Sunday, May 28, 2006

Alex Toth (1928-2006)

The field of comic art has lost a number of great talents over the past couple of years. Significant among them was Alex Toth, who passed away yesterday at the age of 77.

Unlike many legends of the field, Toth remains best known less for his work on the published comic book page (despite his prolific efforts on comics over four decades, especially during the 1950s) than for his pioneering contributions to the field of television animation. Working for Hanna-Barbera in the 1960s and 1970s, Toth designed the characters for such popular series as Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, Josie and the Pussycats, The Herculoids, Shazzan, Birdman, and SuperFriends. He was a master of clean, economical design that communicated volumes with just a handful of lines and shadows. Toth's sensibility was unmistakable — when he designed a cartoon, no other artist could have accomplished the task in the same way, or with the same inimitable flair.

The influence of Toth's creative vision pervades the work of such artists as Steve Rude, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Scott Rosema, and Mike Allred, as well as today's most acclaimed TV animation designer, Bruce Timm. In fact, it's fair to say that every comic artist who grew up watching the cartoons Toth helped create — which, I'm guessing, would include most American artists in their 30s and 40s — has been in some measure touched by Toth's spirit.

Toth was famously disappointed with the direction of the comic book field over the past couple of decades. His observation:
The ugly, mean, vile, banal, twisted, sick, bloody celebration of torture, rape, cruelty, filth, demonic and socio-political psycho-babble — and death — is disgusting stuff to me — and it's our youngest writers / cartoonists / editors cranking out this garbage! Which is sub-anti-human drek, devoid of original thought or of moral, ethical values — it is hopeless fatalism, nihilism, anarchy, pointy-headed anti-everything gibberish — and most of it dares to label itself "adult" -- "for mature readers" — which is nonsense!

Much more "adult and mature" are the stories no one can, or will, write about and illustrate: Joy, wonder, love honor, humor, wit, intelligence, invention, compassion, trust, respect, duty, character, sacrifice, sentiment, family, discovery, exploration, history, the myriad peoples, customs, and stories abounding out there in the world -- human stories!
A thousand amens to that.

I don't, unfortunately, have any examples of Toth's work in my collection. But if you follow this link, you can browse an extensive gallery of Alex Toth art. I'd suggest that you take the time — it'll open your eyes to what a few simple strokes of a pencil or pen can convey. There's also a terrific interview with the legend excerpted from Comic Book Artist magazine, here.

My condolences to Mr. Toth's family, and to the comic art community at large.


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