Fargot Password? / Help

Tag: Alex Toth


TothPix: Witches in Black & White

Another Halloween approaches, so we feature a Toth page and panel in black and white of the Witching Hour witches!

It sure looks as though he lettered and inked these himself. I like how he varies the word balloon shapes here. Swirls of hair, folds of ragged cloaks and crazy cropping create clever compositions weaving our eye about the frames.

Nice action, spotted blacks and squiggly textures and fun stars in that last panel (above). Figures, folds and the broomstick direct us sharply through the frame. Boiling Bats of Beelzebub, indeed!

Great design in the final frame (below) as Toth varies textures, shapes and angles in this creepy close-up!


TothPix: On Inking

I've read this dozens of times - can't get enough.

Toth's right, I think. I'd been sucked into a myriad of inking/rendering techniques and tricks, trying over the years to strip my work of the stylized garnishments. But they crop up all the time - a tough habit to break!

Back to the drawing board/screen...!


TothPix: Zorro

zorro_3 'Nuff said.


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.



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!


TothPix: Ear Ache Effect

My Toth book review is further delayed as I'm stricken with a horrible ear ache which has really knocked me for a loop the last several days. At least I'm on antibiotics and have ear drops now, so I'm on the mend, but still a mess. The Ear Ache Effect!

A Toth panel from Eclipso's Amazing Ally (House of Secrets #63)

And on top of that, I've got a bad cold, too, so I'm drippy, sniffly, coughing, nose-blowy, weak and wobbly.

Another Toth panel from Eclipso's Amazing Ally (House of Secrets #63)

This too shall pass, yes?



TothPix: Wiped Out!

With additional work coming in this week I'm topsy-turvy, in over my head, wiped out! Completion and posting of my Genius, Isolated review will have to wait til next week, if then. I'm not exactly sure what awaits me the next seven days, so... This Toth panel is from Surfside Saga, one of the earlier stories in the One For the Road collection, reprinting all the stories the artist wrote and drew for Peter Millar's Hot Rod magazines in the mid-'60s. The stories show a cartoonier, MADder side of Toth.


TothPix: Under the Gun

I'm up to my neck, under the gun, behind the eight ball, in a tight spot - way too much work to complete and post my review of Genius, Isolated. Probably next week.

This one one sweet Toth panel from his Zorro run: Sergeant Garcia is caught unawares.Most of Garcia's head and figure are in shadow, as is the gun and finger on the trigger.  This creates the highest contrast  with the gun, so the center of interest, also focusing attention on Garcia's reaction/expression. The gun is cropped, Garcia's head tight to the right side of the frame. So, the point at which the tip of the gun meets Garcia's neck is at lower-center panel, though in shadow, obscured.

All lines and curves of this composition leads one's eye to that center point (as shown below).

Another Zorro page is analyzed here and Zorro sketches here.


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.


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.