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Archive for August 2011


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Closing Thoughts

When I began TothPix 16 months ago, I wasn't sure where it would take me. I thought I'd share some favorite bits by my favorite artist, learn a few things along the way. It takes time and energy to try and keep up with a weekly feature on top of blogging on other things, raising a family, meeting deadlines, staying healthy, keeping the house and grounds cleaned and spruced. I certainly didn't expect I'd embark on a 15-part analysis and exploration of a single Toth story, his adventure comic adaptation of the B-movie, The Land Unknown. Over the last two months I scanned many pages, prepared 119 images (scanned, cleaned, enhanced & cropped). All that has been more than worth it, but I might not have made it if not spurred on by those of you who've read, followed and sometimes commented. Thanks.

To mix things up, and to avoid being pedantic, I varied the approach to the text and presentation, based in part on my whims and as dictated by the story, art and available resources. I hope as a whole the series isn't disjointed, then.

Some closing thoughts on The Land Unknown:

• Alex Toth was 29 when he drew this 32-page story.

• He improved mightily on poor source material, aided by a solid script by Bob Ryder, about whom Toth said,

"Good picture scripting...he wrote, into it, many four-panel spreads and placed the action rather well."

Interesting, as I'd assumed Toth himself may have expanded some panels to cover 1/3 - 1/2 - 2/3 of the 6-panel grid.

• What I'd taken as an okay piece with some great spots is actually one of his best projects of the '50s. Long time Toth friend and fan, John Hitchcock wrote recently on a fan forum,

"Of all of Toth's Dell stories, Land Unknown was one of his favorites. About twenty-six years ago, I asked him to sign my copy. He wrote, 'This is one of my pets.'"

• Thanks to the internet and recently-released Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth book (and interviews for such), I was able to access a few pages of original art, two versions of scanned color comics, along with scans of B&W art from the Pure Imagination reprint book.

• Much of his signature style/approach were already firmly in place by this time, as well as in the early'50s (when he was in his early twenties), not apparent and developed only in his later work. His work was mature for nearly the entirety of his career - amazing! • Toth was obviously a student of film, employing not only an array of camera angles borrowed from that medium, but also was able envision and depict shots from all angles and points-of-view. There is an incredible intelligence, memory and imagination apparent in these pages.

• This artist worked hard to get things right. He obviously did his research, one way or another to accurately render the ships, helicopter, guns and more in this piece.

• Though the B&W reprint books aren't perfect (through a "bleaching" process, much of the fine line work and strokes are not reproduced as well as from the originals), they're still a step up from scans of the printed color comics where much detail and subtlety is lost due to sub-par printing standards. It's fun to see the color as it originally appeared, but what a sight it'd be if this story were to be shot completely from the originals (no doubt impossible) and given the proper treatment by a current colorist, say, Dave Stewart and printed on decent stock. Glory be, that'd be wonderful!

There we go. Thanks for reading, thanks for writing, here in comments, on Facebook or at the TothFans Forum. I'm not sure I have in me another series this long and involved, but I've plenty planned for upcoming installments, never fear.


Dancin' in the Rain!

It started raining last night after dinner and a rousing game of Pounce (the rules at the link are close but not exact to how we play). The girls wanted to go out - so we did! Nothing like running around like goofs in the pouring rain, splashing around in the backyard grass, getting thoroughly soaked. Whether middle-aged, teen or tween, we were all kids last night. Showers & laundry followed. Totally worth it! We didn't catch any pics or vid, so I drew up this quick sketch in SketchBook Pro, experimenting with layers, tools and effects. I don't really know what I'm doing with this program yet.


Fly Died. Nosedive?

I spied from the corner of my eye a fly who'd died. Seemingly balanced on the tip of its head, this fly was kissing the sidewalk. Had it taken a nosedive? Nope. I moved a nearby figurine to get a better look and the fly lifted off. It was caught in a web. Passed time to clean the studio!


Jewish Comics: Pizza, Dreidel-Face, Jesters, Talking Sun & Giraffes

I just posted a slew of new comics for Jewish kids, from a series for Kid's Zone magazine we've now been doing for nearly five years. They feature: a pizza-eating contest... ...a super-sized, spinning, anthropomorphic dreidel... ...a mysterious, riddling jester... ...a spacey talking sun... ...a trip to the zoo, and giraffes that speak! View and read all the comics at Google+, Facebook or in our Prime Projects section of this site. Background details, info and insight into the creative process have been featured here on this blog previously. My wife, Mary and I just finished another which features Big Talking Fish! So I'll post that as soon as it drops.


Sketchbook: Nephew

Sketched this portrait of my nephew, Chris on his birthday. He looks far too docile and friendly here. I'll try another one soon. Happy Birthday, Chris! You're a Madman!


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 13

Leaving The Land Unknown, the crew ascends hundreds of feet straight up in their 'copter, trying to make contact with the ships waiting for them in the Antarctic.

Toth then cuts inside the vehicle for a shadowed profile. The way he's back-lit the figure and highlighted the headphones, he's aimed all the focus on the communication apparatus. Contact established in panel two, we get a straight head shot. They made it!

Moving on to the final page, unleashes a torrent of dynamic angles and action, the ships tossed to-and-fro on the wild waves. The 'copter approaches, crashes, the crew rescued on the high seas. Toth employs an array of shapes, angles, curves, positive and negative spaces, zig-zagging the reader through the page (as shown in red below), making one feels as if they're part of the action. Panel one is a bird's eye view, the helicopter framed by the jagged, white glacier far below. Those little specks in a sea of black are enormous ships, giving us a sense of proportion, depth, height and space. This is an acutely abstract composition, off center and asymmetrical, yet balanced in the stark black and white shapes. One quibble: Toth could have placed the 'copter slightly to the right, overlapping the line along the side of the glacier, further enhancing depth, avoiding couching the 'copter so perfectly within the white shape. Spinning blades, billowing smoke, a spider web of masts, splashing waves lead the eye about panel 2, back and forth between the principle elements in a largely triangular composition. All objects are on a tilt, either in the sky or on the sea. Nothing is secure. We're off balance, but naturally so, as dictated by the environment, physics and story. The layers of depth in panel 3 are astounding, the sea in the foreground cropping the helicopter as it splashes down. The 'copter enters the water at a sharp angle, blades spinning and slashing violently within the middle third. A splash of water frames the crashing 'copter, jutting across a line of water and into the ship in the background at a sharp slant on the turbulent sea. What a frame! Wordless, no sound effects - the drawing carries the action and story. More layers and tilted objects, curving waves, sharp angles, stark shadows, creating picture depth. All of this serving the story, framing the rescue launch on its way. I blew out most line art, cleaning and simplifying positive and negative space here, to showcase Toth's sense of design and composition in each panel, and from frame to frame, over the two tiers. A master at work. Once safe on a ship, though surrounded by subtle and sharp angles, the characters are firmly rooted, standing up straight, order restored. The 3-shot of panel 5 is simple, Hunter and Maggie in profile framing Hal in the middle, all excited and relieved, but blanketed by Hunter's shadow. Frame 6, the final panel of the story is a call-back from the beginning of the tale, Hal & Maggie shown once again from behind, in their element, ready for another adventure. Rather than showing their face here, Toth focuses us instead on their parity and partnership, avoiding a saccharine note on which to end. The adventurers look forward to the future, eyes on the horizon. Ah - finished! Well worth the effort. I learned a lot. And though we're finished with the story proper, I've capped the series with my last observations and my final thoughts. href="">Read the story in its entirety in color here.


Server Down!

I was a bit lost for a couple days, the server that supports my direct domain name down. So, no bloggy bloggy, no email, no web site. ARRGGH!

Pollack...or no?

All right, I still had access to the internet so was on Facebook and Google+, my virtual lifeline. But recalled near too late I could use my .mac email account. D'oh! So, I drew a bit on the Cintiq and at the drawing board, finished Doug TenNapel's Ghostopolis while taking in some sun on the patio, and saw X-Men: First Class at the theater with my daughters. Not a bad day, despite my frustration. Not being able to compose posts for my blog, though, I was forced to postpone the last two posts on my 14-part series on Alex Toth's Adventure comic, The Land Unknown. The penultimate post appears on Thursday, the final installment next week!


Goon Sketching

More weekend doodles: a couple goons, done directly with a Pentel Pocket Brush...


Sketchbook: Baby, Baby, Baby!

Practicing drawing babies this morn...  


TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 12

Trying to make a clean getaway from The Land Unknown, Hal takes a peek out the 'copter door, to see...


And in color:

Page 29, semi-splash detail; color remastered.

Yeah, so this enormous sea serpent pops up from the water, upending Hunter's raft, sending him toppling, and he gets knocked out during the fall. Though Toth is known most for his line and spotting of blacks, notice how he rendered the cascade of water: not held by a line, but drawn with a series of dots and splotches, left open with negative space, obscuring other elements, letting the viewer's eye finish the picture. The final panel of the page is a standard profile close-up with flare gun in Hal's hand...

But even in this seemingly simple 2-frame tier Toth leads us through expertly with a series of angles (raft, body, oars & gun) and finally a curve that sweeps up along the gun and Hal's nose to his steely gaze. Just wonderful.

Page 30 (below) is sweet (and if you have $5000.00 to spare for the original art, Buy It Now on ebay), a tour de force of composition, design, balance of positive and negative space, shot selection and storytelling. The reader's eye is drawn through the page brilliantly, all in service of telling the story.

The first panel is from a bird's eye view, above the helicopter, the 'copter and Hal with his gun framing the creature below. The curve of the serpent's neck leads us to the tiny head of Hunter as he floats helplessly, unconscious in the sea.

Page 30, frame 1 and detail.

No doubt Toth had good reference for this flare gun, drawn simply but all there. The sharp angles, juxtaposed with curves and circles, along with the asymmetrical black and white space (still balanced) convey urgency and action.

Page 30, panel 2.

The 'copter swings in, the gun shot. Pops, smoke and sound effects lead us across the horizontal, widescreen frame to the point of impact. Zowee! Toth draws the 'copter in near silhouette in the foreground, and once again renders only what he needs to: holding lines dropping out from the serpent's head and maw, conveying the hot, bright flash of the flare, the reader's eye/brain completing the image.

Panel 4: The frame is split in half, then quartered in the lower half, the black horizontal slab of water broken by bits of light/waves. The serpent seeks refuge, returning to the sea - the curve of its body amidst the swirling smoke. The 'copter turns, maneuvering towards Hunter in the foreground, his head shown cutting out of the surface of the water, flat, graphic and bold. This is daring, modern picture-making!

Hal leaps to Hunter's rescue in panel 5, not quite centered in the frame. What an angle! And Toth draws Hal's foreshortened figure with a natural ease and flow. The near-silhouette of the 'copter against the expanse of sea beneath is startling, accentuating the free-fall and danger of Hal's dive.

Atop the next page, 31, Toth divvies up the frame, this time in thirds. Not quite flat or straight on, we see a few lines in front of and behind the figures showing the horizon/water surface. The characters are cropped, engulfed in water, as the rescue gear drops down from above, jutting into the upper 2/3 of the frame. Then, an overhead shot, mixing things up nicely. Time to hoist!

Finally, all safe in the 'copter, it's straight up and away through the gloom, the crew-plus-one making their escape!

For the conclusion of the story, and an incredible final page, jump to Part 13. Or - visit the Land Unknown page for an overview and insta-links to all separate other parts of this blog series. As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.

Note: This post was prepared and composed to the jaunty, jabbing jazz of Thelonious Monk.