of the stepmother in a interior shot through the doorway - he's forced out of his room, the stepmom invading his space. In frame 5 we see the boy's face, but small, in the background and cropped, as Toth focuses on a close up of the talisman, the most important object in the story. Then he pulls back for the final panel to establish place and context.

In this sequence, each panel works well on its own, and the full page is complete and wholly integrated, setting up the rest of the narrative. Because he doesn't show the boy's face much, I wonder if he did this purposefully so readers could relate universally. But I also wonder if it creates a distance? He's pulling us in emotionally in one manner, but other artists' approaches could be completely different, but also emotionally powerful.

These questions dog me, as I view the page as a masterpiece of comics storytelling, but though I'd seek to emulate it in my own work, I wonder for all its strengths if there would be advantages to handling the material another way?

Update: A link to this story, Double Edge annotated by Toth himself, seems to be broken currently. Reading through Toth's comments on his own work, you'll find he's hard on himself. And on the particular page I focus on here, one that I love so much, he barely had a thing to say!

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Old Bald Man

A huge stretch from my last sketch, another old man...

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