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TothPix

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TothPix: Only Gossip...?

A sweet panel by Toth from Gun Glory (1957 - Dell Movie Western No. 846) of a western gal gossiping about gossip.

The door and frame are perfectly vertical, no tricky angles needed when Toth leads the viewer to the lady's eye with the shadow on the door. Even the tail of her word balloon continues the diagonal, as well as her eyebrow, accentuating that through line. Her face is cropped for interest and to highlight the pretty lady is spying, tho with no ill intent. The rendering is simple, almost crude, the texture on the door contrasting with the clean, open space of her face. Toth doesn't draw the edge of the door, rather letting the viewers eye finish the picture.

Gosh, this is good.

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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.

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TothPix: Space Mates

Tell me these aren't a great couple of panels! Interesting cropping and expressions in the first frame, nice angles and texture in this semi-close-up inside a spaceship. And in the next, outside, the ship in silhouette, framing Space Girl in the background.

I can't help it, but those two Space Mates remind of another pair...

Probably done around the same time (or decade, at least...) that sidekick sure reminds me of Space Porky! Or is it just me...?

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TothPix: Sugarfoot SPLASH!

TothPix is back with a SPLASH! with a quintessential comic book panel, complete with action, vibrant color, and signature Alex Toth composition, spotting of blacks, texture, shadows and interesting cropping. We get a glimpse of Tom's backside, but his face is only partially obscured. He doesn't focus on his face, but rather the main action and humor, indicated best by not only Tom's awkward position, but the lettering of "Whooooops!" and Tom's surprised expression. What fun!

For context: the lead-in panels...

In frame 1 we see the villain of the piece, the starting gun in frame 2 and the horsemen take off in frame 3 - we're right in the middle of the action. Below, and from the following page, Toth pulls the viewer back for an establishing profile, before using a close-up to see Tom's strap SNAP! which leads to his SPLASH!

As usual, Toth doesn't mess around with perfect brushwork, instead varying shots to focus on moving forward the story, showing character and action. Some may love finer rendering, but this is what does it for me. Great stuff!

Sorry for the long hiatus from this semi-regular feature, but Toth Tuesdays has returned!

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TothPix: Space Page

What a doozy of a page from Alex Toth!

A gorgeous page in space. The top tier we're inside the craft. I love the inking, the spacesuits, the exaggerated features, shadows, the over-the-shoulder shots, the third shot from below, smoke bellowing form the foreground.

The middle semi-splash panel establishes the scene outside the ship, giving us context and catching us up on the action. Just look at those figure-8 and circular swoops of the trail of one of the ships and Saturn's ring. The circles and curves create a wild, spinning composition, as one of the ships makes a straight shot through it all from the left like an arrow, the background awash in a glittery sparkle of stars.

In the lower tier, Toth presents the action in the simplest terms possible, so readers can follow the story easily. But the drawing and inking is no-nonsense, the chiaroscuro separation within the panel compositions nearly abstract. Pretty stuff.

Outlaws of Space, inked by John Celardo, has been reprinted in Setting the Standard, a large, restored collection of Toth romance, war, horror and sci-fi comics.

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TothPix: Christmas Gift & Wrapping

Here's a li'l Toth Christmas present for y'all, a perty piece he did called The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

Nice, eh? Even with all the clutter, the illustration is still clear and concise. All the detail of the background, in the book and in the foreground serve as ornamentation. Along with the tone, it all tends to grey out, the figure, lamp and hat forming a triangle and all the attention. Those spot colors add some interest. Looks like Toth used a white colored or grease pencil to achieve the glow effect from the lamp.

Love this! Merry Christmas from Alex!

And if you're unsure how to wrap your gifts this year, perhaps you'll follow the advice from the Toth 'toon (taken from an illustrated postcard he sent a fan):

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TothPix: Three Volumes

Today's Toth post is made easy for me by Heidi MacDonald, so all I have to do is link. On her blog, The Beat, she shares as many details as we now have that the forthcoming book on Toth, Genius Isolated will be expanded to three volumes! Click the links or image for more info.

How come I feel like it's already Christmas?!

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TothPix: A Plethora of Posts, A Load of Links

Since starting this blog series on master comics artist, Alex Toth, I've spent some time online seeking out more of his work, and in doing so have come across a host of posts on other blogs, articles and essays on comics web sites and online forums. At the time of Toth's death (2006), the official Toth Fans site (still the best and deepest resource) was really the only game in town, save the rare collector who shared their Toth original art, but since then more and more folks are discovering or sharing love of Toth, scanning and posting entire stories, analysis, or transcribing Toth's notes and annotations on his work. Here are some favorites:

In sussing out more material for my posts on Toth's Zorro, I stumbled upon a review by William R. Hancock at amazon.com, which made reference to a Paul Revere story Toth had drawn just previous to his Zorro work. The panels above are just a taste of the brilliance one will find at John Glenn Taylor's Easily Mused blog, where he makes available the entire patriotic story. Enjoy! I'll be doing a more in-depth analysis of this piece on my blog later.

James Romberger recently posted an insightful article, Cursing the Darkness: The Last Horrors of Alex Toth at The Comics Journal site. And you'll find a new Kubert vs. Toth essay at his The Hooded Utilitarian. Smart, well researched stuff.

The Cloud 109 blog has covered a few Toth stories, including the romance tale, Lonesome For Kisses, focusing on nuances of expression (above). Also featured is analysis of the Kurtzman/Toth war story collaboration, F-86 Sabre Jet (below), complete with a side-by-side comparison of  black & white and color versions of the story. Survival transcribes Toth's annotations on the story for easier reading, and the short Dirty Job is one powerful read. I hope Cloud 109 does more on Toth, and make sure to check out more on one fine blog.

Monte Wilson features a few choice pages, and a couple complete stories, one romance and one war story at his site. And to finish things off, you may want to save some time for the infamous exchange between Toth and Steve Rude, who'd sent the pencils for his Jonny Quest story done for the Comico series. I've provided links to both a forum which includes Toth's hand-written notes, and a cleaner, easier-to-read version, which features responses from Rude. In the end both artists have points, but one wonders if Rude ever regretted asking the infamously curmudgeonly Toth for his assessment?!

With the coming release of Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth by Bruce Canwell and Dean Mullaney (Dec. 7, 2010), and other similar books, we Toth fans will have plenty to sink our teeth into.

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TothPix: Chasing Zorro

Following the Toth Zorro page I covered last week is a portion of the next - a chase!

In this panel (3), after establishing  in the first two panels (not shown) who's riding and who's chasing, Toth crops in tightly, again placing the reader in the middle of the action. Can't get simpler than this, really, with a close-up on Zorro in the foreground and the silhouetted figures riding in the distance. But how bold and sophisticated! He spots his black areas on the hat, mask and in shadow, breaking the frame almost exactly down the center vertically, but slightly askew. Contrasting from the solid dark shapes, he varies his line work nicely. There's no stylistic swagger here, no showing off. The texture of the hat, cape, cord around the crown, and mustache are rendered as dictated by form.

I love how he cropped Zorro's right eye from our view to focus on the left as he peers behind him, an effect enhanced by simple but careful toning he added later.

For the lower half of the page, Toth pulls back again to set up the closing chase and coming leap. Almost entirely in silhouette, this sequence takes place at night, starkly moonlit. That small sliver of rock on the right side of the long, horizontal panel make clear Zorro's destination, and the precarious nature of his situation. The leap itself is dynamic and sweeping, but grounded in reality. Toth cleverly merges Tornado's hind legs to the rock from which he jumps, bits of loose dirt and stone falling, when many artists might have been tempted towards the fantastic, showing horse and rider spread fully in the air. Toth's choices make us feel the gravity, make the leap truly fantastic.

The final panel is again in silhouette, but Toth leaves bits of light show on horse, rider, cape and rock to add depth and prevent a flat, static, graphic image. The following riders and horses rear up and stop, while we see the triumphant Zorro and Tornado taunting on the other side. Classic.

Next week: a break from Zorro, as I point you to plenty of other peerless posts on Master Toth!

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TothPix: Zorro - Swords, Shots and Leaps!

Here's another fine Toth Zorro, from later in the Secret Passage story. Super composition, storytelling, action, shot variety, body language and draftsmanship. He makes it all look so easy, and tops it off with a patented Zorro leap from a balcony to horse!

Let's take a closer look, tier by tier:

In panel one, the bumbling, stout sidekick, Garcia is called by his capitan for aid. The rendering here is impeccable, loose and easy, confident and expressionistic, from the shadow of leaves dappling the tree, to the rough, grassy terrain, to the folds on Garcia's pants to the simple outline of the background shape which leads us to panel two. Garcia is now inside, taken aback by the sword fight and confusing situation. What a pose! Add Zorro's forward lunge and rumpled rug underfoot as were treated to an unbelievable array of action, light and shadow, composition and texture.

In the middle tier, Toth throws us right in the thick of the skirmish as Zorro knocks the sword from his opponent's grasp. We get a good look at the hero in his element as Garcia fumbles for his gun, just behind. Gunshots zing past Zorro as he turns and retreats, dialogue and sound effects integral elements of each panel. We're in the center of the action! Simple background texture and shapes hint at staircases and stone.In the final, bottom tier, the artist pulls us back outside, first in a long shot from ground level as our hero calls for his horse and prepares to leap from the window/balcony, then from a bird's-eye view as leaps to Tornado and makes his escape. Once again, sound effects are part of the piece, all background and foreground elements rendered as appropriate, whether shadowy bushes and trees, stone wall and floor, varied textures help establish time and place and break things up visually. I love the way his cape sweeps over the ledge int he final panel, casting a shadow.

Throughout the page, Toth's choices with tone thirty years after first doing the art help add depth, clarify the action and lead the reader's eye. Sweet stuff!

Next week, a torrent of Toth links, then back to more Zorro.