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Archive for September 2010

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TothPix: Colorful Madman

Here's something colorful and fun for a change of pace this week, a Madman pin-up did in the mid-'90s for Mike Allred's crazy character.

There's no doubt Allred was highly influenced by Toth in his art style and design for Madmen, so Toth must've felt flattered and a kinship with Allred and his character. Madman seems a direct ancestor of Space Ghost, or at least a crazy cousin. It's a perfect fit.

I'm not sure who did the colors for this pin-up, but they're simple, flat and beautifully done. Coulda been Toth himself, or Allred and/or his wife, Laura.

As usual, Toth spots his blacks cleverly, sandwiching Madman between an assortment of odd positive and negative shapes, precariously perched atop a sliver. One can view this piece as just plain fun, an abstract graphic exercise, but damned if I haven't found myself feeling something of a Madman lately/the last 18 months. What with a traumatic physical and psychological experience, the inevitable changes within our family as time marches on, and in these uncertain economic, social and global times, I look at this image and can relate all too well.

Although Madman's world here is a bit more fun and colorful!

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Sketchbook: Fringe - Walter Bishop

We get to watch more of Fringe season 2 when the DVD arrives tomorrow. Yipee! Before I sent in the last one, I did a quick sketch of one of my current favorite characters in any fiction, Dr. Walter Bishop. The writers must have a blast coming up with situations and lines for John Noble, who does a bang-up job on the smart, quirky character.

For those caught up with the show, enjoy the season 3 premier tonight - I'm jealous!

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Sketchbook: Fringe Fringe Guy

We're catching up on the Fox series, Fringe, just beginning on DVD season 2 as season 3 is just starting now this Fall. My daughter, Emily thinks the show is creepy, but can't stop watching. I did a quick sketch of creepy Colonel Raymond Gordon played by long-time character actor Stephen McHattie.

More tomorrow...

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TothPix: Doomstone

A Toth three-panel sequence originally appearing in DC's My Greatest Adventure #61, reprinted in Phantom Stranger #15. The graphic composition of this sequence from the story, I Battled for the DoomStone! is based on two main shapes: the triangle formed by the three shots of the explorer; and the "C" shape formed by the rock in all three panels, tying them together, reinforced by being the same color.

Each frame is strong and serves its purpose, what with #1 showing the explorer's upward climb (shown from above and the landscape far below) and #3 with his discovery of the Kraka Stone and gorilla (from behind). But the stunning shot is frame #2, with the explorer's legs splayed out precariously between two rocks. The dangerous journey is accentuated as we see him from below, with the landscape in the deep distance. This panel is simply and effectively colored with largely natural tones.

My only two minor quibbles: I wish the thought balloon in frame #2 didn't cover his arm/hand (perhaps Toth would have placed it differently had he lettered it himself?) and: it'd have been nice had Toth added just a few bits of texture to the ground in panel 3 - it looks too stark and bare.

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TothPix: Hole in the Wall Interior

This stand-out frame from an adventure story Toth drew illustrates the interesting choices he made panel-by-panel in his storytelling. There are a myriad of ways he could've approached this, but chose to place the viewer inside the opening this explorer and his team have made. In doing so, with askew angles he crops and frames the bearded man, so all our focus is on him, but the huge area of negative space he gives us on the side and top of the block throw the composition off balance, an effect further enhanced by the explorer being shown crouching down and horizontal. It's all a clever method to create suspense and tension, move along the story, and communicate spatial relationships and proportions. It certainly makes me curious what's inside/behind that wall.

The coloring isn't good, doing no service to the story, artist or reader. Though using primary colors, mainly, trying to keep things simple, apparently, the colors are ill-chosen and out of whack. The red used in the narration box draws too much attention, the blue of the opening is too saturated - better if it were toned down and greyed-out a bit. The man and the light we see through the opening is fine, but his hat should be lighter, certainly not the same color as the block.

Oh, well, it can't all be perfect - just a quickly colored and cheaply printed comic, after all. But It'd be fun to see this panel sharper and in black and white, as it would show what time, effort and thought Toth put into a simple frame of a simple comic. If anyone has access to it, please forward to me.

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Daughter's Dino Drawings

Our two daughters, Laura and Emily have been immersed in art and music as they've grown. And what with their parents both being artists, not only have they been surrounded by art and art-making as we work away at our trade and our personal creative projects, but also seem to have gotten a double-dose of the artistic gene. Laura (14) really stepped up her drawing time this Summer, noodling away in her sketchbook like crazy, experimenting with various cartooning styles, as well as drawing portraits and from life. This recently completed piece of two dinosaurs caught my eye:

She loves animals and most times draws them better than I do, studying and practicing animal anatomy. She's internalized it so much over the years, she can whip out highly stylized characters like these that have so much personality, humor, depth and detail. On the left, I love the eye on the side of the dino's head, the silly little tongue, the swirl at its knee and the heart shape at the tip of its tail. And the expression and body language of the dino on the right just cracks me up. She'd planned a dino-bird for the sky, but changed her mind last minute to add a touch of black humor with the hurtling comet. All is not cute, sweet and light in Laura's DinoWorld.

A close-up detail of the herbivore...

...and the carnivore.

Nice job, Laura! Keep drawing and sculpting!

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9/11 Fireman

I'm re-posting this image/sketch from last year. After dinner and chat with friends tonight, we'll be lighting two candles on our stoop in memorium. If you're able, think of doing the same.

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September Sunrise

Another nice thing about being up earlier to see a high-schooler off is the chance to glimpse a sweet sunrise. From our front door this morning:

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TothPix: Soldier's Grave

This week I feature the entire Soldier's Grave Kanigher/Toth story I've touched on the last couple Toth posts. This is one of my favorite Toth pieces, an unsung gem. I'll comment between pages, but if you haven't read if before, it might be best to read through it first and ignore my comments til after. I scanned these pages myself from my beat-up, yellowed copy of Our Fighting Forces #134, cleaning up and tweaking extensively in Photoshop to sharpen and pop the images, darken areas of black, and to match the color tones and hues from the printed page as best I could - remastered, if you will. I daresay this is the best these colored pages have ever looked. Now, read on!

toth_soldiers_grave01  Toth opens with a couple long, horizontal panels, setting the scene and tone, and the coloring is decent, reinforcing the harsh mid-day shadows and helping to convey the desert heat. Kanigher then jumps us back centuries, throwing us smack dab in the middle of the fierce action of battle. This page is largely constructed by a series of triangles: not only the pyramids, but the lizard atop the rocks, and the two soldiers from the top of the attacker's helmet following down his blade to the rock on the left, and his lurching body on the right, both leading to the carved-in-stone title base. The title indicates the fate of the soldier, so we pretty much know the end in advance.

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Then, with a series of close-ups and more angles, Toth brings us tighter into the fight, first with a cropped close-up, focusing on our humble soldier and the danger he faces, even more on his opponent's grip on his neck and threatening, dangerously close point of the blade. In frame 2, we see the blade, an important object in this story. Frame 3 pulls back a bit, but everything we need to know about this story and its conclusion is contained within, including the shield in the background.

Next, the creators employ another slight flashback as the soldier leaves his family and explain why. Toth uses silhouettes, a distant horizon and sunset to set the mood.

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Page 3 is a super page, establishing the Egyptian army and camp, and its leaders as old Mullah pleads his case. The two panels int he middle tier show us the motivation and desperation of the main character. With the lower tier, Toth uses another sharp silhouette before pulling way back with a magnificent use of negative space, and showing us Mullah's place in the army, and thus his plight and challenge. The coloring is simple and effective, toned-down when it needs to be (only two colors are use in panel 3), then alternately subtle and bright conveying tone, time and atmosphere. Nice stuff!

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Another well-colored page, as Mullah contemplates his place in the world, as he falls further behind the marching army. I love how Toth uses varied panel shapes here: first showing the size of the pyramids relative to the tiny soldiers; Mullah's weariness and slumped shoulders; a Pharaoh's after-life opulence; and cool vertical frame with Mullah surrounded by the other soldiers' footprints.

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Now, Toth goes all horizontal as Mullah falls completely behind. Super coloring again, as the first frame is left colorless, Mullah's silhouette now totally merged with the footprints in the sand. In frames 2 & 3, the heat is turned up with yellows and golds, then orange and red. The bottom half of the page is cool as nightfall descends, and the exhausted Mullah figures he's lost his chance.

For more analysis of this page, see this previous post.

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With page 6, Mullah's age and weakness has turned to his advantage, as he plucks off one enemy after another with his bow and arrow. That 2nd frame is brilliant, all moonlight, rim lighting, silhouettes and the flecks of light on the stealthy Mullah and his weapon.

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Page 7 brings us full circle, back to the main battle. The two figures are colored warm and hot against the cools of the night background. Other than frame 3, where Toth gives us a brutal close-up of the enemy's face as he makes the fatal plunge of his blade, Toth instead focuses not on the characters, but rather the action and actions with body language, folds of clothing, etc. I find his approach effective here, since he's already established the characters, he highlights the futility of war in general human terms. The soldiers are not personalized here, but the EverySoldier, obscured by shadow, turned and cropped heads. Others may find his choices here cold and distant.

I love how Toth conveys Mullah's triumphant but hopeless state through twisted body language, as he breathes his last.

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But unknown to the departed Mullah, he's saved the day, provided for his family who will be presented with the very blade that felled their savior. The other primary object of the story is highlighted in the 2nd and last panels, the shield we saw earlier in the story, now and forever serving as grave marker for Mullah and the sacrifice he's made.

Even while honoring Mullah's struggle and triumph, the editors ended all their war stories with a Make War No More benediction. If only...

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Fractured Fables Anthology

I recently received my copies of the Fractured Fables anthology published by Jim Valentino at Image/Silverline Books. My contribution with Len Strazewski (script) and my wife, Mary (fellow colorist) is a twist on Washington Irving's Rip van Winkle called Pippi van Wrinkles. I'm very pleased by the printing and presentation, as well as the company we're in. It was reviewed very favorably in the Washington Times, as well as at Ain't It Cool News, so check out those if you need convincing.

Fractured Fables cover by Mike and Laura Allred

The artist skimming through the book

Pippi Van Wrinkles, page 1

The book is currently available in comic shops and on Amazon, and in fine bookstores everywhere in October.