Sunday, May 28, 2006

Alexander Toth 1928-2006

His name is unlikely to feature in any of the obituary columns of the newspapers nor to be mourned nor mentioned in the arts reviews but amongst a small group of people, those who love comic books, the sad news that Alex Toth died yesterday morning will come as a huge blow. Toth was often cited as a cartoonist's cartoonist, one whose name whilst not widely known beyond the confines of comics was widely hailed within it as being the best there was.

For me, as a sometime draughtsman, there are three aspects to Toth's work that provide continuing inspiration and amazement.

Firstly, Toth's line work is utterly exceptional. To be able to define any surface or shape with a few, deft pen strokes is a remarkable talent, to be able to draw the sexiest people, to create and describe whole worlds, both real and imaginary with bold, decisive pen-marks that are still able to carry every subtlest nuance of detail or expression is what marked him as a cut above for me, and it's the people of Toth's world that bring me to the second thing I admired him most for.

Alex Toth drew the sexiest people to grace comic books, both male and female. His Zorro could not be more dashing, his Catwoman the most intriguing and beguiling interpretation. But it's not just his eye for a beautiful face or body, it's that everyone he drew seemed like a person with a history, an agenda and a back-story. Even the figures who populate the backgrounds of his drawings are alive, and unlike so many comics are not identikit cardboard cut-outs merely there to fill up a little panel space. Very few artists (Rembrandt and Hogarth are two that readily spring to mind) are able to draw such variety of humanity, even within the limits of the most generic of media.

The final aspect of Toth's talent that, for me, made him pre-eminent was his compositional skill. His graphic eye and unerring ability to make every panel of every page fizz with dynamism and life are a treat to behold and no matter how familiar you may be with the page it always seems fresh; his style is timeless. Toth did a series of Zorro cartoons, I believe for newspaper syndication in the 1950s. To fit in with their remit almost every panel in the Zorro series has exactly the same proportion; a very limiting factor for as vibrant and expressive artform as the comic book. Yet as an object lesson in composition I cannot think of a better primer for any budding artist, film-maker or graphic artist than Toth's Zorro comics. Every panel is perfectly judged even though their shape is constant he never seems to repeat himself nor allowed the format to become stale.

Though he was probably best known for the great design work he did for Hanna-Barbera on such series as "Space Ghost" it will be his prodigious comic book art that I shall always remember him for. Thank you Alex Toth, artists like you come along once a generation.

www.tothfans.com is Alex Toth's official website and includes a fine gallery of some of his work.

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