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TothPix: FBI Story

Toth drew adaptations of many movies and TV during his Dell Comics period, including the 1959 flick, The FBI Story starring Jimmy Stewart ( - how cool is that url?!) and Vera Miles. For me, it had been easy to overlook as slapdash and rushed, not one of his gems, but as with just about everything Toth, there's much to appreciate. The more one looks, the more is found.

Four Color Comics #1069 cover (left); and Toth's striking opening splash panel to the comic (right).

Some panels are not colored very well (which goes for the two facing frames below) - the colors are actually distracting to the art and tone,  so I greyed them out for a better read. The low angle in the first shot, Chief Dakins and the door effectively framing the two principals. The body language of Dakins is superb, telling us plenty about the character, Toth cropping most of the large man's body out of frame. The facial expressions in both panels are very nice, especially that tilt of the head in frame 2.

Chief Dakins here reminds me of the characters types Orson Welles played during this period: as Will Varner in The Long, Hot Summer (1958); the Clarence Darrow-inspired lawyer in Compulsion (1959); or Hank Quinlan in his own Touch of Evil (1958). Dakins was actually played by the Mayor of Mayberry, actor Parley Baer.

Offset, asymmetrical compositions with these two panels: The imposing, Hoover-like new director enveloped in black; superb cropping and simple, knock-out coloring convey tone, focus our attentions and tell the story.

A straight-on establishing shot of the humble Hardesty home, the building not centered in the frame. Great patterns, textures, shapes. In the second frame (not an actual facing panel), the hands tell the tale.

I blew out the color for this wide scene featuring militia men, the Klu Klux Klan, a burning cross and chiaroscuro action -

Facing frames. The smoke from the burning cross holds the narration text. Asymmetrical composition again, much of the drawing enveloped in black, dark shadows cast by the flaming cross. I desaturated the second frame as the vehicle on the right was colored, inexplicably a distracting bright red. In this case, the center of interest is actually center-panel, interest added with dirty, crosshatched trash in the foreground left, the sloping sidewalk and cobblestone street, tilted telephone pole. All small bits and tiny details Toth adds to tell us of the neighborhood and to avoid a static layout.

Gotta love the sinks and tubs, littering the foreground! Toth takes what could be a boring panel and makes of it one the most interesting in the story, utilizing shapes, angles, shadow, depth and texture.

First frame: Negative space, solid black, ominous, dotted landscape. Second frame: folds and gesture.
Not facing frames. Great lighting in the first, bravura folds and shadows.

It's apparent Dell or the studio did not place a high priority on likenesses (as do so many adaptations the last few decades). I find that kinda refreshing - Toth could tell the story and not worry about the main character looking like the actor. In the frame on the right we can read the gesture and pose as pure Jimmy Stewart, no doubt completely out of Toth's head. Great shadows here, too, leading the eye to the dude opening the door.

Stewart/Hardesty makes his way into the dark offices. Nice compositions, framing, slight crops. Unassuming but superb panels.

Shadows, folds, dominating stance and positioning over the slumped doofus in the chair. Man, I could stare at those jacket folds all day...

...maybe all week, til the next Toth Tuesday when I'll have more from The FBI Story.


TothPix: Heroes

Whenever I read somewhere that superheroes were not a strong suit for Alex Toth, I'm like, "WHA-A-A-AT?!"



TothPix: Character Designs

Alex Toth spent a portion of twenty-five years of his career doing character design and storyboards for TV animation. And for about a decade after artists and animators passed along to each other huge stacks of those designs (and still do). In 1996, Toth friend and fellow animator Darrell McNeil gathered it all together is one big package, the Alex Toth: by Design book. I was fortunate to snap up a copy upon its release, and good thing I did, 'cause the book fetches around $300 nowadays, long out of print. Folks have taken to selling small stacks of portions of what's included in the book on ebay.

From time to time, I'll be scanning and posting some of my favorites from that book. Enjoy!


TothPix: Rude Awakening

Just a few days before Halloween, a perfect time to feature an Alex Toth horror story! Rude Awakening originally appeared in Creepy #7 (Warren), in 1964; Toth was 36. The story was also reprinted in an All Toth issue (Creepy #139). Toth opens the proceedings with a nice rendition of Uncle Creepy, the ever-present narrator. I love Toth's upper/lower-case lettering here, and his signature. Why does a little thing like a nicely-done signature make me so happy?

But it's a pretty stupid story, really. One expects more from writer,  Archie Goodwin (for good reason). It's a trifle, a knocked out circular tale of a guy having hallucinations. There's not much point to it. Despite this, Toth finds interesting ways to tell it, with cool shots like this:

Hmm. "I feel terrible...not sleeping well...nerves shot!"
I can relate! Can't we all? (Or is it just me?)

Toth reinforces the off-kilter sensations of the main character with wild, angled panels throughout. Not one to stoop to tricks and snazzy layouts, Toth does so here only when there's a reason. The panel below displays typical Tothisms: spotted blacks; shadows; varied characters and expressions; foreground elements for framing and depth. There's a visual sweep from left to right as one guys leans to grab Mr. Asher's jacket sleeve, creating horizontal folds. Nice grey washes/tones and textures in this frame and the story in general.

Having done so many comics for Dell using their 6-panel grid (which he came to enjoy), it must've been liberating to go to town and experiment, no more so than in the page below (page 4). Asher is paranoid, nervous and disoriented, being haunted, chased. Toth smartly uses the perspective in panel 1, extending the angles to form the borders of the four panels below it. What cool page composition! All that black negative space is creepy, indeed.

Things don't end well for Asher, as he throws himself out a window, landing in a position not unlike so many characters in Family Guy are shown. Still breathing?! Looks pretty lifeless. But that body has much life!

This weird guy with the Hypno-glasses has been after the poor guy the whole story. Even a 3-story fall couldn't save him.


TothPix: Witches in Black & White

Another Halloween approaches, so we feature a Toth page and panel in black and white of the Witching Hour witches!

It sure looks as though he lettered and inked these himself. I like how he varies the word balloon shapes here. Swirls of hair, folds of ragged cloaks and crazy cropping create clever compositions weaving our eye about the frames.

Nice action, spotted blacks and squiggly textures and fun stars in that last panel (above). Figures, folds and the broomstick direct us sharply through the frame. Boiling Bats of Beelzebub, indeed!

Great design in the final frame (below) as Toth varies textures, shapes and angles in this creepy close-up!


TothPix: On Inking

I've read this dozens of times - can't get enough.

Toth's right, I think. I'd been sucked into a myriad of inking/rendering techniques and tricks, trying over the years to strip my work of the stylized garnishments. But they crop up all the time - a tough habit to break!

Back to the drawing board/screen...!


TothPix: Zorro

zorro_3 'Nuff said.


TothPix: Too Many Cooks

Last week in my review of Genius, Isolated, I compared side-by-side the line art to printed color from a panel of the Toth-drawn story, Too Many Cooks. This comparison is afforded us as the line art for this page was printed from the original art in Genius, Isolated. It struck me how crisp, sharp and clean Toth's line was, especially when all I knew of it previously was from the muddy, poor printing on cheap newsprint. It's worthwhile to compare the panels from the rest of the page....

"Too Many Cooks," page 1; This Is War #6 (Standard, 1952). Line art (left) and color scan from printed comic (right).

Toth's line here looks similar to what he produced with The Crushed Gardenia, achieved, he said, by filing his pen Speedball B-6 nib to a chiseled edge. The result is a somewhat flat and angular line, which he fills out with brush for shadows, folds, etc. This panel introduces the characters (and what characters!), enveloped by trademark Toth black and white areas, broken up with the occasional texture: crosshatched stubble; stippled helmet.

The colors of many of the comics from this period lean heavily towards primary. The black swath covering the top third is the underside of the tent, cropping into the sky and hill just below in the background. It would make far more sense to have colored the yellow area blue (sky) and the blue a grey-purple - not only better color choices, but helping to establish the setting.

"Too Many Cooks," panel 2; Line art (left) and color scan from printed comic (right).

Panel 3 could've been nothing but talking heads. But Toth adds interest by extreme cropping of the main character on the left (nearly slicing his face off!), and though his shorter buddy is center-panel and aggressive (in his face!) our cropped man still dominates, wielding his cooking spoon almost as a weapon.

In panel 4, their argument is interrupted by a gun shot, blocked (tellingly) by that very spoon, which Toth highlights on the right, centered in a large open area. Our attention is focused on the ricochet and breaking spoon, as the character is viewed over shoulder, from behind. Pretty smart writing, actually, and very smart storytelling by Toth.

"Too Many Cooks," panel 3 & 4; Line art (left) and color scan from printed comic (right).

That brings us back to panel 1 (which I featured last week). I'm quite taken with this panel: the guy's exaggerated features, jutting jaw, tilted, cigarette, stippled helmet, and unshaven face. It isn't badly colored at all, but oh, how I yearned to see a cleaner version...!

"Too Many Cooks," panel 1; Line art (left) and color scan from printed comic (right).

So, I took the liberty of coloring it myself anew (below). I didn't change much and kept it nearly flat, but was able to add minor modeling, a couple subtle gradations (on the helmet and for the background) and to colorize the cigarette tip and motion lines.

Boy, I like the look of this, and Toth should get such treatment and with a top-notch colorist like, say, Dave Stewart. But given that these stories are finally just being collected and re-printed, we'll probably never see it. I no doubt ask too much. Some Toth stories were re-colored in the late '80s - early'90s, but hand-colored and not well, usually. Toth's stuff works better clean, simple and mostly flat, I think.

"Too Many Cooks," panel 1 with new coloring by me (humbly submitted for your approval).

That said, Too Many Cooks and many other stories are included in the sizable volume from Fantagraphics Books: Setting the Standard: Comics by Alex Toth 1952-1954. The pages are scanned from the printed comics, but cleaned and remastered a bit, looking better (below) than the scans used throughout this post and what one generally finds online. The book is a must for any Toth and comics fan.



TothPix: Genius, Isolated Review

Less is more.

That's the mantra applied to Alex Toth concerning his art and comics, the maxim by which he worked and urged other artists to follow. Though there have been many publications, interviews, reprints, features and sites devoted to Toth's work, much of it by Toth's own hand, I still can't get enough. For me as an artist, disciple and fan, when it comes to learning more of the man, reading, studying, analyzing and immersing myself in his art and creative process, more is more.

For over thirty years, I've collected as many Toth comics as I could find at conventions and on dusty comics shop shelves. I've bought just about every tome on Toth as released during that span, many now out of print. I've compiled long lists of comics by Toth, culled from The Comic Book Price Guide, most of which I could never find or afford. I've researched those artists he cited as influences. From the site, I downloaded and poured over pages I'd not yet seen, finally viewing stories from comics I'd had on my list (as scanned and generously shared by fellow Toth fans). I read again and again his stories, annotations, thoughts and insights...and still craved more. As much as I've discovered about my favorite comics artist, something was missing.

Photo by

The first volume of three, Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth begins to fill in some of those gaps for this fan, providing context to his history, personal life and character, his creative development, approach and methods.

This book is huge (approx. 10' x 13"), a fitting and worthy format and size for its subject, allowing comics pages to be printed over-sized (though not as large as the original art, most of which were done around 200%). At over 325 pages and five pounds, the volume covers the first half of Toth's life and career: his start in the field as a teen; how he set the pace for the rest of the industry; his stint in the army; his first three marriages; and tons of photos and art presented as never before.

Portrait of the artist as a young man - "Genius, Isolated," pages 70 & 71

The photos of Toth as a child and in his younger days are a revelation. Til now I'd been able to picture Toth only in his elder years, by the photos of him I'd seen, and his self portraits. He cut quite a dapper and dashing figure as a young man, and one gets to piece together the fragments, pinpointing what work he did at what age. Though his earliest work from the late '40s, done in his teens never held much interest for me, by 1949 he was already showing signs of the genius to come, displaying tendencies which bear a startling resemblance to his most mature work. And this, when he was but twenty years of age.

From "The Unexpected Guest," Green Lantern #37, page 7 (1949)

By 21 he was setting the standard in comics and storytelling, inspiring and influencing his peers. By 22 & 23, he'd drawn comics masterpieces that still stand among his best work, like The Crushed Gardenia, Thunder Jet and Battle Flag of the Foreign Legion (below).

From "Battle Flag of the Foreign Legion," Danger Trial #3, page 5 (DC, 1950)

Throughout the '50s and into the '60s, Toth drew stacks of comics, during a period when it was somewhat difficult to continue in the field and find work (thanks to Dr. Frederic Wertham and U.S. Senate). Toth persevered and was in demand, drawing romance, sci-fi, war and western comics, strips, and many comics adaption of movies and TV shows, all of which are well represented in this volume.

In 1955-'56, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving in Tokyo, Japan. During this period he wrote and drew his Jon Fury comic strip for his camp newspaper. The strip is reprinted here in it's entirety on light violet stock. Most of the strip is printed from poor photocopies, so the subdued color helps smooth out the rough patches. Some have wondered why Fury takes up so much of the book at 45 pages. But if not here, where? There's some awfully good stuff in it. Just take a long gander at that second panel (below).

From Jon Fury, strip #3

One can take their time with this tome, get lost in it as an art book, flip to and fro, and/or read as an insightful biography. It's filled with early illustrations, previously unpublished pencils, and numbers of pages printed from the original art. When comparing the originals printed herein to previously reprinted black-and-white art, scanned color from the old comics themselves or even from the recently released Setting the Standard, it's astounding to take in the difference between Toth's line to the poorly-printed 4-color on newsprint. One's mind boggles if Toth had been given the treatment to match production standards of today's comics.

Panel 1 of "Too Many Cooks," This Is War #6 (Standard, 1952).

Line art (left) and color scan from printed comic (right).

(I'll compare more panels from this page next week.)

For me, this volume fills in the blanks, fleshes out the body of Toth's work, and provides a clearer vision of the man and his art. This book is a must have for any student of art and design and/or lover of comics. And to think it's just the first of three!


TothPix: Ear Ache Effect

My Toth book review is further delayed as I'm stricken with a horrible ear ache which has really knocked me for a loop the last several days. At least I'm on antibiotics and have ear drops now, so I'm on the mend, but still a mess. The Ear Ache Effect!

A Toth panel from Eclipso's Amazing Ally (House of Secrets #63)

And on top of that, I've got a bad cold, too, so I'm drippy, sniffly, coughing, nose-blowy, weak and wobbly.

Another Toth panel from Eclipso's Amazing Ally (House of Secrets #63)

This too shall pass, yes?