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Tag: Alex Toth


TothPix: Faces

Last week, artist Ashley Holt and I and others got into a lively debate about Alex Toth's work on his Facebook Wall. He issued the challenge, thus:

"I think Alex Toth was an incredibly talented artist, but his page layouts consist mostly of incredibly lazy decisions. All those silhouettes and extremely crowded close-ups.... He avoided faces so much his characters never really came to life. Anybody wanna fight about it."

Well, I don't know about a fight, but I linked to these several Toth posts I've been doing in response to show how and why I disagreed. Well, Ashley tore into my posts with a fervor and we had a fun exchange. To read it all, you may have to friend him on Facebook, which is recommended, if he'll have you. He's a great cartoonist and a brilliant caricaturist. And while I admit he's got a point or two about specific panels or Toth tendencies, I submit below for your observation and approval a couple dozen faces Toth drew which put the lie to Ashley's assertion.


TothPix: Space Ghost

Starting in 1962, Alex Toth began working in the field of animation with the semi-animated Space Angel. He then began a long stint with Hanna-Barbera Studios, doing character creation and design and storyboards on shows such as Super Friends, The Herculoids, and Birdman. But perhaps he's best known for the creation and design of the Space Ghost show and characters.

Toth's design for the character are strong, sleek and simple. It looks like he drew these straight with a  marker, fully formed, like they were traced directly from his brain, even if it probably ain't so. This first crack isn't the Ghost we all came to know, but most of the elements are there already:

Wisely, he simplified the design further, adding the black hood which gives his face/head a dark, mysterious look, while he drops the gloves, boots and tights, leaving the rest of his costume largely white which conveys ghost. I love the triangle chest logo, and that Toth moved the power ray buttons from the belt to metal sleeves - it looks better and is more functional for the character when in action.

And these various head shots show how Toth thought through how the hero would look from any angle, still keeping things as simple as possible for animation. Unfortunately, even though it was one of the best animated TV shows at the time, animators usually didn't follow Toth model sheets closely enough, placing his eyes too high on his head.

The rest of the team is rounded out by teen sidekicks Jan and Jace, as the always fun Blip - loved that little monkey when I was a kid!

Though the show was among the best of its time, the cartoons and villains are kinda silly viewing them now years later, but it was a show designed for kids, after all! Here's the weekly intro:

Many of the full cartoon episodes can be found at YouTube, so give 'em a look-see.

Extra - Check out a short Space Ghost comic drawn by Toth hisself!


TothPix: Bird and...Egg?

As I mentioned in my first post of this series on the art of Alex Toth, he worked in a variety of styles and genre. He handled adventure, romance, war, superhero, horror and humorous material, among other types. And whether he was drawing something more realistic or exaggerated, rough or cartoony, he handled it all following the same premise of keeping things simple; using only the lines that are essential. Strip out the rest.

Towards that end, he doodled in sketchbooks and on scads of letter-sized sheets, with no penciling, directly with a marker, just so he would edit himself and force himself to think while he drew, before and as he lay down lines.

The cartoon strip below is an excellent example. The drawing in this strip couldn't be more simple and stripped-down. And with the easy give-and-take between this bird and "egg" and choice of three punchlines, it'd be easy to dismiss as inconsequential and a trifle. But it takes a lifetime of drawing and the instincts of a master to design the bird as he has, and to convey so much with so little in the body language.

It's astounding, really, how he chooses and puts down these lines, obviously having seen them in his head before he put marker to paper. Notice as well where he does not connect lines to convey movement and depth, how he creates a rhythm within this short piece and the egg/ball bounces and sticks to and fro, and as the bird observes it go here and there. What is that thing, really - an egg? A tennis ball? Some kinda yin-yang sphere? All of those, I say...

I scanned this cartoon from the now fairly rare 1995 book published by Kitchen Sink Press. More Toth doodles can be found in the superb book from 2006, Dear John, The Alex Toth Doodle Book, published by Octopus Press.

Next: Space Ghost!


TothPix: Conan Pin-ups

1980, Alex Toth did a series of pin-up/poster illustrations for the interior pages of presumably The Savage Sword of Conan magazine. For all of these he used a black & white tonal wash technique which served the material and Toth well, and suited the magazine. All are strong pieces, though I've a favorite.

This first, above, shows Conan coolly walking the gauntlet of a complex slash of angled swords in the foreground. In the background, throws the two other characters and drapery in semi-shadow, adorned by interesting dress and decoration. The secondary figures are prominent and backlit, but de-emphasized by the mid-tone wash and cropping. The curves of the stone and drapery lead the viewer's eye into the picture and towards Conan, as does the criss-cross of swords. Despite the complexity of the composition, the eye is drawn to Conan's face, by high contrast, the sword behind his head, and the dark strap across his upper body. Beautiful piece.

This second is the weakest of the five, but I still like it for the use of negative space and shapes, and weird, large-toothed egghead creatures.

The third (above) is bathed more in shadow, a strong action shot, made all the moreso by Toth use of cropping and angles. Conan's enemy has the upper hand and leverage in the struggle, leaning in on the barbarian, and ready to strike, as we can see from his sword in hand on the upper right. Both faces of the primary characters are obscured, so we focus more on their violent battle. Conan has dropped his sword, creating a strong parallel angle with figures, and though he's at a disadvantage, we feel his evident strength will see him through.

Like the second piece, we don't see the attackers, but rather their weapons. The dry-brushed slashes above indicate a fire below, creating a dramatic underlighting with which Toth emphasizes the weight of the stone and Conan's strength, which also throws a shadow across Conan's face, making him once again the center of interest. He's peppered from below by pesky arrows, which zing through the foreground, mid- and background, even over the title Toth has place atop, creating graphic depth throughout the piece. Toth uses some well-placed negative areas: on the lower left, to show the debris and where the stone is headed; and just below his hand, so we see clearly how Conan is lifting the large rock.

This last is perhaps my favorite, as Toth has created a clever quilt of black and white shapes with the weird giant jury and their dark hoods. Their faces are left a stark white with a minimal use of unvarying line for their features, while Conan is set apart, modeled and toned with a grey wash.

With each piece, Toth set himself a graphic and compositional challenge, approaching the material in a way no one else would. These are fine examples to show what made him such a unique comic book artist and illustrator.

Next week: Cartoony Toth.


TothPix: Red Fox

For the entry this week, I've chosen two panels from Mask of the Red Fox (House of Mystery #187, DC Comics, 1970).

I love especially the first of the two, the composition asymmetrical and off balance, showing us those black & white birches in the foreground from where the fox emerged. This panel is colored well, with just a tiny bit of warm an cool colors on the trees so the contrast isn't too extreme and they don't draw too much attention. The simple outline of the leaning fox gives the frame motion, and the spot of orange surrounded by yellow and green pops the fox, the center of interest.

In panel two, the red fox is in the foreground this time, and in silhouette, coming out of the tall grass. I darkened the castle slightly with a violet to help it pop (it was colored a blue not dissimilar from the sky). These are just a couple nice panels from a boldly rendered story, which you can read with Toth's annotations at the link above, as usual at the wonderful Toth Fans site. Unfortunately, it looks like the image links for pages 4 & 5 are broken, which contain the panels featured here.

Just for grins, I tried my best to blow out the color from these two frames, just to get an idea of Toth's black & white original art.


TothPix: Gun Glory

In 1957, Toth drew an adaptation of the movie western, Gun Glory, featuring Stewart Granger and Rhonda Fleming. It appeared in Dell Comics' self titled one-shot ("Four Color" #846). Toth did many movie and TV adaptations during the late '50s and early '60s, including Zorro, Roy Rogers, The Time Machine, Sea Hunt, 77 Sunset Strip, No Time For Sergeants and The FBI Story, among many others (some of which I'll cover in future installments).

Toth was a master of spotting blacks, well known and emulated for his shadow work and use of silhouettes, and this page from Gun Glory is a prime example.


He doesn't do it as a time saver, or 'cause he was lazy, or on every page or panel, but when it suited his purposes in creating a mood and telling the story. This scene takes place out in the open American West, with the sun high in the sky, so the light colors and stark shadows are appropriate.

He sets the scene with the rifleman leaving his horse atop a ridge, skipping down for position. Panel two is the true establishment frame, a brilliant bird's eye shot that gives us his location in relation to the rider below. In panel three, though entirely in silhouette, Toth indicates everything the reader needs to know with the gesture of the buck of the horse and turn of the rider as warning shots are fired, all while striking strong angles through the middle of the frame and page. A close up follows to show us the character, jittery, then it's back to another silhouette as the rider regains his defiance and bravado, continuing on. In the last panel, Toth leaves us anxious to turn the page and find out how this conflict is resolved.

Each frame works on its own, and the page composition is superb, all angles and triangles, positive and negative shapes, with cowboy's guns blazing along craggy rock. But my favorite panels are the second and sixth: both simple and clear, yet strong and complex.

Take a look at the whole page at a smaller size, and it's apparent how Toth expertly leads the eye of the reader from panel to panel, through the page, as indicated on the right by my bold red line:

Just fantastic.

I'm unsure whether these are particularly great scans, or if Dell's printer was extremely attentive in laying down a heavy black ink during printing. Toth seems to have drawn this story and others from the period so they'd carry and look good regardless of how well they were colored or printed. In this case, the coloring is kept simple, naturalistic and subdued, which supports well enough the art and story.

I grabbed the art for the entire story from the Toth Fans web site. To read Gun Glory in its entirety, email me directly a request to, and I'll send you all the pages in a zipped folder.


Toth Pix: A Rolling Stone

This week's focus on Toth features a story as far as I know has never seen print. Apparently done for the American Forces Press Service, as stated in the editor's note atop page one. I'm posting the entire eight-page story in sequence, which features a smokin' Jimi Hendrix-type character acting as troubadour narrator. I'll highlight and comment on favorite panels below following the story.

Now, that's not a story that breaks new ground, or is a complete original, but it rings true, does the job for the intended audience, and within it, Toth displays typical moments of brilliance. It's drawn with bold line and spotted blacks, and thought it may seem too simple to some, the drawing is all there, and Toth conveys everything he needs to.

For all his penchant to crop and focus on certain actions and items, he never forgets to establish the characters and place. In this shot, he brings a lot of humor and individuality to this character. With a few comics devices like the "Mail Call" box, sound effect, icons and thought balloon, he tells us a lot about this guy.

Ah, remember the days when we used to look forward to and receive letters via "snail mail?" I'm all for new technology and modes of communication, nearly addicted to blogs, email and social sites, but gosh, I miss the days of sending and receiving an old-fashioned postcard or letter.

In the panel below, I love the natural pose and body language of this superior. It tells us though he's taking care of his business, he's fairly casual about this situation, even as it may seem or be of dire consequence to the main character.

And then in these two panels, once characters and conflicts are made evident, Toth pulls his neat trick of cropping out those very characters to focus instead, sometimes in extreme close-up the objects most at hand. Superlative storytelling.

You can see what I mean here in the next four panel sequence, where he gives us two panels that are essentially "talking heads," but without them, in the next two following panels we'd be pretty lost. In those frames, he again crops in tight to give us great detail on the process of accessing the worth of the stones/diamonds.

And in a near-final frame, Al salvages a little something for himself, while getting a little satisfaction in taking his crude chum, again Toth having no problem cropping both character to go close up on the ring. Nice stuff.

The editor's note makes mention that this story was to appear in print sometime in a Toth collection, but I've never seen it anywhere but online. Fortunately, the scans are great. I'm not sure when this story was drawn, but I'd guess the late '70s-early '80s, given the style and content.


TothPix: The Crushed Gardenia

The Crushed Gardenia is one of Alex Toth's most famous and lauded comics stories he drew. Published in 1953, it's a morality tale, a slice of stark crime fiction that appeared only about a year before Fredric Wertham had published his Seduction of the Innocent, claiming that comics led to juvenile delinquency. This short story puts the lie in part to Wertham's claim and remains largely a timeless piece, contemporary and modern in almost every sense even nearly sixty years later.

For me, it is a prime template for how comics of certain genre should be drawn and told, an approach and style I seek to emulate. To read the story in its entirety, click the title above, if you'd like, before moving on to my highlights and analysis.

I've cropped the opening splash panel which runs vertically along the entire height of the page. Toth's line is simple and flat, creating an angular and sharp look to the art, though there is a flow and sweep to some of the elements and composition. The victims lay foreshortened on the ground (not easy to draw, but Toth makes it look easy), surrounded by the petals of the title.

This noir romance is peopled with all types of interesting characters, not least of which is the troubled and dangerous Johnny Faber. Every character in this story is distinct and unique, whether ruffian, psychiatrist, warden, policeman, shopkeeper, girlfriend, father or rival. Such care Toth takes in making sure each player is an individual, whether a main character or appearing in but a single panel, and all for an eight-page comic book story.

Though we see plenty of Johnny and his cohorts, when it comes to a specific violent action, Toth employs a technique I've pointed out in previous posts, to focus on the detail rather than show pain, emotion and expression on a character's face. That he saves for surrounding frames...

...such as this panel, only the second following, showing Johnny in all his rage and fury:

I particularly love this following tier of panels, introducing his girlfriend, Ellie and her father. He establishes the garage in the simplest of terms, indicating the car with open hood, most of the rest of the panel in shadow, yet it's immediately clear where we are. Often throughout this story, Toth let's white areas run into each other, as well as black, creating interesting shapes and compositions, letting the eye of the viewer finish the picture and fill in the details.

And yet, in the sequence above, with deft use of expression and body language he conveys a familiarity, tenderness and love between Ellie and her father, Sam.

Of course, Johnny's jealous and brutal nature get the best of him, as we see in this panel, all sharp edges, swaths of black, twisted angles, lights askew and chaotic violence.

Johnny can't control or outrun his bad behavior and attitude, let alone his lip, and it begins to catch up to him. He can't escape some payback and the consequences in another striking tier of panels. In frame one, Sam has had enough, but is still calm and collected, in charge of the situation, dominating Johnny who is relegated to the lower right of the frame, cropped. In frame two here, Johnny is still relatively small in the panel, enveloped in black, off balance. And in frame three, Toth chooses another unorthodox shot, showing just Johnny's legs and feet as he leaves the garage, humbled yet defiant.

And yet more violence, as Johnny is confronted by Ellie's new beau. What a shot! We don't see the face of either fighter, as Toth instead uses the folds of clothing and a flopping tie to convey the movement and action.

And in these two panels we see some great emotive work on the three primary characters, setting up the conflict and climax, even as the narration indicates a passage of time:

I couldn't pass up including these seemingly inconsequential panels (below), just because of Toth's brilliant use of point-of-view and sharp angles. He establishes the setting in a 3/4 overhead view on Sam's house as Ellie's date arrives, cutting back to inside where the background angles play off the previous panel and work within the composition of the whole page. All the info conveyed graphically by Toth here helps tell the story, but is subordinate to and in support of Ellie, the center of interest, as she places the Gardenia on her lapel.

The story inevitably ends in more violence and tragedy, as we'd been shown in the first panel of the story. Johnny is all shadow, blending in with the trees and darkness around him as he attacks his victims in cold blood:

The story wraps shortly from there, things not ending well for Johnny, go figure.

The Crushed Gardenia appeared re-colored in the early '80s in a reprint series called Seduction of the Innocent, playing off and tweaking Wertham on the title of his book. Those colored pages were annotated by Toth himself, a fascinating look at the thought process of the artist. He also goes into detail about his approach and use of drawing tools (he filed down a Speedball B-6 nib for lettering and drawing). He's a bit too kind about the recoloring, which I'm not particularly fond of, preferring there'd be a more flat color look over Toth's work here, rather than the hand-painted style and process that was the rage in the early '80s. The story has recently been reprinted with the original color as it first appeared in Who Is Next? (cover above) in 1953, in Setting the Standard, a comprehensive collection of Toth's work for that publisher in the early '50s. The colors are rudimentary, so I'm glad for the reproduction from the original art in the first big Toth volume, Genius, Isolated. Do yourself a favor and pick up that book - great bio and lotsa superb Toth photos and art!



TothPix: The Fox - Shadows and Stars

Continuing the focus on Toth's Fox stories for Red Circle, this is actually the splash page to the first one he did, reintroducing a character from the Golden Age of heroes. And while Toth drawing, craftsmanship and skills are far beyond what was done when the character was first introduced, his sensibilities are firmly rooted in that era. It's almost as if he's drawing us back with him to his childhood, crafting an adventure that is no doubt more a memory of what he loved about heroes and comics, but better than what he actually read.

In the opening paragraph at the bottom of the page, the creator and storyteller, Toth is communication directly with the reader, breaking down the fourth wall, before he rebuilds it and throws us into the story. He's telling us exactly what his intentions are, what he holds and values as good comics, characters and stories, and he does it typical Toth style and panache.

Toth's striking use of black and white in this signature chiaroscuro panel of The Fox shows how he's blurred line and form, allowing much of the figure and background to be determined by how shadows fall across them. The Fox is at one with environment, and yet Toth finds a way to separate somewhat The Fox from the background. Though that's made even more apparent in the color version of the same panel below, there's something pure and dramatic in the black and white line art.

But for Toth, good hero comics is not all shadows. It's goofy characters who utter snappy dialogue in overlapping word balloons, slapstick action and comedy, all awash in a cascade of floating stars.

This story first appeared in color on newsprint in Black Hood #2 (1983), also appearing in Manuel Auad's Toth, Black & White (1999).

And with that, we're out...'til next week!


TothPix: Otis Dumm and The Fox

In 1983, Alex Toth's cover for Red Circle's Black Hood comic caught my eye. It may have been the first time I saw his work, I'm not sure. But it made an impression. And The Fox story inside was a hoot, thick lines, simple colors; both the covers, title logo and comics inside were a throwback to comics and and adventure strips of yesteryear.

The front cover is action-packed, with figures flying, compositional diagonals, stars and bursts, a bold, cartoony logo, and inset for the Fox feature. There's so much action, so much going on, that some visual elements cross over the title, integrated and of a piece, yet it's all easy to take in and process. Open at the fold, and one finds it's a wraparound cover, to boot. Fun! I think the cover could be improved with better coloring, but it was plenty enough to get me to pick it up.

Inside, Toth's story at the back of the book jumped out at me, introducing an old man covering the page from head to toe, one Otis Dumm, an unlikely star of a superhero story, breaking up the page and taking center stage.

Making a one-time side character the focus of the story is an old trick, and one Will Eisner used to employ regularly with his The Spirit strip. The old man in a bright red shirt, bolo tie and pants hiked high in an improbable hero, but throughout the story we find there's much more than meets the eye to Otis Dumm. The Fox and readers become impressed with his ingenuity, smarts and resourcefulness. Toth's story is similar in some fashion to David Mamet's play/movie, The Water Engine, about suppression of a new technology. But where Mamet's play is dark, Toth's is lighthearted and a romp.

One can read the story in large scans at the super blog, Atomic Surgery, which also covers other Toth stories, among others' work. One gets the sense Toth would've like a few more pages than the twelve he had to work with, as the last couple are heavy on exposition and text. It could've been paced better, but still is one of my favorite Toth pieces.

One last panel: yet another where Toth focuses on the most important object of the story and frame, by cropping the character's head from the shot. Rest assured, Otis and his face get plenty of exposure, but not in this panel which is the central conflict of the tale.

These may be Dumm Comics, but they're not Dumb Comics!