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.