Sunday, May 28, 2006

Alex Toth Passes

One of the first e-mails I received this morning notified me of the death of comics legend Alex Toth, who passed away at his drawing board yesterday. Toth was 77 years old, but he remained an active commentator on the comics field, producing an amazing flow of meticulously hand-lettered missives, many complete with illustrations. He was one of the few remaining links to the Golden and Silver Age of comics, and was one of the pioneers in the movement from comics to animation.

My first exposure to Toth's work came via his Eclipso stories for DC. Toth's strong, bold, clean-line style was immediately engaging; he seemed to measure the necessity of every line on the page, only using those essential to conveying the mood and the flow of the story. His heroes were square-jawed and intrepid, his villains were malevolent and disturbing, his women were beautiful and graceful. But it was his storytelling that held it all together; every panel flowed across the page, carrying the reader along for the ride.

I missed Toth's work on Brave & Bold #53, an Atom-Flash team-up story, and ended up picking it up a year or so afterwards (got it in a trade from Bobby Ware, a casual friend who was always good for filling in DC gaps, and who probably felt the same about me insofar as "offbrand" titles like Archie, ACG, and Tower were concerned). I didn't know Alex Toth's work sufficiently well to link a name to the story without looking at the credits, but I recognized the style instantly. Even to a young comics reader, Toth was a distinctive talent.

I learned years later that Toth was a vital contributor to the look of Space Angel, a short-lived animated series that enthralled me as a child. Later on, his animation career took him to Hanna-Barbera, where he created the unforgettable look of Space Ghost. Since animation was undoubtedly more financially rewarding than comics work, Toth's career moved more in that direction, and his comics work became more sporadic. His work on DC's Super-Friends was enough to entice me to buy what I otherwise might have dismissed as a "kids' comic," but I lamented the fact that he didn't turn his attention to the growing independent comics market; think of the amazing work he could have done had he, like Will Eisner, produced dozens of graphic novels in the latter years of his life!

Thanks for the wonderful memories, Mr. Toth; my life was better because of what you did!

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