Friday, May 25, 2012

We Will Not Forget... A Tribute to Alex Toth (1928-2006)

by Don Mangus, Comic and Illustration Art Specialist

The comic book and animation industries lost one of their brightest talents Saturday, May 27, when Alex Toth passed away. Mr. Toth leaves behind a stellar legacy that will continue to entertain readers and viewers, and inspire and inform generations of comic book artists, animators, designers, illustrators, and writers.

Alex Toth launched his comic book career in 1943 while still attending Manhattan's High School of Industrial Arts. The ambitious high school student was soon tutored on the job by another brilliant comic book cartoonist, Sheldon Mayer. Mr. Toth found early direction and inspiration from the savvy, uncompromising approaches of comic strip artists Noel Sickles, Milton Caniff, and Frank Robbins; comic book artists Jerry Robinson and Mort Meskin; and illustrators Harold Von Schmidt, Albert Dorne, and Robert Fawcett.

Alex Toth once remarked that he approached his pen-and-ink characters as "silent actors and actresses who speak lines, express, emote, feel, react, and give life to dialogue, scenes, and plots." His preternatural drawing ability allowed him to do just that.

By the 1950s, Mr. Toth's elegant design and film-like storytelling had revolutionized and revamped the romance, crime, Western, and mystery comic book genres. His bold art style became the template for the "house style" at Standard Comics.

In the late fifties, Alex Toth traveled west to California and broke into the animation business. His "model sheets" and character designs for Hanna-Barbera Productions set a new standard for animated television action-adventure shows. Among the many fondly remembered programs he contributed to were Jonny Quest, The Fantastic Four, The Herculoids, and Space Ghost.

A tireless innovator and seldom-satisfied perfectionist, Mr. Toth enthusiastically continued to break new ground in storytelling techniques throughout the sixties and seventies with his ever-evolving comic book work for Dell, Warren Publishing, and DC. The eighties found him at the peak of his powers.

By 1983, Mr. Toth's career in comics was winding down. For the most part, he was finished with long continuities. By then, he had started a final, far more personal phase of his career -- that of unparalleled educator, perceptive commentator, and hard-spoken critic of the fields that he loved so dearly. His running correspondences with a host of fans and his articles for such pro-zines as Robin Snyder's The Comics and Roy Thomas' Alter Ego, titled Before I Forget... will be studied and re-read for years to come. Also not to be missed are the three fine career retrospectives published by Mr. Manuel Auad. Mr. Toth was elected to the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1990 and to the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 1991.

I started a correspondence with Mr. Toth in the seventies, and count some of his other devoted fans as my closest friends. Like them, I mourn this loss, and will not soon forget Mr. Alex Toth or his wonderful works. Godspeed Alex.

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