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Archive for September 2011


Twin Cities Book Festival

On Saturday, October 15, I'll be appearing as a featured author at Rain Taxi's 11th annual Twin Cities Book Festival, a FREE event open to the public. Thousands of book lovers attend each year to meet their favorite local and international authors, for readings, panels, talks, and to snatch up a bunch of books, of course!

I'll kick off the kid's book events at the Children's Pavilion with a reading of my Night of the Bedbugs at 10:30 AM, followed by an all-day drawing/cartooning workshop from 11AM-4PM. I'll be on hand to show young artists how to draw features and expressions, create their own characters and start making their own book. Paper and drawing implements will be supplied; you just need to bring your curiosity and imagination. Drop by anytime!

Copies of Night of the Bedbugs will be available for purchase from The Red Balloon. I'll be happy to sign and do a sketch in your copy. See you there!


TothPix: Too Many Cooks

Last week in my review of Genius, Isolated, I compared side-by-side the line art to printed color from a panel of the Toth-drawn story, Too Many Cooks. This comparison is afforded us as the line art for this page was printed from the original art in Genius, Isolated. It struck me how crisp, sharp and clean Toth's line was, especially when all I knew of it previously was from the muddy, poor printing on cheap newsprint. It's worthwhile to compare the panels from the rest of the page....

"Too Many Cooks," page 1; This Is War #6 (Standard, 1952). Line art (left) and color scan from printed comic (right).

Toth's line here looks similar to what he produced with The Crushed Gardenia, achieved, he said, by filing his pen Speedball B-6 nib to a chiseled edge. The result is a somewhat flat and angular line, which he fills out with brush for shadows, folds, etc. This panel introduces the characters (and what characters!), enveloped by trademark Toth black and white areas, broken up with the occasional texture: crosshatched stubble; stippled helmet.

The colors of many of the comics from this period lean heavily towards primary. The black swath covering the top third is the underside of the tent, cropping into the sky and hill just below in the background. It would make far more sense to have colored the yellow area blue (sky) and the blue a grey-purple - not only better color choices, but helping to establish the setting.

"Too Many Cooks," panel 2; Line art (left) and color scan from printed comic (right).

Panel 3 could've been nothing but talking heads. But Toth adds interest by extreme cropping of the main character on the left (nearly slicing his face off!), and though his shorter buddy is center-panel and aggressive (in his face!) our cropped man still dominates, wielding his cooking spoon almost as a weapon.

In panel 4, their argument is interrupted by a gun shot, blocked (tellingly) by that very spoon, which Toth highlights on the right, centered in a large open area. Our attention is focused on the ricochet and breaking spoon, as the character is viewed over shoulder, from behind. Pretty smart writing, actually, and very smart storytelling by Toth.

"Too Many Cooks," panel 3 & 4; Line art (left) and color scan from printed comic (right).

That brings us back to panel 1 (which I featured last week). I'm quite taken with this panel: the guy's exaggerated features, jutting jaw, tilted, cigarette, stippled helmet, and unshaven face. It isn't badly colored at all, but oh, how I yearned to see a cleaner version...!

"Too Many Cooks," panel 1; Line art (left) and color scan from printed comic (right).

So, I took the liberty of coloring it myself anew (below). I didn't change much and kept it nearly flat, but was able to add minor modeling, a couple subtle gradations (on the helmet and for the background) and to colorize the cigarette tip and motion lines.

Boy, I like the look of this, and Toth should get such treatment and with a top-notch colorist like, say, Dave Stewart. But given that these stories are finally just being collected and re-printed, we'll probably never see it. I no doubt ask too much. Some Toth stories were re-colored in the late '80s - early'90s, but hand-colored and not well, usually. Toth's stuff works better clean, simple and mostly flat, I think.

"Too Many Cooks," panel 1 with new coloring by me (humbly submitted for your approval).

That said, Too Many Cooks and many other stories are included in the sizable volume from Fantagraphics Books: Setting the Standard: Comics by Alex Toth 1952-1954. The pages are scanned from the printed comics, but cleaned and remastered a bit, looking better (below) than the scans used throughout this post and what one generally finds online. The book is a must for any Toth and comics fan.



An Alligator Artistic Cycling

Alligator's Playing Obscure Sports! That was a recent topic from Carsten Bradley for his daily Artist Sketch Challenge. I did mine, an Alligator Artistic Cycling in Manga Studio, leaving the roughs in there to show process. I'd originally intended to have his mouth closed, sketched it with an open smile, then changed my mind back to closed. I left out his right hind leg to retain a clean line/curve to his tail, figuring we probably wouldn't see it anyway. I'd like to color this one up for fun - I'll post it on this blog when I get around to that.



Deadman. An old favorite DC Comics character. Colors in Photoshop. Inks below, done in Manga Studio. Update: Interesting recent Deadman TV show news...


Conan Grimace

Does he make any other expression? Drawn in Manga Studio. Color tweaked in Photoshop.


Calvin & Hobbes and...Stitch

Another great topic/challenge/assignment from Carsten Bradley for his daily Artist Sketch Challenge: DESIGN THE POSTER FOR CALVIN & HOBBES: THE MOVIE! Carsten set the standard with his entry, and everybody did such great drawings/concepts, it really raised the bar. I loved working on this. Spent too much time on it...and wish I had more. Check out all the posters at Google+! I thought I'd happened upon an original parody idea, but - nope! There's some fan fiction pairing these characters, and another: What I Did On My Summer Vacation (scroll down). And a Comic Rumble. Enjoy!


TothPix: Genius, Isolated Review

Less is more.

That's the mantra applied to Alex Toth concerning his art and comics, the maxim by which he worked and urged other artists to follow. Though there have been many publications, interviews, reprints, features and sites devoted to Toth's work, much of it by Toth's own hand, I still can't get enough. For me as an artist, disciple and fan, when it comes to learning more of the man, reading, studying, analyzing and immersing myself in his art and creative process, more is more.

For over thirty years, I've collected as many Toth comics as I could find at conventions and on dusty comics shop shelves. I've bought just about every tome on Toth as released during that span, many now out of print. I've compiled long lists of comics by Toth, culled from The Comic Book Price Guide, most of which I could never find or afford. I've researched those artists he cited as influences. From the site, I downloaded and poured over pages I'd not yet seen, finally viewing stories from comics I'd had on my list (as scanned and generously shared by fellow Toth fans). I read again and again his stories, annotations, thoughts and insights...and still craved more. As much as I've discovered about my favorite comics artist, something was missing.

Photo by

The first volume of three, Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth begins to fill in some of those gaps for this fan, providing context to his history, personal life and character, his creative development, approach and methods.

This book is huge (approx. 10' x 13"), a fitting and worthy format and size for its subject, allowing comics pages to be printed over-sized (though not as large as the original art, most of which were done around 200%). At over 325 pages and five pounds, the volume covers the first half of Toth's life and career: his start in the field as a teen; how he set the pace for the rest of the industry; his stint in the army; his first three marriages; and tons of photos and art presented as never before.

Portrait of the artist as a young man - "Genius, Isolated," pages 70 & 71

The photos of Toth as a child and in his younger days are a revelation. Til now I'd been able to picture Toth only in his elder years, by the photos of him I'd seen, and his self portraits. He cut quite a dapper and dashing figure as a young man, and one gets to piece together the fragments, pinpointing what work he did at what age. Though his earliest work from the late '40s, done in his teens never held much interest for me, by 1949 he was already showing signs of the genius to come, displaying tendencies which bear a startling resemblance to his most mature work. And this, when he was but twenty years of age.

From "The Unexpected Guest," Green Lantern #37, page 7 (1949)

By 21 he was setting the standard in comics and storytelling, inspiring and influencing his peers. By 22 & 23, he'd drawn comics masterpieces that still stand among his best work, like The Crushed Gardenia, Thunder Jet and Battle Flag of the Foreign Legion (below).

From "Battle Flag of the Foreign Legion," Danger Trial #3, page 5 (DC, 1950)

Throughout the '50s and into the '60s, Toth drew stacks of comics, during a period when it was somewhat difficult to continue in the field and find work (thanks to Dr. Frederic Wertham and U.S. Senate). Toth persevered and was in demand, drawing romance, sci-fi, war and western comics, strips, and many comics adaption of movies and TV shows, all of which are well represented in this volume.

In 1955-'56, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving in Tokyo, Japan. During this period he wrote and drew his Jon Fury comic strip for his camp newspaper. The strip is reprinted here in it's entirety on light violet stock. Most of the strip is printed from poor photocopies, so the subdued color helps smooth out the rough patches. Some have wondered why Fury takes up so much of the book at 45 pages. But if not here, where? There's some awfully good stuff in it. Just take a long gander at that second panel (below).

From Jon Fury, strip #3

One can take their time with this tome, get lost in it as an art book, flip to and fro, and/or read as an insightful biography. It's filled with early illustrations, previously unpublished pencils, and numbers of pages printed from the original art. When comparing the originals printed herein to previously reprinted black-and-white art, scanned color from the old comics themselves or even from the recently released Setting the Standard, it's astounding to take in the difference between Toth's line to the poorly-printed 4-color on newsprint. One's mind boggles if Toth had been given the treatment to match production standards of today's comics.

Panel 1 of "Too Many Cooks," This Is War #6 (Standard, 1952).

Line art (left) and color scan from printed comic (right).

(I'll compare more panels from this page next week.)

For me, this volume fills in the blanks, fleshes out the body of Toth's work, and provides a clearer vision of the man and his art. This book is a must have for any student of art and design and/or lover of comics. And to think it's just the first of three!


The Line Game: Grizzled Cowboy

I rotated my line counter-clockwise for my cowboy, starting with this line... Of course, when I did this squiggle, I had no idea what it might end up being. Others did an old man face (not far from what I saw in it at first), others a parrot, a dancing lady, a shell.... You'd be surprised what folks see in each line! Do one of your own at the Line Game blog, hosted by artist, Carsten Bradley. You can rotate the line it any direction you'd like, just don't alter the original line otherwise. C'mon - it's fun!



After posting yesterday about enjoying sketching subjects other than superheroes, I got a sudden hankering to draw that crusty ol' Spidey villain, The Vulture.

I drew him up in Manga Studio and colored in Photoshop. Drop in at the Saturday Sketch Day blog to see the inks (click image there for larger view), as well as the weekly drawings of my Creative Compadres.


Google+ Artist Sketch Challenge: Weeks 3 & 4

Week 4 of Carsten Bradley's daily Artist Sketch Challenge was light on topics, but I did do one Friday, and plenty the week previous. I enjoy participating in this sketch blog as the concepts are varied and interesting, not superhero-based. I mean, I've a soft spot for comic book heroes and villains, but they doesn't have much to do with my current work or creative life. These challenges keep me loose, on my toes and allow me to experiment with different looks, styles and drawing software, that I can actually apply to what I do and want to do. In fact, Google Plus and Carsten's Sketch Challenge came along at just the right time for me. Thanks for letting me play, Mr. Bradley!

From Dream Job as a Mouse.

I kinda already have my dream job, and others were all over drawing themselves as mice drawing. If I could eat cheese all day, every day that's what I'd do. Not that I haven't tried as it is.

Conan the Barbarian, for Emulate a Favorite Artist.

I've had so much Alex Toth on the brain, I chose another artist, John Buscema for this challenge. What with his work on Conan when I was a teen, various superhero titles, just about every Marvel first issue published then and his How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way (with Stan Lee), his work had a huge effect on me. Not saying my Conan looks much like Big John's, of course...

Devil Head from Seven Stroke Challenge.

For this challenge I whipped out my trusty Pentel Pocket Brush and filled a page with drawings done in only seven strokes. Took about 5-7 minutes, total. You can see all those at my Google+ sketch challenge album. Also did this Hellboy: Big guys with (or without) horns.

Wrestling Homemaker from Luchadores Doing Chores.

This one sure was fun. Our vacuum cleaner broke a few weeks ago, but Hoover sent a replacement that we received Thursday. So I knew exactly what I wanted to draw when Carsten threw out this challenge Friday. My Mom was quite the wrestling fan back in the '50s, her favorite being Mel Dove ( Jack Allen). I didn't get that info from her in time for my post of this drawing at G+, but Mel makes an appearance here on a vintage TV!

Soon, I hope to catch up on a few topics I missed, and will have Wacom pen in hand and at the ready for future challenges, posting as completed at G+ and the official blog. I'll continue to do a weekly roundup like this here, though.

Join in, when and if you've time. It's easy - just check the blog for new or past Challenges, post your drawing on your G+ page/album, adding +Carsten Bradley to your text and he'll add your entry to the blog.