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Tag: Alex Toth

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TothPix: Reflection Pool

Today's Toth panel is taken from the Eclipso story, Hideout On Fear Island (House of Secrets #64 - DC Comics).

Though typical for Toth, it's striking because his approach is different from how so many artists would handle the same challenge. He obscures the face of the man to focus instead on the reflection he himself sees (and thus, us), again the main action and center of interest of the panel. Many would do a close up of the same shot, or show the face of the man and his reflection, but Toth does so much more.

He's created an wildly unorthodox and interesting composition, showing a thin sliver of shadow and background in the upper right, an huge expanse of negative space in the lower left. And with the curve of the horizon, he brings depth to the environment, showing the man's tracks leading to the small water hole. And though we see the man's body, Toth has foreshortened it in to create interest while keeping it secondary, not a distraction to the reflection.

All of this in service to the story. He doesn't over-dramatize, or show off with perfect feathering or concentrate on a superfluous vista. He just smartly and simply gets to the business at hand - and brilliantly so.

To view or download large scans, visit the Toth fan site.

More next week.

Update: Thanks to my ol' editor and long-time pal, Brian Augustyn for providing the same panel - he just happened to have black and white copies of the self same story:

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TothPix: Ear Pinch

Alex Toth was a master of storytelling, composition, contrast and cropping. All these and more are on display in perhaps my all-time favorite Toth panel:

Now, if I got this script, my first instinct would be to show the boy's face, his reaction, expression and emotion. But Toth instead focuses on the integral action of the panel and with a few simple lines makes the reader really feel the pain, the tug of those cruel fingers on the ear lobe. He zooms way in on the shot, cropping tightly, creating a very interesting composition. And somehow he finds the space to show the stepmother's other arm pointing through to the doorway and the boy's fingers on the lower left, indicating his pain and flinching reaction. And while Toth's line is simple, there's still subtle variation in line width and some different textures on the hat, hair, collar and shading on the woman hands and arms, all used deftly, just enough to break things up and convey surface qualities. The plain coloring (maybe five total - no modeling) actually help this panel, a far cry from the coloring we usually see in comics these days.

In this story, Double Edge (written by Steve Skeates; DC's The Witching Hour #12, 1970), there are plenty of supernatural elements, themes of revenge, power and regret, which Toth handles superbly, Though appropriate and spot-on for the time, the dress and hairstyles in the modern-day scenes appear dated.The page below, however, is timeless and looks like Toth related to the material most in this story.

In the first panel, you can feel the boy's weight on the bowed bed, surrounded by the things most dear to him. In panel 2, we see the threatening stepmother from below, the boy's point of view. In panel 4, we again don't see the boys' face as he leaves reluctantly, and see a glimpse of the stepmother in a interior shot through the doorway - he's forced out of his room, the stepmom invading his space. In frame 5 we see the boy's face, but small, in the background and cropped, as Toth focuses on a close up of the talisman, the most important object in the story. Then he pulls back for the final panel to establish place and context.

In this sequence, each panel works well on its own, and the full page is complete and wholly integrated, setting up the rest of the narrative. Because he doesn't show the boy's face much, I wonder if he did this purposefully so readers could relate universally. But I also wonder if it creates a distance? He's pulling us in emotionally in one manner, but other artists' approaches could be completely different, but also emotionally powerful.

These questions dog me, as I view the page as a masterpiece of comics storytelling, but though I'd seek to emulate it in my own work, I wonder for all its strengths if there would be advantages to handling the material another way?

Update: A link to this story, Double Edge annotated by Toth himself, seems to be broken currently. Reading through Toth's comments on his own work, you'll find he's hard on himself. And on the particular page I focus on here, one that I love so much, he barely had a thing to say!

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TothPix: Torpedo 1936

Alex Toth is easily my favorite comic book artist.

I've bumped into the occasional artist who just doesn't get all the hubbub about Toth's work, but most I've met admire and/or emulate his talent. He died in 2006, never having been firmly identified with one character, but rather left us a tremendous body of work that spanned from the earliest days of superhero comics 'til the '80s, through some of the best romance comics drawn, stacks of TV and adventure adaptations, years of character designs in the animation, the creation of Space Ghost, some top notch war and horror comics for DC and Warren in the '70s, tons of short stories and his superb mature work on Torpedo 1936 and his own Bravo for Adventure.

His art is no nonsense, and "less is more," stripping out all but what is essential, his storytelling and composition clear yet daring, his draftsmanship rough but elegant.

I've spent a lifetime pouring over his work, lucky if a bit sticks here and there. So, starting this week on my blog, I'll feature a Toth panel, page or illo with a few thoughts about what I think made him so great.

This panel (above) is from one of my all-time favorite stories Toth drew, the first Torpedo 1936 story, a gangster series written by Sanchez Abuli, drawn in 1981. One can see at a glance, how he's cropped and framed to panel, spotted his blacks to lend weight and establish composition. A few strokes capture perfectly the character, mood and expression of the bald mob boss, as well as the black tie & buttons, flower, hanky and cigarette. Just a few well-placed marks add all the texture necessary and to keep the image from coming off too flat.

Now, this is not my favorite panel from the story, but I've highlighted it here as others would give away too much of the story. It's brilliant. For context, the full page is below.

Toth drew only one more Torpedo 1936 story, begging off as the scripts, he said were becoming too violent. It's apparent that with the second story, as good as it is, he was losing interest; it does not reach the level of this first story. Though he left, the series went on to retain the high standard Toth set with the art chores taken over by the astounding Jordi Bernet. These books have recently been repackaged in hardcover format, having been out of print for many years.

For more by and about this amazing artist, you can't beat the first and Official Alex Toth Website, which features stories annotated by Toth himself, tons of art, a Toth "page of the day," fan art and forums, and the latest news. Whether a long-standing Toth aficionado or newbie, make sure to browse my other Tothpix posts, and the Resources links at the right sidebar.