Archive for May 2011
TothPix: Trouble Steering
Though the pilot depicted in this comic book panel is having trouble managing his craft, artist Alex Toth is in full control of his. Toth's line is bold and assured, the from-below angle conveying the drama of a tense situation for his adventure hero. The diagonals of the windows, chair, pilot's leg and arm give us a sense of being off-kilter, out of control. The rough and bold rendering of the folds in clothing add urgency and immediacy - the reader feels what the pilot feels. Bravo!
• • •
We all feel out of control at times and have trouble steering through life. Toth certainly did, in his childhood, dealings with clients/editors and interactions with fans and colleagues. Despite this, he produced an incredible body of work, at the drawing board during and through difficult times. No doubt drawing for himself and on the occasional postcard was for him a solace for many years after he lost his wife. He found comfort in doodling... and died at his drawing board.
I literally had trouble steering more than two years ago now, unable to make a turn, sliding on a snowmobile sideways into a tree, breaking many bones. I was fortunate to have not been hurt worse, lucky to be alive. Still, after 27 months, I'm still having trouble steering sometimes: with work; as a parent and husband; with daily habits and activities of life, with my creativity; even in my car. But like this pilot, like all of us, I hold onto that stick or steering wheel for dear life, zig-zagging and maneuvering as best I can, making a serpentine line for my destination and goal. It may take me a while to get there at times, but I make it. Step by step, action by action. And when I take a bad turn or am going the wrong direction, with a little help from my family and friends, I right the ship and get 'er back on track.
Art like this gives me inspiration and the energy to strive to be better, to go for more.
• • •
Update - June 2, 2011
In Comments, fellow Toth fan and superb artist, Roberto Zaghi answers my question and clears up some confusion about the panel I originally presented. I should have caught it, but the art I posted was a copy of Toth's panel, and very well done at that - sure fooled me! I let it get past me, even though it didn't have a word balloon - d'oh! That copied/covered panel is now at the bottom of this post.
Everything I wrote about that panel still stands, Toth's original inked panel now at the top of the page, above. As Roberto points out, that panel is from The Land Unknown (Four Color 845, 1957, Dell Comics), but also reprinted in The Alex Toth Reader (Pure Imagination). Fortunately, I possess a copy of that book, so was able to scan the actual Toth panel for inclusion here. I also have the story in color on disk, so grabbed that and cleaned it up. No doubt the red knock-out color on the pilot is shocking and corresponds to the action depicted, but the coloring here and for the story overall is not very well done. I much prefer the black and white version of The Land Unknown from the book linked to above. I'll do another post about that story in the near future, as it features tons of incredible Toth panels.
Thanks for the correction, Roberto. I should've gotten it right in the first place!
Update 2 - June 17, 2011
I tracked down the source of this image, done as an exercise by superb cartoonist, Tonci Zonjic. I should've done my due diligence from the get-go. Check out ToZo's comics & illustration and/or follow him on Twitter.
TothPix: Only Gossip...?
A sweet panel by Toth from Gun Glory (1957 - Dell Movie Western No. 846) of a western gal gossiping about gossip.
The door and frame are perfectly vertical, no tricky angles needed when Toth leads the viewer to the lady's eye with the shadow on the door. Even the tail of her word balloon continues the diagonal, as well as her eyebrow, accentuating that through line. Her face is cropped for interest and to highlight the pretty lady is spying, tho with no ill intent. The rendering is simple, almost crude, the texture on the door contrasting with the clean, open space of her face. Toth doesn't draw the edge of the door, rather letting the viewers eye finish the picture.
Gosh, this is good.
TothPix: Glory Boys
The first two panels from Glory Boys (DC - Our Army at War #235, 1971) are a great intro to an anti-war story, focusing on boys' adventure play. In both frames, Toth sets us square in the center of the action, first looking past the game pieces to Jeremy at play. There's great depth in this shot, what with the just-off-center game piece in silhouette (pushing the object to the foreground), the various other playing pieces in the middle, Jeremy's face interestingly cropped and framed by that main figurine and the horse soldier he holds.
In frame two, we're in the middle of the action again, as if we're one of the boys rushing through the tall grass, wooden sword in hand. Toth places the viewer again at a low angle, achieving tremendous depth, movement and action. The wooden swords in the foreground direct our eye to the main figures, also framed by the nice angles of the ramshackle shield and other swords. Toth's loose rendering of the grass forms the hill over which they'll meet, cropping background figures behind the hill. More rolling hills in the background provide further depth. It's a great composition with the sweeping curves, angled weapons and the fluid poses of the boys and folds of their clothing. Most interesting is the cropping of the boys at top center, making the composition asymmetrical and positively post-modern.
This is Homer's greatest painting of his early period, and while one can feel the tension, tug and imbalance of the boys at their game, the composition is largely formal, centered, symmetrical and balanced. Now, at the time, choosing subjects as pedestrian as this was considered informal and improper, not the stuff of fine art. In his own way, in 1872, Homer was pushing the boundaries, depicting life as he knew it, as fine a subject for art as ever there was. We take this type of picture for granted now; it may even seem quaint and sentimental, but I find it honest and true. Kinda like Twain's Huck Finn.
Still, Toth's simple comic book panel is more daring and challenging than the admittedly earlier fine painting. Not too shabby.
I should mention that as Winslow Homer moved forward shortly after to even more mature work, he loosened up and took compositional risks, laying the groundwork for most American painters and illustrators such as N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell and more. As evidenced by the brilliant How Many Eggs (below), Homer became not only capable but proficient at just the type of asymmetrical and bold composition at which Toth and others later excelled.