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Archive for November 2011


TothPix: FBI Story - Finale

Wrapping up a study of Toth's comics adaptation of The FBI Story (1959)...

The last third of the comic mainly concerns something of a chase, the agents tailing a criminal. Though the panel below isn't part of that sequence, it sure is a nice frame, an agent spying on the enemy. I removed the color and grey tones, cleaning it up as best I could to view the black and white line art. This is awful crude, then, but indicative of how Toth played with shadows throughout his career and reminiscent of a well-known frame from a Fox story he did about twenty-five years later. If only we had access to the original art or line art reproductions of this story. I don't believe this has been reprinted in black & white.

Another decent panel (below), this time of the FBI agents making an escape. Nice to see a frame with plants and trees - this tale is so filled with cities, building and cars. This shot is from slightly overhead, looking through the picture, past the centered foreground figure to the mid-ground and trouble in the distance.

The chase begins on page 27 (below) of the 32-page story. They're hot on the trail of "Whitey," who for much of the sequence is surrounded by black spaces. At times, as on this strong page he's seen through a window, from a distance, sometimes in open view - broad daylight in which reverses the negative space from black. In the last two frames we see the scene from the same POV: the criminals in the background meet and separate, the agents watching, then on the move.

Semi-close-up: Panel 2 is a nice landscape of a church with bold shadows and expressive brushwork. Toth mixes it up - at times we see the agents in the foreground in shadow, at times in the distance, Whitey taking center stage.

Another solid page (below), most shots fairly straight-on, documentary-style. We cross-cut between those at headquarters and agents in the field, tailing Whitey by car, on foot, in a train. All the panels here are straightforward - no frills. But deft spotting of blacks, angled shadows, a well-placed curve here and there raise an unassuming page into something more. In the last frame, Toth moves the POV below eye-level, placing the man making an announcement center-panel, cropping each of the principals on either side of the picture.

From the page above, a couple stand-out frames shown in grey-tone (below). Boy, I love both of these! Panel 2: Great shadow on the awning, which casts a shadow onto Whitey as he exits the building, a dark tone/color popping him to the foreground off the bright cab. Very nice background details of the tenements, the FBI partially obscured. Panel 5: One of the best panels of the story, our agent inside the car in near-silhouette offset to frame right. The brim of his hat, his face, hand, dashboard, steering wheel and angled stairs all frame and direct our attention to the cab he's keeping his eye on. Better coloring would have helped this panel sing.

(Not facing panels.)

Next page, top tier: nice, simple frames, but both could be improved. Panel 1 is split down the center. Boring. Though the guy-in-the-phonebooth silhouette is sweet, one element or the other could be offset more to add interest/drama. Panel 2 - no backgrounds? Gosh, that red is bright (and I even toned it down a little).

The bottom two tiers of the same page. The large black areas turn a daytime chase into something dangerous. In frame 3, Toth places Whitey's head in the lower-right corner, cropping his face so our eye doesn't settle on him but is rather lead back to our agent by the pole. Toth enhances the feeling that the agent is keeping a sharp eye on Whitey, knocking out the crowd with a huge shadow, singling out Whitey, as if he's the only person the agent can see. Brilliant. (For the great insight on this frame, and more, see Jesse Hamm's wonderful posts on Toth's early development).

Toth really moves the POV around then, first with a 3/4 overhead shot of the cab and a telephone booth, back inside the car, then to a worm's-eye-view, Whitey's legs in the foreground, the following vehicle in the background, cropped. The large areas of black and angles tie this 4-panel sequence together.

Chip finally nabs his prey in a diner, Whitey trying to pass info via microfilm to a higher-up.

Gotcha, Whitey!


TothPix: FBI Story, part 2

Continuing an examination of Toth's comics adaptation of  The FBI Story (1959)...

Both panels (below) are straight-on shots, pretty much from eye level, carrying on the "documentary style" employed for most of the story so far. Again - great folds on the clothing as Chip's on his way out. Then we move on to a domestic Christmas scene. I love how Toth knocks the tree out to black - the decorations colorfully popping...

(Not facing panels.)

...which he carries through the scene. Great compositions here, as he lowers the POV on the first shot, framing the mistletoe kiss and reaction of the characters in the background with the foreground tree and Christmas gifts. Very natural action and body language in the second, Chip nearly cropped out of frame as we center on the exchange between his wife and partner.

(Not facing panels.)

More spotting of blacks to enliven and ground the talking heads. At times (as with the head in the foreground, right) Toth knocks out a figure/object completely in black, others (as with Chip to his left) he allows a tiny bit of light into the shadow for definition and depth.

The good vibe and news turns dark - wife, Lucy realizes the danger of their situation. Black becomes more dominant - with the background, more harsh shadows, pipe, suspender strap and tree. The cropping of the pipe into the partner's face is vérité, seemingly not staged, also focusing our attention on Lucy's reaction. In the second frame, a somber Lucy is shown in dour profile, offset in the panel, enveloped in the dark tree. Even her red dress and the sparkling decorations can not cheer her mood at the thought of wearing black at her husband's funeral.

(Not facing panels.)

A super page (21, below) in a story where overall page composition is not paramount. More action, dynamism, contrast and variation of shots on this page, and it all works together beautifully.

Close-up of frame 2: Dynamic, expressive, chiaroscuro. There's hardly a holding line here - it's nearly all light & shadow, à la Noel Sickles.

Close-up of frame 3: More of the same - all light and shadow. A 3/4 overhead shot, the image has but three colors. Toth not only has the perspective right, but all the details on the car, even while he didn't worry about pristine rendering. Fine with me. More than fine.

The next page is another winner: Varied shots; silhouettes; decent, minimalistic coloring. Frame 4 is great - love the sweep of action, the folds of the suit bleeding into the dark street. I wish Toth had done more with Baby Face in panel 3 - it could've been more dramatic, perhaps more lighting or a lower angle? As is, it's too static.

With the final two panels, Toth pulls way back, enveloping all in black - the characters float in the darkness, no horizon line, setting the stage for the sparse and striking death scene on the following page....

Toth's rough rendering grounds the truth of this death scene, more poignant, honest and touching than most in any genre. Sam's body slumps in panel 2, Toth cuts to a close-up of Chip in the third, the darkness nearly overtaking everything in the last frame as Sam slips away. The lone word balloon in that final panel stands out against the black, spaced far from Chip have the moment last a beat longer. The tails of the balloons trickle down to each speaker like tears on a face or rain on a window pane.

Next Toth Tuesday, I'll wrap up the The FBI Story with the final third. Good stuff ahead....


Alphabeasts: F is for Fetch

A fetch is a supernatural double or apparition of a living person in Irish folklore, kinda like the German doppelgänger. A sighting of a fetch is generally taken as a portent of its exemplar's looming death, so this mythological creature resonated with me. I've been dealing with these types of thoughts and fears since my accident now over two years ago. The instant this image came to me, I envisioned it as a two-color illo, but I like the straight line art, too: just black & white.... I drew this up in Manga Studio, which I'm loving more each day. Here's my initial rough sketch (below). I inked over it on another layer with the MS pen tool. From the get-go, I saw this as a dark twist on the mirror scene in the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup. I didn't look up a photo or video until after I finished the drawing, but then I've seen it so many times, it's pretty much etched in my brain. Alphabeasts is a 26-week project, a blog where artists of all types and stripes contribute a mythical beastie any old way that suits them, as long as it's a new drawing or sketch of a creature whose name begins with the letter for that week. Check out a cornucopia of crazy creatures by an amazing array of artists at the Alphabeasts archive, and be sure to check in every Monday.


Daughter in Pastel

My daughter, Laura agreed to pose for me today, so I could try my hand at pastels again for the first time in years. I mark it as a failure: I used pastels too large on paper too small; her nose is too large here, face not wide enough. The drawing doesn't do her justice, either - she's prettier than this. Not horrible for a half hour, I guess. I see more coming in the near future....


TothPix: FBI Story

Toth drew adaptations of many movies and TV during his Dell Comics period, including the 1959 flick, The FBI Story starring Jimmy Stewart ( - how cool is that url?!) and Vera Miles. For me, it had been easy to overlook as slapdash and rushed, not one of his gems, but as with just about everything Toth, there's much to appreciate. The more one looks, the more is found.

Four Color Comics #1069 cover (left); and Toth's striking opening splash panel to the comic (right).

Some panels are not colored very well (which goes for the two facing frames below) - the colors are actually distracting to the art and tone,  so I greyed them out for a better read. The low angle in the first shot, Chief Dakins and the door effectively framing the two principals. The body language of Dakins is superb, telling us plenty about the character, Toth cropping most of the large man's body out of frame. The facial expressions in both panels are very nice, especially that tilt of the head in frame 2.

Chief Dakins here reminds me of the characters types Orson Welles played during this period: as Will Varner in The Long, Hot Summer (1958); the Clarence Darrow-inspired lawyer in Compulsion (1959); or Hank Quinlan in his own Touch of Evil (1958). Dakins was actually played by the Mayor of Mayberry, actor Parley Baer.

Offset, asymmetrical compositions with these two panels: The imposing, Hoover-like new director enveloped in black; superb cropping and simple, knock-out coloring convey tone, focus our attentions and tell the story.

A straight-on establishing shot of the humble Hardesty home, the building not centered in the frame. Great patterns, textures, shapes. In the second frame (not an actual facing panel), the hands tell the tale.

I blew out the color for this wide scene featuring militia men, the Klu Klux Klan, a burning cross and chiaroscuro action -

Facing frames. The smoke from the burning cross holds the narration text. Asymmetrical composition again, much of the drawing enveloped in black, dark shadows cast by the flaming cross. I desaturated the second frame as the vehicle on the right was colored, inexplicably a distracting bright red. In this case, the center of interest is actually center-panel, interest added with dirty, crosshatched trash in the foreground left, the sloping sidewalk and cobblestone street, tilted telephone pole. All small bits and tiny details Toth adds to tell us of the neighborhood and to avoid a static layout.

Gotta love the sinks and tubs, littering the foreground! Toth takes what could be a boring panel and makes of it one the most interesting in the story, utilizing shapes, angles, shadow, depth and texture.

First frame: Negative space, solid black, ominous, dotted landscape. Second frame: folds and gesture.
Not facing frames. Great lighting in the first, bravura folds and shadows.

It's apparent Dell or the studio did not place a high priority on likenesses (as do so many adaptations the last few decades). I find that kinda refreshing - Toth could tell the story and not worry about the main character looking like the actor. In the frame on the right we can read the gesture and pose as pure Jimmy Stewart, no doubt completely out of Toth's head. Great shadows here, too, leading the eye to the dude opening the door.

Stewart/Hardesty makes his way into the dark offices. Nice compositions, framing, slight crops. Unassuming but superb panels.

Shadows, folds, dominating stance and positioning over the slumped doofus in the chair. Man, I could stare at those jacket folds all day...

...maybe all week, til the next Toth Tuesday when I'll have more from The FBI Story.


Alphabeasts: E is for Eleionomae

Eleionomae is a Greek creature, a marsh nymph who often misled travelers with their illusions. The illusions constituted images of a traveler's loved ones. These nymphs also lured young, virgin boys and seduced them with their beauty. I had a couple other layouts and concepts for this, but they weren't working out; would take more time. Since I colorized the line work for the image above, here's the line art... Alphabeasts is a 26-week project, a blog where artists of all types and stripes contribute a mythical beastie any old way that suits them, as long as it's a new drawing or sketch of a creature whose name begins with the letter for that week. Check out a cornucopia of crazy creatures by an amazing array of artists at the Alphabeasts archive, and be sure to check in every Monday.


Finn, Jake & Lumpy Space Princess

More Adventure Time sketches, these done while at the MIX show last weekend.

This one I did for a different look with marker and colored pencils on pastel paper...

...and this one with markers, the more traditional look of the show. I know, Lumpy Space Princess has a little crown rather than her forehead star - oh, well! And for some reason I gave Finn a curvy flaming sword.

Once I start drawing these characters, I can't seem to stop or get enough - just like watching the show!


Stolen Scary Monsters?

My artist pal, Brent Schoonover recently found this Halloween CD in his garage, recognizing the art... the cover art I did in '92 for a Look & Find Scary Monsters book.

I've not seen the CD package yet, so am not sure if the same publisher put both out. But more likely the art was appropriated by a third party without permission. In a way it's a tad flattering, but mostly this kinda thing drives artists crazy. In this case the original publisher owns the copyright to the image as I did the book as work for hire. Otherwise...this Hulk would be mad.


Obi Wan

Quick sketch done near the end of the MIX show here in the Twin Cities this past weekend.


TothPix: Heroes

Whenever I read somewhere that superheroes were not a strong suit for Alex Toth, I'm like, "WHA-A-A-AT?!"