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Archive for July 2011


Sketchbook: Dial M for yuMMM

After a crazy-busy week+ of drawing for work (all fun, if stressful), I took a bitty break to draw just me own self, spurred on by the Saturday Sketch-Day blog. I drew both in Photoshop with a pencil-brush, the first from a still photo from Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder. It's not his best, but well worthwhile, despite being derived from a stage play and filmed for 3-D. He opens it up, takes it outside where he can. There are some really suspenseful sequences, especially the murder scene with scissors! And Grace Kelly, as always is yummy! For the second sketch, I liked the admittedly skimpy outfit on a gal from a photo a grabbed for reference while on a job, but not her figure/pose. So I made up my own. I may color up the latter another time...



A frame from the three-page comic I'm finishing today... I like this panel - turned almost exactly as I'd planned, which doesn't always happen... From a series I draw of comics for Jewish kids.  


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 10

We begin this week of The Land Unknown analysis with a classic Toth panel, a strong foreground silhouette, about to give Hunter a whack. Toth's figure is solid black save for a thin slash of light cutting into the hair and a small slot of white on the collar. Hunter's head is framed and cropped by the dark figure and club, Maggie's face by the shirt sleeve.

Now without that set-up and context, this next frame would be less clear. Any other cartoonist would show more, maybe more pedestrian, but readable. This is one of his weakest panels of the story, the artist probably trying to hard to mix it up or be different. How 'bout if we just see a hand on the club? A slip, thankfully infrequent.

That next frame is cool, Steve's face cropped at the nose, his hand firmly gripping the club. The hands tell the story here. Hunter is portrayed in a vulnerable position and interesting angle, turned away from the viewer, looking askance at his attacker.

A nice shot, Hunter's face cropped by his clothing...

I love the look on Steve's face here as Hal draws his weapon...

This is just beautiful. Another frame I could stare at for hours! The curves, angles, spotted blacks, textures, repeating shapes (leaves, vines, star & propeller) - Oh, my!

Toth moves us below, looking up at Steve on the 'copter. What a startling angle! Smart composition, what with the blade, arms akimbo, etc. This is not an easy shot to pull off, and Toth does it with ease, all while serving the story. The crazy angle reminds one of the film compositions of Orson Welles, especially as in Lady from Shanghai (1947), Othello (1952) and Touch of Evil (1958).

Ah, now that's better! Here's a similar shot to a frame from earlier in the story, much improved! Better composition and dinosaur.

Page 26, panel 6 (left) and page 12, panel 6 (right).

Part 11 is but a click away! Or visit the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other 14 parts of this blog series. As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.


My Name is Willie and I'm An Alcoholic

Revisiting a character from a planned graphic novel. Another take from an earlier study, this time drawn in Photoshop, no pencils.


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 9

Picking up where we left off in the middle of page 22 of The Land Unknown...

Rescued by castaway, Hunter, Maggie comes to the conclusion she must sacrifice herself to save the rest of her crew. This moment of thought and respite (above) is a sweet, sweet panel. Toth is not satisfied to simply establish Maggie in thought and the open raft, but does so with style, couching the main two elements in an arrangement of textures and patterns: bushes of star leaves; the curved triangles of large plants; the lines and crosshatch of tall grass; curved ripples on water; spotted blacks of shadow and craggy rock. I could stare at this drawing a long, long time (and have).

Toth prolongs the suspense with a long shot from the weeds in silhouette in the foreground, the calm before the storm. Then, time stands still as Maggie encounters a sea serpent in a wordless panel. This creature is not static, but alive on the page, frightening as it hovers over Maggie who doesn't move a muscle.

Combined with panels covered in detail in my previous post, it's a very nice page, well composed, balancing black areas with negative space, action with stillness, juxtaposing angles and lines with swirling, circular forms as shown on right (below).

All hell breaks loose atop page 23 as the serpent attacks, all teeth and folds of reptile skin circling its long neck. Cropping out the creature's eyes focuses attention on the sharp teeth, accentuating its size. Toth utilizes again flowing display lettering for the growl, weaving it behind and in front of the serpent. Surround Sound on a 2-D page! We see Maggie and the raft from the POV of the water surface.

Maggie faints in the next panel, but I'm not sure we'd know what was going on right away without the caption. Like I said before, when Toth fails, he does so in grand fashion, as with this unorthodox shot from the raft floor: seat and oars at striking angles; the action carried from Maggie's position, hands and the curve of her jaw. Drawing at this angle, a cropped and foreshortened figure is extremely difficult to pull off, but Toth makes it look easy. He certainly made it hard on himself, trying something different.

Then, it's Hunter to the rescue again, blowing his horn, torch at the ready!

Close ups for the dinosaur in the middle tier, looking fierce. No confusion in what's going on here, Toth clear about who is where in a 3/4 overhead shot, then action profile.

No need for dialogue in this frame, the serpent ominous in the foreground, nearly in complete silhouette as it snaps Hunter's weapon, smoke billowing from its powerful jaws. Hunter prepares another torch.  And Toth doesn't let us forget Maggie, her knees poking up from her raft. What a shot! This could very well be an abstract painting.

Then we're right in the thick of the action, an angle that brings to mind Gregory Peck as Ahab in Moby Dick (1956). Reading this, kids musta felt like they were holding the torch themselves! Superb design: swirling shapes for flame and smoke; serpent curve; circular patterns of horn; half-circle bubbles; flowing mop of hair in black; the sturdy line of Hunter's staff and arm.

Unconscious Maggie floats on in the background...

Hunter saves Maggie again in this overhead shot. Curves of boats, diagonals of staff and oars. Then, back at the cave, we get a glimpse of what's next in store for hero Hunter...

An exploration of Alex Toth's Land Unknown comic (1957) continues with Part 10. We're nearing the conclusion, still with 4-5 posts to go. Check the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other 14 parts of this blog series. As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.


Why the Long Face?

I try to contribute weekly to Saturday Sketch-Day where you can see this and those sketches posted by me and my creative compadres.


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 8

T-Rex is back!

We're now well into the final third of Alex Toth's Land Unknown comic (1957). Every panel of page 20 is a winner. A lady in profile, close-up, upturned heads looking to the sky. I love Steve's dejected expression and body language in frame 2. Nice background inking and natural posture of the background characters. Word balloons notwithstanding, Toth draws our eye from the upper left on a downward right angle to Hal's face, the up again across to the upper right corner of panel 2.

Longshot, characters center-right, the foreground fading to white with impressionistic dots and dashes of foliage, a la Sickles.

Medium shot, from behind, Hal and Maggie turn toward the viewer startled by the roar of a dinosaur. Trouble! Ominous shadows are thrown over most of Maggie' curves, on Hal's shoulder and right half.

Action-packed figures in silhouette disperse as T-Rex reappears! Hal's figure is superb, his outline easily read, heading one way, turning another; sharp, deliberate, balanced. More action in the last frame of the page; Toth sets us nearly in Hal's shoes, fanning his hammer, rapid-firing at the dinosaur, which Toth is now drawing in more lively and threatening fashion. The two panels are tied together by the roar sound effect strung behind the figures.

Top panel of page 21, from the original art. Wow, look at the loose but assured, bravura inking by Toth in this action panel as the dinosaur gives chase! Head down, Hal runs with purpose, an effect enhanced by Toth's bold brush work of folds and shadows. It's shots like this that convince me that Toth surpasses masters and his mentors, Noel Sickles, Frank Robbins and Milt Caniff to be the superior comics artist.

More action, unconventional composition, Hal's path accentuated by the awesome angle of the rocky crag. The backgrounds brushwork here is phenomenal!

And the panel works in color, too, though the middle space could be improved with a light yellow rather than the white used. (This'll probably be the last of color you'll see featured in this blog series, as the coloring for most of the 2nd half of the story are subpar, rushed and glitchy.)

The lower 2/3 of page 21 is all angles, growls, exotic trees, a tangle of untamed tentacle plants, curves, more tame cheesecake and the mist of white brush spatter. Toth's T-Rex is really coming alive now as he blows out two panels for a vertical mini-splash. And in case you missed him, there's tiny Hal looking on from below.

Art from this page was shot from the original art, available for viewing online here, and in the superb new first volume on Toth -  Genius: Isolated.

Page 22, panel 1: More curves, shadows and struggle as Hunter casually comes to the rescue...

...then not-so-casual! Hunter's not just a doctor, but a Man in the Arena! More bold curves & shadows as we're right in the thick of the action. Note Maggie's tiny, cropped face in the background. With Maggie safe, Hunter is off, running in the extreme foreground in full silhouette.Toth brilliantly frames Maggie with Hunter's legs, and again with a variety of textures, shapes and patterns of the background. In Part 9, see dinosaurs, chases, gunshots, leaps, roars and tentacles! Or visit the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other 14 parts of this blog series. As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.


Old Sweaty Nazi

Another view of the old Nazi. Photoshop. No pencils.


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 7

Mid-way through the tale, over the next five-page span, the crew meet long-haired, bearded castaway, Dr. Hunter. After the huge lizard slithers away, Maggie is grabbed from behind in a panel even more effective in color than B&W: only five colors which clarify objects and action. Toth can draw as many big leaves and shadows from which Hunter emerges, since the dark green knocks out and flattens the backdrop.

Why draw a screaming lady's face as she's carried away when you can feature her rear end? Harmless khaki cheesecake for boys!

Nice design: The rule of thirds applied, the lower 1/3 rendered with simple arcs for water ripples; a variety of outlined shapes and patterns for foliage in the upper 2/3; blacks spotted on the boat and figures for depth, contrast and interest; slight perspective on the boat so it's not a straight horizontal; textures on the boat side, rudder and rope to differentiate from the open space of the water and the background.

3/4 overhead shot. No holding line for the shore, formed instead where open water space meets chiaroscuro trees and leaves. Simple lines indicated the wake, small dots in water to prevent flatness.

The crew moves through fog in search of Maggie. The stark silhouettes softened by a single muted color, an effect Toth obviously planned for color to indicate the murky soup.

Yet another frame that works better in color than B&W, the color of the ground softening the hand silhouette and shadow on boot, all to focus on the footprints.

A thin sliver of the lake in the foreground gives way to the shore which shows the footprints which lead to the absent vessel. The characters are cropped by the edge of a hill draped in shadow, framed by exotic roots and leaves.

A panel attractive in both color and B&W. Toth could hardly simplify this shot more, but the three main shapes are interesting and abstract: the lake horizontal with swath of black (depth in color indicated by lighter water tones receding into background); the squarish sky shape, broken by the curve of the rock, rendered with vertical grooves. The centers of interest are offset in the panel, the crew in the raft pointing to the smoke (casting a shadow) emanating from an opening.

A close-up on Hunter, mysterious with his face nearly all in shadow, lit by a fire in a cave.

In panel 1 of page 19, Maggie's tookus is featured again, framing a cropped Hunter speaking from the background. The characters are cropped and framed by Hunter's handmade ladder.

Another posterior (!) - this time in the background as Maggie climbs the ladder, though her figure is cropped to avoid drawing to much attention from the talking heads in the foreground. The crew (again, cropped) then takes their leave as Hunter raves in silhouette. Simple curves and dots indicate water.

Storytelling! Back at the site, Hal counts the days. Angled heads throw shadows. A foreshortened hand. And in the final panel, sparse rendering of foliage. Subtle, pretty stuff!

For dinosaurs, chases, gunshots, leaps, roars and tentacles (!) go directly to Part 8, or visit the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other 14 parts of this blog series. As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.


Old Nazi: Variation on a Theme

Yesterday's Nazi sketch was based in part on a photo. Today I used the first sketch as a model for another view of the disgruntled old coot, this time from my head. In Photoshop again, no pencils.