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Archive for November 2010

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TothPix: A Plethora of Posts, A Load of Links

Since starting this blog series on master comics artist, Alex Toth, I've spent some time online seeking out more of his work, and in doing so have come across a host of posts on other blogs, articles and essays on comics web sites and online forums. At the time of Toth's death (2006), the official Toth Fans site (still the best and deepest resource) was really the only game in town, save the rare collector who shared their Toth original art, but since then more and more folks are discovering or sharing love of Toth, scanning and posting entire stories, analysis, or transcribing Toth's notes and annotations on his work. Here are some favorites:

In sussing out more material for my posts on Toth's Zorro, I stumbled upon a review by William R. Hancock at amazon.com, which made reference to a Paul Revere story Toth had drawn just previous to his Zorro work. The panels above are just a taste of the brilliance one will find at John Glenn Taylor's Easily Mused blog, where he makes available the entire patriotic story. Enjoy! I'll be doing a more in-depth analysis of this piece on my blog later.

James Romberger recently posted an insightful article, Cursing the Darkness: The Last Horrors of Alex Toth at The Comics Journal site. And you'll find a new Kubert vs. Toth essay at his The Hooded Utilitarian. Smart, well researched stuff.

The Cloud 109 blog has covered a few Toth stories, including the romance tale, Lonesome For Kisses, focusing on nuances of expression (above). Also featured is analysis of the Kurtzman/Toth war story collaboration, F-86 Sabre Jet (below), complete with a side-by-side comparison of  black & white and color versions of the story. Survival transcribes Toth's annotations on the story for easier reading, and the short Dirty Job is one powerful read. I hope Cloud 109 does more on Toth, and make sure to check out more on one fine blog.

Monte Wilson features a few choice pages, and a couple complete stories, one romance and one war story at his site. And to finish things off, you may want to save some time for the infamous exchange between Toth and Steve Rude, who'd sent the pencils for his Jonny Quest story done for the Comico series. I've provided links to both a forum which includes Toth's hand-written notes, and a cleaner, easier-to-read version, which features responses from Rude. In the end both artists have points, but one wonders if Rude ever regretted asking the infamously curmudgeonly Toth for his assessment?!

With the coming release of Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth by Bruce Canwell and Dean Mullaney (Dec. 7, 2010), and other similar books, we Toth fans will have plenty to sink our teeth into.

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Art Friday: Trip to MIA

Rather than shopping, my daughters and I spent the morning at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. A pleasant way to start the day, we made our way through a small portion of the huge collection, revisiting favorites, making up stories about the paintings, circling sculptures to view all angles, discussing color, composition, texture, center of interest, pattern and just stuff we liked, be it Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass, furniture or home models, tiny Japanese figurines or walking through restored rooms. Laura's favorite was this landscape by Albert Bierstadt, the foremost painter of the American West the latter half of the 19th century. The image below does not nearly do the original justice, obviously. Not by a stretch.

One can never get enough of Manet, especially the dark, starkly lit portraits of old guys with beards. Love the limited palette he used on these. Quite the contrast to the usually vibrant pieces by my wife's favorite painter, John Singer Sargent.

This sculpture of Hebe and the Eagle of Jupiter. Apparently the Art Institute of Chicago also has a copy. About 3' tall, the level of detail in this piece is astounding.

We think we saw a Batman sculpture, but it pre-dates Bob Kane's creation by centuries!

Though I prefer the western art of Charles Russell (MIA has several of his pieces on display), this Bronco Buster sculpture by contemporary Frederic Remington really catches the eye with its detail, authenticity, composition and movement. Just gorgeous. I recall being introduced to both these artists on a family vacation out west 34 years ago. Boy, I'd love to visit that museum again (it must have been the one linked to above). Thanks for stopping there, Mom & Dad!

Before we were on our way, I made sure we viewed a couple pieces by N.C. Wyeth, one of my favorite illustrators. My eldest daughter wondered why Cream of Wheat was on 3-4 of the paintings. Yep, they were done as advertisements - this beautiful work is commercial art!

I took extra time (again!) staring at The Avenger by Ernst Barlach. What a striking piece - what lines, what movement! I hadn't heard of this artist before discovering this sculpture at the MIA years ago, and have since sought out online more of the work of this German expressionist and expert of Art Nouveau. I was able to find a couple other photos of this magnificent piece so readers could get a sense of its power.

Of course, was saw the Monet haystack the MIA happens to have on hand, as well as the lively and colorful Olive Trees by Vincent Van Gogh. He painted this one in the last year of his life. This one is always Emily's fave.

I've my parents to thank for this love of art, as we made many trips to the Art Institute in Chicago where I grew up. I miss visits there and look forward to taking our girls there when visiting family and friends sooner than later. Before then, perhaps, we'll make another trip to the MIA.

I leave you with this bust of Renoir, my Mom's favorite painter, who continued painting til his death at 78, despite having twisted arthritic hands and being later wheelchair bound.

The work of art must seize upon you, wrap you up in itself and carry you away. It is the means by which the artist conveys his passion. It is the current which he puts forth, which sweeps you along in his passion.

The pain passes, but the beauty remains.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

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TothPix: Chasing Zorro

Following the Toth Zorro page I covered last week is a portion of the next - a chase!

In this panel (3), after establishing  in the first two panels (not shown) who's riding and who's chasing, Toth crops in tightly, again placing the reader in the middle of the action. Can't get simpler than this, really, with a close-up on Zorro in the foreground and the silhouetted figures riding in the distance. But how bold and sophisticated! He spots his black areas on the hat, mask and in shadow, breaking the frame almost exactly down the center vertically, but slightly askew. Contrasting from the solid dark shapes, he varies his line work nicely. There's no stylistic swagger here, no showing off. The texture of the hat, cape, cord around the crown, and mustache are rendered as dictated by form.

I love how he cropped Zorro's right eye from our view to focus on the left as he peers behind him, an effect enhanced by simple but careful toning he added later.

For the lower half of the page, Toth pulls back again to set up the closing chase and coming leap. Almost entirely in silhouette, this sequence takes place at night, starkly moonlit. That small sliver of rock on the right side of the long, horizontal panel make clear Zorro's destination, and the precarious nature of his situation. The leap itself is dynamic and sweeping, but grounded in reality. Toth cleverly merges Tornado's hind legs to the rock from which he jumps, bits of loose dirt and stone falling, when many artists might have been tempted towards the fantastic, showing horse and rider spread fully in the air. Toth's choices make us feel the gravity, make the leap truly fantastic.

The final panel is again in silhouette, but Toth leaves bits of light show on horse, rider, cape and rock to add depth and prevent a flat, static, graphic image. The following riders and horses rear up and stop, while we see the triumphant Zorro and Tornado taunting on the other side. Classic.

Next week: a break from Zorro, as I point you to plenty of other peerless posts on Master Toth!

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TothPix: Zorro - Swords, Shots and Leaps!

Here's another fine Toth Zorro, from later in the Secret Passage story. Super composition, storytelling, action, shot variety, body language and draftsmanship. He makes it all look so easy, and tops it off with a patented Zorro leap from a balcony to horse!

Let's take a closer look, tier by tier:

In panel one, the bumbling, stout sidekick, Garcia is called by his capitan for aid. The rendering here is impeccable, loose and easy, confident and expressionistic, from the shadow of leaves dappling the tree, to the rough, grassy terrain, to the folds on Garcia's pants to the simple outline of the background shape which leads us to panel two. Garcia is now inside, taken aback by the sword fight and confusing situation. What a pose! Add Zorro's forward lunge and rumpled rug underfoot as were treated to an unbelievable array of action, light and shadow, composition and texture.

In the middle tier, Toth throws us right in the thick of the skirmish as Zorro knocks the sword from his opponent's grasp. We get a good look at the hero in his element as Garcia fumbles for his gun, just behind. Gunshots zing past Zorro as he turns and retreats, dialogue and sound effects integral elements of each panel. We're in the center of the action! Simple background texture and shapes hint at staircases and stone.In the final, bottom tier, the artist pulls us back outside, first in a long shot from ground level as our hero calls for his horse and prepares to leap from the window/balcony, then from a bird's-eye view as leaps to Tornado and makes his escape. Once again, sound effects are part of the piece, all background and foreground elements rendered as appropriate, whether shadowy bushes and trees, stone wall and floor, varied textures help establish time and place and break things up visually. I love the way his cape sweeps over the ledge int he final panel, casting a shadow.

Throughout the page, Toth's choices with tone thirty years after first doing the art help add depth, clarify the action and lead the reader's eye. Sweet stuff!

Next week, a torrent of Toth links, then back to more Zorro.

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Lots More Comics for Jewish Kids

Since my last post on the Jewish Kids Comics series, we've done a few more installments, and I've now added them to the Blue Moon Studios Prime Projects section of the site (click link & scroll down), as well as in Photos at my Facebook page.

The series continues to be a challenge and delight, as we cover many aspects of Jewish life and culture, including the Hebrew alphabet, Jewish history, holidays and diet.

Every once in a while I get to throw in a little pun, like the Wild Lunch lunchbox, or my wife, Mary gets to color kids with different funny shades and colors.

The scripts and stories also deal with suggestions and reminders for kids on how and when to help others, and how to work together.

To read some or all of these stories in the entirety check either of the links above. We've already completed another installment, which I'll post as soon as I get the high sign.

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TothPix: Zorro - Secret Passage

Following the pair of Zorro sketches from last week, here's a sweet page Toth did for Disney/Dell starting in 1957. From Zorro's Secret Passage, the second story in the series, Diego shows his trusty pal, Bernardo the predecessor to the Batcave.

Great bits here are the storytelling, expressions and body language, variety of textures (the embroidery on Diego's jacket, the dry brush on the wooden mantle and stone fireplace, the fine feathering on Bernardo's sleeves and hair, etc), the lighting and patented Toth spotting of shadows and black areas. I scanned this from page 30 of the 1988 Eclipse Books black & white reprint of the series (Vol. 1) for which Toth himself did the tones, as it was originally published in color. One may be able to find used copies of these two volumes, but Image Comics released all in a single volume in 2001, still in print.

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TothPix: Zorro Sketches

I grabbed both of these gorgeous Toth Zorro sketches from the Toth Fan Site, but cleaned them up a small bit. Zorro was Toth's favorite hero, I think, and it shows in these sketches. These two are so brilliant, I'm almost at a loss to articulate why and how. Almost.

zorro_1

In this first, Toth strips everything down to it's barest form, but all the details are there, even if vaguely suggested, like the structure of the sword, the buttons on his shirt, the ties of his mask hanging under chin, the belt, the exquisite reflections in the boots, the holster for the sword, and the graceful drapery and flow of the cape. Wow. Couple that with the assured and powerful angles and swaths of black, capturing the character perfectly, along with the playful en garde atop, and lucky Glenn owns a real winner. I'm so jealous.

And as much as I love the first, this next I find even more clever and sophisticated. Toth adds tons of depth and drama as Zorro peers around the corner, the sword poking past the wall, a mirror-image shadow thrown below. And these he balances with all the other angles throughout the piece: the sweep of the cape, the triangle shadow at the base of the wall, the scabbard again poking from below the cape, the diagonal horizon line. Toth has also added grey tone for more depth, the soften the more harsh shapes in semi-shadow and for texture.

zorro_2

Then take in the cock of Zorro's head, the mask, the hat, the ties of the cape, shapes zig-zagging back-and-forth, all adding interest, but again the character and personality of the hero. And Zorro's left foot is raised, weight on his toe as he leans forward, all adding to the suspense, tho we know not what awaits him 'round the corner.

Genius.

Next week I'll continue with more Zorro - some favorite panels and pages from his superb run for Disney.