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Tag: Alex Toth

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TothPix: The Land Unknown • Part 3

For part 3, I'll cover story pages 6-9 of Alex Toth's adventure adaptation of  The Land Unknown! As always, one can read the story in its entirety on line.

During the next section of the piece, the crew surveys the warm pocket within the Antarctic, tries and end run around a storm, get hit by a flying object and are forced into a rough landing. Some members of the party deal with repairs to the 'copter while others take in the warm climes and surroundings.

In this first panel of page 6, the 'copter drops down for a closer look at the terrain. The panel and composition couldn't be simpler, but how interesting and effective! Toth splits the frame with a diagonal, balancing the land and snow with mirrored shapes, actually further clarified by the basic flat color (only four: land, 'copter, snow & shadow).

This next frame probably looks better in the original art, but the reprinted black & white version doesn't much change the effect from this color version. After a few close-ups in the 'copter, Toth employs another long shot (the last frame from the same page) which establishes their position and predicament: finding a way through or past the storm. The simple colors work well here, too (again but four), especially the snowy crags in the foreground in deeper blue, complete with rim lighting from the lightning. Not bad for an old four-color comic for kids on crappy newsprint!

Their trip back to the ships is stymied when the blades hit a flying object, obvious to the reader as a Pterodactyl. Though striking in B&W, Toth no doubt designed this frame to read as silhouettes against a single, soupy color of the fog/storm, save for the white/yellow at the point of impact. Very cool.

That page also features the panel which I've covered on this blog previously, in which the pilot has trouble steering.

The next page (eight) is the weakest of the story - Toth could have done more with it, especially the final three panels as the 'copter approaches and lands. The color on the final panel actually improves on the B&W art, separating the foreground, middle-and-background. And still, I love Toth's bold, cartoony sound effects.

Over that page, the next and throughout warm colors are applied to contrast with the subdued, toned-down and cool colors of the first quarter of the story, making the reader nearly feel the heat, none more effectual than in this panel...

Check out Part 4 for some brilliant pages and panels as the crew encounters - DINOSAURS! For an overview and insta-links to all separate other 13 parts of this blog series, visit our handy Land Unknown page.

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TothPix: Playing on Paper

Later in life, when Toth wasn't drawing comics or designing characters for animation, he continued to sketch and doodle, sometimes on postcards for friends and fans, sometimes a "thank you" drawing, but most times filling sheet after sheet of whatever came out of his head. He drew known superheroes like The Shadow, The Batman and Plastic Man, a wide variety of people of all types, periods, shapes and sizes. He'd play with graphics in a series of panels seemingly non sequitur, a visual and conceptual stream of consciousness. And he'd break down faces, bodies and expressions to their simplest lines and shapes, as if drawing like a child again, but with years of skill, experience and observation brought to bear.

These are glimpses into the workings of the mind of the artist, letting go of artifice and ego, stripping away the superfluous, finding truth, all while playing on paper.

Some of these can be found in the splendid Alex Toth Doodle Book - recommended not only for the Toth scratchings, but also his thoughts on art, tools, comics, culture, style and substance.

Now pick up your favorite marker, or try a new brush and unleash your mind - point that pencil, pirouette and play on paper!

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TothPix: Trouble Steering

Though the pilot depicted in this comic book panel is having trouble managing his craft, artist Alex Toth is in full control of his. Toth's line is bold and assured, the from-below angle conveying the drama of a tense situation for his adventure hero. The diagonals of the windows, chair, pilot's leg and arm give us a sense of being off-kilter, out of control. The rough and bold rendering of the folds in clothing add urgency and immediacy - the reader feels what the pilot feels. Bravo!

• • •

We all feel out of control at times and have trouble steering through life. Toth certainly did, in his childhood, dealings with clients/editors and interactions with fans and colleagues. Despite this, he produced an incredible body of work, at the drawing board during and through difficult times. No doubt drawing for himself and on the occasional postcard was for him a solace for many years after he lost his wife. He found comfort in doodling... and died at his drawing board.

I literally had trouble steering more than two years ago now, unable to make a turn, sliding on a snowmobile sideways into a tree, breaking many bones. I was fortunate to have not been hurt worse, lucky to be alive. Still, after 27 months, I'm still having trouble steering sometimes: with work; as a parent and husband; with daily habits and activities of life, with my creativity; even in my car. But like this pilot, like all of us, I hold onto that stick or steering wheel for dear life, zig-zagging and maneuvering as best I can, making a serpentine line for my destination and goal. It may take me a while to get there at times, but I make it. Step by step, action by action. And when I take a bad turn or am going the wrong direction, with a little help from my family and friends, I right the ship and get 'er back on track.

Art like this gives me inspiration and the energy to strive to be better, to go for more.

• • •

If anyone knows the source of this panel, please clue me in - I've no idea. It sure shows a Milt Caniff/Frank Robbins influence. Good stuff, Maynard!

Update - June 2, 2011

In Comments, fellow Toth fan and superb artist, Roberto Zaghi answers my question and clears up some confusion about the panel I originally presented. I should have caught it, but the art I posted was a copy of Toth's panel, and very well done at that - sure fooled me! I let it get past me, even though it didn't have a word balloon - d'oh! That copied/covered panel is now at the bottom of this post.

Everything I wrote about that panel still stands, Toth's original inked panel now at the top of the page, above. As Roberto points out,  that panel is from The Land Unknown (Four Color 845, 1957, Dell Comics), but also reprinted in The Alex Toth Reader (Pure Imagination). Fortunately, I possess a copy of that book, so was able to scan the actual Toth panel for inclusion here. I also have the story in color on disk, so grabbed that and cleaned it up. No doubt the red knock-out color on the pilot is shocking and corresponds to the action depicted, but the coloring here and for the story overall is not very well done. I much prefer the black and white version of The Land Unknown from the book linked to above. I'll do another post about that story in the near future, as it features tons of incredible Toth panels.

Thanks for the correction, Roberto. I should've gotten it right in the first place!

Update 2 - June 17, 2011

I tracked down the source of this image, done as an exercise by superb cartoonist, Tonci Zonjic. I should've done my due diligence from the get-go. Check out ToZo's comics & illustration and/or follow him on Twitter.

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TothPix: Only Gossip...?

A sweet panel by Toth from Gun Glory (1957 - Dell Movie Western No. 846) of a western gal gossiping about gossip.

The door and frame are perfectly vertical, no tricky angles needed when Toth leads the viewer to the lady's eye with the shadow on the door. Even the tail of her word balloon continues the diagonal, as well as her eyebrow, accentuating that through line. Her face is cropped for interest and to highlight the pretty lady is spying, tho with no ill intent. The rendering is simple, almost crude, the texture on the door contrasting with the clean, open space of her face. Toth doesn't draw the edge of the door, rather letting the viewers eye finish the picture.

Gosh, this is good.

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TothPix: Glory Boys

The first two panels from Glory Boys (DC - Our Army at War #235, 1971) are a great intro to an anti-war story, focusing on boys' adventure play. In both frames, Toth sets us square in the center of the action, first looking past the game pieces to Jeremy at play. There's great depth in this shot, what with the just-off-center game piece in silhouette (pushing the object to the foreground), the various other playing pieces in the middle, Jeremy's face interestingly cropped and framed by that main figurine and the horse soldier he holds.

In frame two, we're in the middle of the action again, as if we're one of the boys rushing through the tall grass, wooden sword in hand. Toth places the viewer again at a low angle, achieving tremendous depth, movement and action. The wooden swords in the foreground direct our eye to the main figures, also framed by the nice angles of the ramshackle shield and other swords. Toth's loose rendering of the grass forms the hill over which they'll meet, cropping background figures behind the hill. More rolling hills in the background provide further depth. It's a great composition with the sweeping curves, angled weapons and the fluid poses of the boys and folds of their clothing. Most interesting is the cropping of the boys at top center, making the composition asymmetrical and positively post-modern.

This shot has always reminded me of another great picture of boys at play, American painter Winslow Homer's Snap the Whip.

This is Homer's greatest painting of his early period, and while one can feel the tension, tug and imbalance of the boys at their game, the composition is largely formal, centered, symmetrical and balanced. Now, at the time, choosing subjects as pedestrian as this was considered informal and improper, not the stuff of fine art. In his own way, in 1872, Homer was pushing the boundaries, depicting life as he knew it, as fine a subject for art as ever there was. We take this type of picture for granted now; it may even seem quaint and sentimental, but I find it honest and true. Kinda like Twain's Huck Finn.

Still, Toth's simple comic book panel is more daring and challenging than the admittedly earlier fine painting. Not too shabby.

I should mention that as Winslow Homer moved forward shortly after to even more mature work, he loosened up and took compositional risks, laying the groundwork for most American painters and illustrators such as N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell and more. As evidenced by the brilliant How Many Eggs (below), Homer became not only capable but proficient at just the type of asymmetrical and bold composition at which Toth and others later excelled.

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TothPix: Space Mates

Tell me these aren't a great couple of panels! Interesting cropping and expressions in the first frame, nice angles and texture in this semi-close-up inside a spaceship. And in the next, outside, the ship in silhouette, framing Space Girl in the background.

I can't help it, but those two Space Mates remind of another pair...

Probably done around the same time (or decade, at least...) that sidekick sure reminds me of Space Porky! Or is it just me...?

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TothPix: Space Page

What a doozy of a page from Alex Toth!

A gorgeous page in space. The top tier we're inside the craft. I love the inking, the spacesuits, the exaggerated features, shadows, the over-the-shoulder shots, the third shot from below, smoke bellowing form the foreground.

The middle semi-splash panel establishes the scene outside the ship, giving us context and catching us up on the action. Just look at those figure-8 and circular swoops of the trail of one of the ships and Saturn's ring. The circles and curves create a wild, spinning composition, as one of the ships makes a straight shot through it all from the left like an arrow, the background awash in a glittery sparkle of stars.

In the lower tier, Toth presents the action in the simplest terms possible, so readers can follow the story easily. But the drawing and inking is no-nonsense, the chiaroscuro separation within the panel compositions nearly abstract. Pretty stuff.

Outlaws of Space, inked by John Celardo, has been reprinted in Setting the Standard, a large, restored collection of Toth romance, war, horror and sci-fi comics.

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TothPix: Three Volumes

Today's Toth post is made easy for me by Heidi MacDonald, so all I have to do is link. On her blog, The Beat, she shares as many details as we now have that the forthcoming book on Toth, Genius Isolated will be expanded to three volumes! Click the links or image for more info.

How come I feel like it's already Christmas?!

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TothPix: A Plethora of Posts, A Load of Links

Since starting this blog series on master comics artist, Alex Toth, I've spent some time online seeking out more of his work, and in doing so have come across a host of posts on other blogs, articles and essays on comics web sites and online forums. At the time of Toth's death (2006), the official Toth Fans site (still the best and deepest resource) was really the only game in town, save the rare collector who shared their Toth original art, but since then more and more folks are discovering or sharing love of Toth, scanning and posting entire stories, analysis, or transcribing Toth's notes and annotations on his work. Here are some favorites:

In sussing out more material for my posts on Toth's Zorro, I stumbled upon a review by William R. Hancock at amazon.com, which made reference to a Paul Revere story Toth had drawn just previous to his Zorro work. The panels above are just a taste of the brilliance one will find at John Glenn Taylor's Easily Mused blog, where he makes available the entire patriotic story. Enjoy! I'll be doing a more in-depth analysis of this piece on my blog later.

James Romberger recently posted an insightful article, Cursing the Darkness: The Last Horrors of Alex Toth at The Comics Journal site. And you'll find a new Kubert vs. Toth essay at his The Hooded Utilitarian. Smart, well researched stuff.

The Cloud 109 blog has covered a few Toth stories, including the romance tale, Lonesome For Kisses, focusing on nuances of expression (above). Also featured is analysis of the Kurtzman/Toth war story collaboration, F-86 Sabre Jet (below), complete with a side-by-side comparison of  black & white and color versions of the story. Survival transcribes Toth's annotations on the story for easier reading, and the short Dirty Job is one powerful read. I hope Cloud 109 does more on Toth, and make sure to check out more on one fine blog.

Monte Wilson features a few choice pages, and a couple complete stories, one romance and one war story at his site. And to finish things off, you may want to save some time for the infamous exchange between Toth and Steve Rude, who'd sent the pencils for his Jonny Quest story done for the Comico series. I've provided links to both a forum which includes Toth's hand-written notes, and a cleaner, easier-to-read version, which features responses from Rude. In the end both artists have points, but one wonders if Rude ever regretted asking the infamously curmudgeonly Toth for his assessment?!

With the coming release of Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth by Bruce Canwell and Dean Mullaney (Dec. 7, 2010), and other similar books, we Toth fans will have plenty to sink our teeth into.

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TothPix: Chasing Zorro

Following the Toth Zorro page I covered last week is a portion of the next - a chase!

In this panel (3), after establishing  in the first two panels (not shown) who's riding and who's chasing, Toth crops in tightly, again placing the reader in the middle of the action. Can't get simpler than this, really, with a close-up on Zorro in the foreground and the silhouetted figures riding in the distance. But how bold and sophisticated! He spots his black areas on the hat, mask and in shadow, breaking the frame almost exactly down the center vertically, but slightly askew. Contrasting from the solid dark shapes, he varies his line work nicely. There's no stylistic swagger here, no showing off. The texture of the hat, cape, cord around the crown, and mustache are rendered as dictated by form.

I love how he cropped Zorro's right eye from our view to focus on the left as he peers behind him, an effect enhanced by simple but careful toning he added later.

For the lower half of the page, Toth pulls back again to set up the closing chase and coming leap. Almost entirely in silhouette, this sequence takes place at night, starkly moonlit. That small sliver of rock on the right side of the long, horizontal panel make clear Zorro's destination, and the precarious nature of his situation. The leap itself is dynamic and sweeping, but grounded in reality. Toth cleverly merges Tornado's hind legs to the rock from which he jumps, bits of loose dirt and stone falling, when many artists might have been tempted towards the fantastic, showing horse and rider spread fully in the air. Toth's choices make us feel the gravity, make the leap truly fantastic.

The final panel is again in silhouette, but Toth leaves bits of light show on horse, rider, cape and rock to add depth and prevent a flat, static, graphic image. The following riders and horses rear up and stop, while we see the triumphant Zorro and Tornado taunting on the other side. Classic.

Next week: a break from Zorro, as I point you to plenty of other peerless posts on Master Toth!