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Tag: Alex Toth


TothPix: Happy New Year!

Okay, so I re-wrote the text from this Alex Toth comics panel. Sue me.

Best to you and yours this holiday season and for the coming New Year.


TothPix: Bikini Boom

A couple great stand-along panels/illustrations by Toth, not sure for what he did these, but they're cool, drawn solely with markers by the looks of it. Nice composition, figures, shadows, crosshatch tone, folds, cropping & characters. Super cropping on this second, too. The clothing folds boldly rendered with thick marker - no messing around. The spotted blacks/shadows create interesting shapes and patterns. As is usual, Toth varies his textures (grass, sidewalk, purse, fur, crosshatch skirts) to avoid flatness. The tiny marks and jots in the grass and on the sidewalk also lead the eye through the drawing, mirroring patterns and motifs of other elements.


TothPix: Villains & Bats

Here's a fun one!


TothPix: Young Samson

young Samson 'Nuff said.


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....


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.


TothPix: Heroes

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



TothPix: Character Designs

Alex Toth spent a portion of twenty-five years of his career doing character design and storyboards for TV animation. And for about a decade after artists and animators passed along to each other huge stacks of those designs (and still do). In 1996, Toth friend and fellow animator Darrell McNeil gathered it all together is one big package, the Alex Toth: by Design book. I was fortunate to snap up a copy upon its release, and good thing I did, 'cause the book fetches around $300 nowadays, long out of print. Folks have taken to selling small stacks of portions of what's included in the book on ebay.

From time to time, I'll be scanning and posting some of my favorites from that book. Enjoy!


TothPix: Rude Awakening

Just a few days before Halloween, a perfect time to feature an Alex Toth horror story! Rude Awakening originally appeared in Creepy #7 (Warren), in 1964; Toth was 36. The story was also reprinted in an All Toth issue (Creepy #139). Toth opens the proceedings with a nice rendition of Uncle Creepy, the ever-present narrator. I love Toth's upper/lower-case lettering here, and his signature. Why does a little thing like a nicely-done signature make me so happy?

But it's a pretty stupid story, really. One expects more from writer,  Archie Goodwin (for good reason). It's a trifle, a knocked out circular tale of a guy having hallucinations. There's not much point to it. Despite this, Toth finds interesting ways to tell it, with cool shots like this:

Hmm. "I feel terrible...not sleeping well...nerves shot!"
I can relate! Can't we all? (Or is it just me?)

Toth reinforces the off-kilter sensations of the main character with wild, angled panels throughout. Not one to stoop to tricks and snazzy layouts, Toth does so here only when there's a reason. The panel below displays typical Tothisms: spotted blacks; shadows; varied characters and expressions; foreground elements for framing and depth. There's a visual sweep from left to right as one guys leans to grab Mr. Asher's jacket sleeve, creating horizontal folds. Nice grey washes/tones and textures in this frame and the story in general.

Having done so many comics for Dell using their 6-panel grid (which he came to enjoy), it must've been liberating to go to town and experiment, no more so than in the page below (page 4). Asher is paranoid, nervous and disoriented, being haunted, chased. Toth smartly uses the perspective in panel 1, extending the angles to form the borders of the four panels below it. What cool page composition! All that black negative space is creepy, indeed.

Things don't end well for Asher, as he throws himself out a window, landing in a position not unlike so many characters in Family Guy are shown. Still breathing?! Looks pretty lifeless. But that body has much life!

This weird guy with the Hypno-glasses has been after the poor guy the whole story. Even a 3-story fall couldn't save him.