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Tag: Alext Toth


TothPix: Grave Undertaking - Details

I posted the full story last week, but I'll focus in this post on some of my favorite panels from the Grave Undertaking story. It's chock full of clever shots, 3/4 bird's-eye perspective, varied characters, patented Toth silhouettes and so much of this horror story is bathed in swaths of shadow. Top notch!

What an opening splash establishing shot! Not simply a through-the-window panel, but an overhead, inside-looking-out, which shows us the client who sets the story into action, outside waiting at the door on a dark, rainy night.

Then, as he leaves, he's inadvertently planted a demon seed in the mind of Mr. Thwackum. I love the door jam askew, framing the cropped face, throwing a shadow across his face and top hat.

As the men set to their grisly task, they get extra greedy. The light source is from the lantern at the lower middle of the frame, highlighting the jewels in hand, basking Mr. Peach in shadow, as well as the creepy profile of Mr. Thwackum in the foreground. Wonderful composition, blocking, lighting and storytelling.

Here's a nice shot from well above, past the huge bell in the foreground, through the tower's window to the creaky horse-drawn carriage below. This helps set the tone and heighten the suspense, the window and gravestones bathed in moonlight.

And when their new business is going well, but bodies aren't coming their way fast enough, they travel to a nearby village for more. Just look at this panel! Toth sets the scene as he establishes the old village, varying textures adding uneven lines, though establishing correct perspective. And the greatest touch - the tilt of the carriage, not only adding visual interest, but also a commentary on the bent nature of the two principals.

At the new graveyard, they're interrupted by a man who meets a nasty fate. All in silhouette save the grey background and the white lantern light and WOK sound effect. So much action, power and detail, conveyed so simply.

Poor guy, he happened upon the wrong twosome! Thwackum gave him a good thwack to the head. This is a brilliant panel, as we look past the murder weapon, the shovel handle cock-eyed in the foreground, to the twisted, lifeless body on the ground, shadows encompassing him, cropping across his face for us to focus on the dead eyes.

This one's a real winner! Breathtaking! Who else would show us the carriage entering the shed from inside overhead, most of the figures and carriage in shadow? All elements are beautifully framed by the doorway, including the client just outside, who's opened the door for them. Striking! I scanned this panel (and the shot of the village) from the Toth: Black & White book (1999 - Auad Publishing).

Next week, the last entry for Toth Halloween month...


TothPix: Soldier's Grave

This week I feature the entire Soldier's Grave Kanigher/Toth story I've touched on the last couple Toth posts. This is one of my favorite Toth pieces, an unsung gem. I'll comment between pages, but if you haven't read if before, it might be best to read through it first and ignore my comments til after. I scanned these pages myself from my beat-up, yellowed copy of Our Fighting Forces #134, cleaning up and tweaking extensively in Photoshop to sharpen and pop the images, darken areas of black, and to match the color tones and hues from the printed page as best I could - remastered, if you will. I daresay this is the best these colored pages have ever looked. Now, read on!

toth_soldiers_grave01  Toth opens with a couple long, horizontal panels, setting the scene and tone, and the coloring is decent, reinforcing the harsh mid-day shadows and helping to convey the desert heat. Kanigher then jumps us back centuries, throwing us smack dab in the middle of the fierce action of battle. This page is largely constructed by a series of triangles: not only the pyramids, but the lizard atop the rocks, and the two soldiers from the top of the attacker's helmet following down his blade to the rock on the left, and his lurching body on the right, both leading to the carved-in-stone title base. The title indicates the fate of the soldier, so we pretty much know the end in advance.


Then, with a series of close-ups and more angles, Toth brings us tighter into the fight, first with a cropped close-up, focusing on our humble soldier and the danger he faces, even more on his opponent's grip on his neck and threatening, dangerously close point of the blade. In frame 2, we see the blade, an important object in this story. Frame 3 pulls back a bit, but everything we need to know about this story and its conclusion is contained within, including the shield in the background.

Next, the creators employ another slight flashback as the soldier leaves his family and explain why. Toth uses silhouettes, a distant horizon and sunset to set the mood.


Page 3 is a super page, establishing the Egyptian army and camp, and its leaders as old Mullah pleads his case. The two panels int he middle tier show us the motivation and desperation of the main character. With the lower tier, Toth uses another sharp silhouette before pulling way back with a magnificent use of negative space, and showing us Mullah's place in the army, and thus his plight and challenge. The coloring is simple and effective, toned-down when it needs to be (only two colors are use in panel 3), then alternately subtle and bright conveying tone, time and atmosphere. Nice stuff!


Another well-colored page, as Mullah contemplates his place in the world, as he falls further behind the marching army. I love how Toth uses varied panel shapes here: first showing the size of the pyramids relative to the tiny soldiers; Mullah's weariness and slumped shoulders; a Pharaoh's after-life opulence; and cool vertical frame with Mullah surrounded by the other soldiers' footprints.


Now, Toth goes all horizontal as Mullah falls completely behind. Super coloring again, as the first frame is left colorless, Mullah's silhouette now totally merged with the footprints in the sand. In frames 2 & 3, the heat is turned up with yellows and golds, then orange and red. The bottom half of the page is cool as nightfall descends, and the exhausted Mullah figures he's lost his chance.

For more analysis of this page, see this previous post.


With page 6, Mullah's age and weakness has turned to his advantage, as he plucks off one enemy after another with his bow and arrow. That 2nd frame is brilliant, all moonlight, rim lighting, silhouettes and the flecks of light on the stealthy Mullah and his weapon.


Page 7 brings us full circle, back to the main battle. The two figures are colored warm and hot against the cools of the night background. Other than frame 3, where Toth gives us a brutal close-up of the enemy's face as he makes the fatal plunge of his blade, Toth instead focuses not on the characters, but rather the action and actions with body language, folds of clothing, etc. I find his approach effective here, since he's already established the characters, he highlights the futility of war in general human terms. The soldiers are not personalized here, but the EverySoldier, obscured by shadow, turned and cropped heads. Others may find his choices here cold and distant.

I love how Toth conveys Mullah's triumphant but hopeless state through twisted body language, as he breathes his last.


But unknown to the departed Mullah, he's saved the day, provided for his family who will be presented with the very blade that felled their savior. The other primary object of the story is highlighted in the 2nd and last panels, the shield we saw earlier in the story, now and forever serving as grave marker for Mullah and the sacrifice he's made.

Even while honoring Mullah's struggle and triumph, the editors ended all their war stories with a Make War No More benediction. If only...


TothPix: Death by Toth

I never mustered the courage or had the guts to write Alex Toth to critique my work, or even a gushy fan letter. I did , however, send him an S.A.S.E. to request a small bit of art from him for a project, which led to the only piece of Toth art I possess.

In the mid-'90s my pal and Trollords partner Scott Beaderstadt and I decided to release a (as it turns out, ill-fated) Trollords Classics collection. It featured the first three issues of Trollords (originally published in 1986, as well as as a new story called Death Dreams, which focused on the Trollords arch nemesis, Death. In the 30-page story, we got to see things for Death's point of view, and in a large double-page spread his visage from a variety of perspectives. To convey this, we asked as many artist as we could think of and contact to contribute a 2" x 2" piece of art with their depiction of "death."

We were pleased to receive back pieces from Scott McCloud, Michael Golden, Alex Ross, Steve Rude, Adam Hughes, Dave Sim, Neil Gaiman, Kyle Baker, Berke Breathed, Terry Gilliam and Will Eisner, among many superb artists. But nothing made my heart skip as when I pulled out the simple piece sent by Alex Toth.

Some folks depicted their characters, or a skull, conceptual or spiritual takes on the theme. But nobody offered a more pure expression of the idea.

Seeing it for the first time, as bleak as is the outlook, I had to smile. How perfectly Toth. Perhaps he was an atheist, or maybe he knew we all really don't know what is in store for us "after." But this simple black square is one of my most prized possessions.

Maybe he was being profound, or perhaps he was just being...lazy.

= - )