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May 28, 2006


CR Sunday Magazine

author's note: as of 6 PM 052906, this section was copied into a "Collective Memory" entry. That is the entry which will receive further updates. It can be found here.

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ALEX TOTH, 1928-2006

There is only one thing to write about today.

Alex Toth, one of the handful of people who could seriously enter into Greatest Comic Book Artist of All-Time discussions and a a giant of 20th Century cartoon design, has passed away at age 77.

Like many young cartoonists, Alex Toth received his first professional gig from Steve Douglas at Famous Funnies. He would eventually work for DC, Marvel, Standard, Dell, Whitman, Western, and Warren, an elite publishers list that might double if you counted books about Toth or reprint collections. His best-known comics achievements are probably 1) an accomplished, dynamic run on Zorro, 2) creating the well-traveled throwback romantic adventure feature "Bravo For Adventure," and 3) a brief but exceedingly lovely stint on the crime comic Torpedo. He was also a well-regarded animation designer, creating model sheets for characters ranging from Space Ghost to various DC mainstays as they appeared on TV under the title Super Friends.

Above any artist ever to work in comics, Alex Toth enjoyed a career that cannot be properly summarized via a credits list. Toth is better remembered for an approach to work -- perfectly spotted blacks, supple line work that can create an entire visual world in fewer marks on the page than anyone would ever believe, and a visually sophisticated approach to storytelling that relied as much on shadow and hints and continuity across panels as it did on any effect borrowed from film. It was a way of making art he developed and refined and pulled apart to put back together for the entirety of his adult life. Toth's art was routinely idiosyncratic and exquisite to the point that he could seize your attention on the silliest of projects: superhero pin-ups, scale models of robots, doodles on a postcard, licensed tie-ins for an audience that would probably accept anything that even pretended towards fealty to the look of the object being sold.

People will say he was a great craftsman, and they'll be right, but what Toth did was a little further along than that. Toth reached that scary point where it felt dangerous to look at some of his best work; you ran the risk of being pierced by a force that practically shimmered on the page, that inhabited every image, like a master chef's dessert so rich it made your eyes water in protest, or a singer's voice so pitch-perfect it made you want to leave the concert hall, if only to catch your breath. His handwriting exuded an element of purity in cartooning that could outclass other artists' fully-rendered sequential art. Toth's black and white work in particular displayed an almost transcendent understanding of drawn art as a visual story component. When we as readers come to a greater understanding of the effect that great art has on the reading of comics, Toth's reputation is likely to grow even larger than it is today.

Alex Toth was known as something of an irascible guy. I know little about that personally -- when I worked at The Comics Journal we occasionally listened to a tape of Toth made during a cut-short interview because he was so brutal, straightforward and funny -- but I do know that he was never rewarded by his chosen medium in two of the most basic ways that matter: opportunity and reward. He earned far more of a right than he spent in terms of speaking back to comics, whether it was criticism of art that fell short or a more personal confrontation. The sad thing about Toth as opposed to other square pegs in round holes in comics history is that Toth's work surely indicates he was present to the possibilities in more mainstream genres than perhaps any great comics artist ever. He wasn't "out there" -- his work influenced the mainstream of comics history at the major houses, and inspired artists who generally went on to become workhorses as opposed to arthouse favorites. That he still didn't quite fit into the industry in a way befitting his skill and passion is one of those unknowable things in comics history. Hopefully, Toth will continue to live on in a variety of ways and in a variety of publishing platforms in a way that does justice to his life in art.

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News Sites
ActuaBD.com
afNews
Comic Book Resources
Comicon.com Pulse
Newsarama
The Beat

*****

Blog Entries
Across The Counter
Alan J. Porter
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Bill Cunningham
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Thing I Learned Today
Tom Peyer
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Voices In Utter Dark
WarrenEllis.com
Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy
Yirmumah!

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Messageboard Discussions
Bondage.com
Comicon.com
The Comics Journal
The Engine
Toth Fans Forum

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Five Random Covers

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Biographical Articles and Resources
Answers.com
Auad Publishing
IMDB.com
Lambiek.net
Wikipedia

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The One Site You Have To Visit
The Official Alex Toth Website

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Directly To Art
Beautiful Page From Black Hood #2
Fox Pin-Up
Model Sheet For Plastic Man
Original Art Gallery at Collecting Fool
Original Art Gallery at Comicartville
Original Art Gallery at Comicartville -- Animation
Page in French
Page of Hot Wheels
Page of Rip Hunter Interior Art
Sample from CARtoons
Sierra Smith Page
Sketches for Atlas' The Scorpion
Sketches for Sale at BPIB
Sketch of Charlie Chan

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Five Random Non-Cover Images

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Miscellaneous
100 Greatest Comic Artist List
2001 Message Board Discussion on His Relevance
Advice on Collecting His Work
Alex Toth on Modern Comics (1991)
Comic Book Heaven Alex Toth Anecdote
Drawn! on Model Sheet by Toth
Essay on "White Devil!... Yellow Devil!"
Forthcoming Doodle Book
Interview From Comic Book Artist
Interview With John Hitchcock
Steve Lieber Analyzes Toth
The Comics Journal #262

*****

Three Quotes About Alex Toth

"Toth had not gone into comic books for fame or fortune. (Indeed, when he started, the field was so unrewarding -- and so scorned -- that artists were too embarrassed to state in public what they did for a living.) But he remained in thrall to the transformative possibilities he had experienced as a child. He could still be moved by the material presented him. He respected the practitioners who had advanced the medium and strove to be worthy of their legacy. he was, he once said, 'in love with telling a story in pictures.' But, he found, most writers and editors lacked his passion. They were 'rejects from the pulp field... [with] no foundation in the grammar of pictorial continuity.' The reaction of one editor at Standard to 50 pages which Toth presented so enraged him that Toth snatched them back and ripped the entire folio in half with his bare hands." -- Bob Levin, "The Mark of Tyrone Power." The Comics Journal #262.

"A beautifully executed expression of a cartoonist's belief in his art and in the moral function of heroism." -- RC Harvey's review of Bravo for Adventure that reads like a piece of late-period Alex Toth art, from Planet Cartoonist.

"So he decided he was coming to San Antonio. So we all -- some other artists and I -- met at the Menger, which is just off the ramp through the San Antonio airport. We figured we'd intercept him as he came down the ramp. We all took chances saying, 'That's Alex! That's Alex! No, that's Alex!' But I have to tell you when Alex finally appeared on the scene, there's no mistaking him. Because Alex Toth is an exact replica of some of the cartoons he draws." -- the late artist Pat Boyette, in an interview with Ken Smith, The Comics Journal #221.

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