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Tag: Bob Kanigher

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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TothPix: Chiaroscuro Soldier

I was lucky to find scans online of a few pages of the black and white original art from Toth's Soldier's Grave. written by Bob Kanigher. It's a stirring little war period piece, featuring old Mullah, who leaves his family to become a soldier, his only chance to earn enough to provide for his family. And because he has trouble keeping up, he is given an opportunity to fight.

In the page below, Toth employs stunning chiaroscuro techniques with fluid brushwork, marking the landscape with the footprints of younger and more vital soldiers, leaving Mullah in the dust. Toth first depicts Mullah in silhouette in a gorgeous frame...

...then alters his size and placement within the panels to lead the reader's eye through the page, as displayed below.

Next week, I'll post in color and break down the entire story, but until then will leave you with this larger version of the black and white art, cleaning it up and sharpening as much as I could.

More thoughts on Toth, other work, and this story at Bob H.'s Four Realities blog, where he's written about Toth more than once. Enjoy!