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TothPix

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TothPix: I Will Not Fail!

This wonderful and desperate Toth panel speaks to me right now for some reason. Anyone else?

This frame is from the Soldier's Grave story I featured in the previous TothPix post. Analysis of the whole story here.

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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!

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TothPix: Lines, Dots, Jiggles & Splats

Browsing again through pages this week of Dear John: The Alex Toth Doodle Book, I came across this quote from Toth:

"About original comic book/strip/black and white line art - young or old at examining/enjoy sleuthing-out which lines/dots/jiggles/splats/blobs/streaks/smears/nicks/scrapes/ were accidents - and which were intentional bits of genius-business, done so casually, tho, creating such unique effects, touches - of course we read all kinds of significance into every jot and tittle to express deep worshipful "in-tune-ship" with our pet artist-heroes' art - wrongfully, too, mostly - we fans, of all ages and experience and exposure, are guilty of that sin!"

Well, as I've been challenged recently on that very point in regards to Toth's work, and having to plead guilty per Alex's charge, I hope I'll be forgiven if I still indulge in that very pursuit at this blog. I just can't help it. Toth's work just "does it" for me more than any other and I'll continue to pour over his jots, lines and dots. That said, I'll try to be as discerning as possible, and have a post or two planned to poke at some of Toth's weaknesses (far be it from me, but there you go).

In the meantime, let's Sleuth-Out!

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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.

= - )

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

gunglory21

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 paul@bluemoonstudios.com, and I'll send you all the pages in a zipped folder.