Monday, November 22, 2010

A tribute to Alex Toth

Alex Toth, my all time favorite cartoonist died on Saturday May 27th at the age of 78.

Toth’s comic book work spanned four decades from the 40s into the 80s (with very occasional forays after that), working in practically every genre there was: Superhero, adventure, war, western, romance, horror, hot rod and humor. Always a more than able draftsman, Toth’s style became more distinctive in the 1960s, more impressionistic and more cartoony, with an economy of line matched only by Hank Ketcham in his prime. His page layouts, hand lettering and use of blacks were unparalleled. As a storyteller, Toth inherently possessed an understanding of the comics medium on par with better known legends Will Eisner and Jack Kirby.

But Toth’s main income came as a designer and storyboard artist for Hanna-Barbera in the 60s and 70s. Toth designed characters for Space Ghost, Fantastic Four, the Herculoids and Super Friends, just to name a few. He put more work into one model sheet than every animator combined did in an entire episode of any given cartoon. His “recommendations” were usually ignored by the animators and he often despised the end result.

To say Toth became bitter in his old age is an understatement. But his rage was directed at the lack of quality he found rampant in his chosen artforms, the wasted potential of both comics and animation. And also, to be honest, at the lack of recognition he so rightfully deserved. To wit, the tiny obit line in Entertainment Weekly incorrectly lists him as “creator of such legendary comics as Space Ghost and Josie and the Pussycats.” Well, not quite. Toth designed Space Ghost (not a comic book), and Josie was created by the late Dan DeCarlo (another of my faves). I mean, I didn’t expect Toth to be on the cover (or even rate a block of his own), but they could’ve at least fact checked ONE SENTENCE. It’s amusing to consider how angry the error would’ve made him (no doubt prompting one of his trademark beat-poetic ranting Sharpie-penned postcards).

Alex Toth also hated the nihilistic direction of modern comic books. Toth preferred a Batman who smiled and a Superman who was virtuous. His incredibly impressionistic, less-is-more style was rooted in a profound understanding of anatomy and mechanics. He wasn’t stylistic out of laziness or ignorance. He understood, better than any other cartoonist, that less is more. And he will be truly missed.

1981 drawing of the Justice Society of America
from PLOP! #11, April 1975
GALAXY TRIO and BIRDMAN model sheets, 1967
Black Canary from ADVENTURE COMICS #418, April 1972.
from DRAG CARTOONS #10, Dec. 1964

from RED CIRCLE SORCERY #8, Aug. 1974

from CREEPY #75, Nov. 1975

No comments: