Monday, 31 March 2014

Alex Toth links

Alex Toth is a giant in Comic Book history, but also one of the most intriguing and hard-to-fathom personalities to ever work in the medium.

He is at par with Jack Kirby and Will Eisner, and much like them he accompanied the american "Comic book" format from infancy to adulthood and left a lasting legacy in the field.

Many call Toth "the artist's artist". But his name deserves to known beyond the elitist community of of collectors, reviewers, cartoonists, editors and publisher.

Let"s face it: cartoonists are no movie stars. They do not even approach the level of popularity that, let's say, some big-name novelists sometimes enjoy.

In the past, when newspaper comic strips were flourishing, I guess names like of Alex Raymond, Al Capp, Mort Walker and Charles Schultz would have ringed a bell even to the most casual newspaper reader. (Walt Disney does not count)

In Europe the situation might have been a little different, meaning that the popular names would be others: Hergé, Uderzo and Goscinny, Jacovitti

But even in today's nerds-and-pop-culture-saturated environment, the average Joe would not recognize cartoonists’ names other than Frank Miller or Milo Manara (not to mention that the popularity is often country-bound).

I too was introcduced to Toth's work only in recent years, but I got immediately hooked: he was exceptionally talented but more importantly, he cared a lot about the medium.

Toth devoted a lot of time studying it and perfecting his style; trying to come up with rules or even "laws" for visual storytelling and such perfectionism made him a very stern individual and hard to be around.
Some trace this ruggedness back to Toth's own teachers, who had been just as demanding.
But I guess it went beyond that. He's views about how comics should be (not only in terms of form, but also in terms of content) were really black-and-white and left no room for dispute. He abhorred the darker and more mature curve comics book took in the late 1980s. And to a certain extent that is perfectly understandable, but then you read why (comics are for kids and should have about positive values) and you are left scratching your head.

(in a sense it reminds me of Steve Ditko who had also a very manichaeistic view of things)
Many of his comments read like the outbursting of a grumpy old man.
But then again: he did not spare criticism on himself either: a lot of his annotated stuff point out weaknesses in his own works.

Some reports about his suicidal thoughts suggest personal demons we do not know of.

I'm very uncertain about how to write about him:I do not want to pass judgement when knowing very little about his life and Art
Youtube has only a handful videos about him, and no interview whatsoever with the man itself.

(This DVD collection features a nice documentary)

But he remains incredibly fascinating to me, as do his proficiency, productivity and relentlessness.
Cartoonists remember Alex Toth in this beautiful Special by Twomorrow Publishing (preview available here)

(The points Toth is making are all valid (to a certain extent) and they denote a real passion for the craft, but the tone comes across as overall unbalanced.)

A more insightful testimony comes from illustrator Bill Stout:

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