Talkin’ Toth: Part One

Alex Toth was the master craftsman of comics. He was outspoken, gifted, studious, prolific, and uncompromising. He drew a lot and he said a lot. Much of it will appear in our upcoming three books devoted to this great artist, and some we just couldn’t comfortably fit. Over the next month, we will share some of that material with you in this space, so—here is the first in a series of “Talkin’ Toth.”


The splash page from “I Struck it Rich,” from Personal Love #11, published in September 1951 by Eastern Color.



As I recall, the whole scheme of these comics was to attract the pre-pubescent, if not adolescent, girl readership—those who were too old to read funny animal and hero comics, but still too young to read True Confessions-type “slicks”—so, the writers cut to the middle line, giving just enough, but not too much, story—load it with emotional scenes girls could relate to, and serve it up with credible artwork!

It worked very well, and for a good many years!

It affected my approach to every story I was to illustrate thereon—regardless of type—kinship was established with the writer, his motive, his copy, his delivery of dialogue, and his sequential breakdown of scenes to tell the story! I have had high regard for good writers, always! It’s thehack writer, of low talent, sensitivity, who has come under my fire, of whose work I’d reject, out of hand, returning scripts to befuddled editors who’d never heard of such goings-on before—thus, my reputation as a renegade grew—I’d had the privilege of working from good, sane scripts—and it spoilt me for the hack tripe of other writers, often puffed-up sorts who’d howl to editors about my changes or comments, never acknowledging the obvious reason for them: that their work was mediocre, minus a factor of ten!

* * * * *

Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth will be on sale in March.


As Rouge Would say:

Though comics are one of the bare handful of born-in-America artforms, their appeal crosses all political and geographical borders. Submitted as proof of this hypothesis—as if proof be needed!…one of the first European editions of a Library of American Comics book. In October, 2010, Nicholas Forsans, Jean-Baptiste Barbier, Antonie Mathon, and their fine co-workers at Bdartist(e) released a lovely translated-into-the-French version of Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, Volume 1. Here’s a look at their familiar-yet-different front dustjacket for the book:


More than two decades after Caniff’s passing and with almost sixty-five years gone by since he abandoned post-War China in favor of Horizons, Unlimited, Bdartist(e)’s release stands as testament to Milt’s unmatched talent and the timeless appeal of Terry Lee and his vivid, unforgettable supporting cast.

Their book follows our own Terry Volume 1 closely, but not exactly. Howard Chaykin’s introduction and my essay were retained; Dean’s preface was not. Like us, Bdartist(e) chose to provide a ribbon bookmark, but Randy Scott’s Index to Volume 1 has been replaced by eight pages of “Hommages:” interpretations of Terry in both color and black-&-white by Continental artists that served as a preview of a December 2010 exhibition on display at the publisher’s gallery, located at 55 rue Condorcet in Paris.

Aside from the text on the front endpapers, the daily reprinted on the back flap of the dustjacket, and the “Character Key to Our Cover” feature, the entire book has been translated into French, all the strips re-lettered. This means our European friends are deprived of Frank Engli’s beautiful lettering, but the work of Maximilien Chailleux is crisp and clean, and certainly it must be no easy task to place translated text within space defined for the “mother tongue.” Well done, M’sieur Chailleux!

As I browsed Terry et les Pirates, I speculated on the considerable challenge one faces in translating Caniff’s dialogue into another language. As the series unfolds, many of Milton’s characters use an increasingly snappy and sometime esoteric American slang, and several of his secondary players routinely fracture the King’s English as a reminder of their Asian or European origins (think of Singh-Singh’s love of “Pappermeents,” or Rouge, using one of her many aliases while confirming what Flippo Corkin has just wryly observed: “Preencess Rojo does have the prett-ee feegure!”). Is it possible to capture even the majority of the insouciance and humor contained in Milton’s scripting? Michel Pagel, who adapted the text in tome 1, will surely handle that considerable task with professionalism, skill, and care.

Alas, I’ll be a poor judge of his efforts—four years of school-years German left me ill-equipped to tackle a French translation!



Believe it or not, this is not the first time my work has been translated for European audiences. I own copies of both the French and German editions of Lee Weeks’s and my graphic novel,Batman: The Gauntlet. (There’s reportedly also a Spanish edition I’ve been unable to find – so if anyone knows where I can get a copy of Robin: Dia Un, I’d be greatly indebted … )LE_DEFI

Cover to the French edition of Gauntlet, which also featured a James Robinson/Lee Weeks
short story reprinted from Legends of the
Dark Knight #100)


On this side of the Atlantic, each week we’re bombarded with e-mails from readers requesting second printings of the LOAC Terry and the Pirates, since many volumes of the initial run are sold out, with copies commanding high prices on the secondary market ($200-300 for Volume Five!). While we have not yet completed our plans—there are scheduling, printing, and economic factors that have to be weighed and balanced—we will be offering second printings of Terry as we look to keep Milton Caniff’s original masterpiece in print during the second decade of the 21st Century. Watch this space for notification when the presses start rolling.

Meanwhile (with a lot of help from Google-Translate): Un grand merci à Bdartist(e) de me donner une copie de leur merveilleuse Terry et les pirates, tome 1! Mes félicitations pour produire un beau livre!

You’ll find the Amazon-France listing for Bdartist(e)’s Terry tome 1 here …

… While the page on Bdartist(e)’s website devoted to Terry – complete with French press coverage – is located here.

Master of the Motherload in Michigan


I’ve known Randy Scott and been familiar with Michigan State University’s Comic Art Collection since the late 1970s. I recently found a carbon copy (remember those?) of the letter I sent him in 1978 that accompanied a copy of Sabre by Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy, the inaugural book from my publishing company, Eclipse Comics. Sabre was the first graphic novel ever published for the comics specialty market, and at a time when graphic novels and comics were considered trash by most universities, I thought it pretty impressive that at least one Big Time College Library would collect what I published!


MSU then became the home for the complete files of Eclipse Comics, from beginning to end. It’s turned out to be a useful resource. For example, when Blake Bell was writing his excellent bookon Steve Ditko, I was able to offer him nearly 100 pages of original research we did at Eclipse in the 1980s, including notes from an interview with Ditko’s brother.

Randy and I were also early members of APA-I. What’s that, you ask? Basically, a bunch of comics nuts producing indexes to different series, writers, and artists. Three other early APA-I members went on to form the Grand Comics Database.



So here we are, thirty years later — Randy is STILL the comics maven at Michigan State University, while I’m preserving and restoring classic comics as founder of The Library of American Comics. Many of our releases boast indexes by…you guessed it, Randy Scott.


Randy shows Lorraine Turner and me some of the hard-to-find European comics he’s brought home from a recent buying trip..

stacksStacks of fun!

bandroomRandy and fellow librarians on campus use his office for their weekly jazz improvs.


Some uncatalogued tearsheets from the King Features collection.

On our recent research trip to East Lansing, the home of MSU’s Special Collections Library, Lorraine Turner and I barely scratched the surface of the several hundred thousand (yes, several hundred thousand!) comics, graphic novels, and books about comics in the stacks. We were concentrating our research on—among other subjects—Alex Raymond’s syndicate proofs forFlash Gordon and Jungle Jim; the cartoonists Otto Soglow, creator of The Little King; Frank Robbins, creator of Johnny Hazard; and Jimmy Hatlo, of They’ll Do It Every Time and Little Iodinefame…

…and to look through my old Eclipse files relating to Alex Toth. Our forthcoming book—Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth—will be richer because the Eclipse files containing correspondence and stats of original artwork have been preserved and catalogued at Michigan State University.


Here’s Alex’s note to me expressing uncertainly over who drew this page originally published by Standard Comics. In the 1980s at Eclipse, I reprinted six issues worth of Standard stories in a series entitled Seduction of the Innocent. Alex’s comment that “you won’t have to pay any of us old crocks” refers to my policy of paying reprint rates to artists or their heirs, regardless of the fact that the comics were in the public domain. It’s a policy I maintain today: Alex’s family is sharing in royalties on our Genius books. It’s a policy we encourage other publishers to adopt.

* * * * *

So here’s a “Hear, Hear” for my old pal Randy Scott, Comic Art Bibliographer, Indexing Guru, and (with his wife Lynn) the best host north of Columbus, Ohio, and south of Cadillac, Michigan.

Caniff…a Visual Biography

Two days ago, I wrote that there’s no greater thrill than when the first box arrives from the printer with the latest book. A close second is discovering rare artwork or photographs and uncovering new biographical information about a cartoonist. In the case of Polly and Her Pals by Cliff Sterrett, our extensive research culminated in an 8,000-word introduction by Jeet Heer that alters the generally accepted view of Sterrett’s life.


On our recent foray to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University (how’s that for a mouthful o’ monicker?!), we were primarily looking through the extensive Milton Caniff archives for original artwork and rarely seen items. If you want Caniff, you go to Ohio State; the justly-famous cartoon library was formed on the basis of Caniff depositing his lifetime of artwork and files to his dear alma mater (class of 1930).


We’re working on the first-ever Milton Caniff artbook, to be published next June. “First ever?” you may ask, with a tinge of doubt. It seems impossible that in a career as well-documented as Milton Caniff’s, there has not been a coffee table artbook dedicated to his work. But there hasn’t. There’s our definitive six-volume Terry and the Pirates, editions of Steve Canyon, Male Call, andDickie Dare, and R.C. Harvey’s phonebook-sized biography—but no artbook.


Original logo color comps for “Buckeye Boys Ranch.”


We think of this new project—simply titled Caniff—as not merely an artbook, but a visual biography that will include many examples of original artworks, promotional pieces, background material, and photographs. Some will be familiar to readers (such the “Pilot’s Creed” TerrySunday that was read into the Congressional Record), but presented in a new version (Caniff’s original watercolor of that famous page, which I saw for the first time on this trip!). Other graphics have never or rarely been collected or reprinted.


And that’s why we were in Columbus, Ohio—to find undiscovered and unreprinted gems by the most influential cartoonist of all time. And find them we did…with a little help from our friends. Last week Lorraine Turner told you about Matt Tauber donning the white gloves in the research room.


Matt Tauber looking through Caniff original artwork

This week, we meet one of the unsung heroes in the field of comics research—OSU’s own Susan Liberator, the Keeper of the White Gloves, the Guardian of the Great Works. Along with Lucy Caswell, Jenny Robb, and Marilyn Scott, the indefatigable Susan has been a tremendous help in all of our research at the Cartoon Library—wading through the Noel Sickles papers, the Shel Dorf, Toni Mendez, and Harold Bell collections, and the wide-ranging Caniff archives. Our much-laudedScorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles, as well as Bruce Canwell’s introductions to the Eisner Award-winning Terry series, would have been much poorer without her assistance. And so, a tip of the archivist’s hat to Susan Liberator.


Who said librarian’s don’t smile?

As we were cataloguing artwork, in walked Jared Gardner, Associate Professor of English at Ohio State, who was looking up something for the history of comics course he teaches. We’re big fans of Jared’s writings about comics on guttergeek and elsewhere; it was a pleasure to meet him and talk a bit about comics criticism, Otto Soglow, and how his 21st-century students respond to such 1920s strips as The Gumps. Here we are admiring the original artwork for one of Caniff’s early drawings for the Columbus Dispatch.


In the months ahead, we’ll share additional rarities from Caniff, like this one from Harry Guyton, Milton Caniff’s nephew: an original watercolor from the 1940s that Caniff did on a standard number 10 envelope. The “bunny” is Milton’s wife, Esther, and the great dane is Capt. Blaze, named after the red-headed rascal in Terry and the Pirates.



For now, though, I’ve got a date with the Dragon Lady…



I’m Positive, it’s Polly!


After all these years of editing and publishing books, there’s still no greater thrill than when the first box arrives from the printer with the latest book hot off the presses. Last week, the massivePolly and Her Pals arrived on our doorstep. When I say “massive,” I’m not kidding. It’s the first Library release in the “champagne edition” size of 12″ wide by 16″ high.

On newsarama, J. Caleb Mozzocco calls Polly “a perfect coffee table book—not one that you would put on your coffee table…but one big enough to be used as a coffee table.”

Douglas Wolk at Comics Alliance was briefer in his assessment: “Don’t Ask! Just Buy It!”

art spiegelman writes, “Polly and Her Pals is a glorious composition of melodious, well-crafted, hot-jazz lines for newsprint; panel after panel of graphic design with the clarity, wit, and grace of a Bix Beiderbecke cornet solo. Visually, it is a happy synthesis of Art Deco, Futurism, Surrealism, Dada, and Pure Cartoon. Your eyes can dance to it.”

We’re incredibly proud that Cliff Sterrett finally gets his due and that we can all experience his amazing and singular cartooning vision.

Polly and Her Pals volume 1: 1913-1927 is in stores and available online now.

Unexpected Treasure


Recently I had the privilege of doing research at the wonderful Cartoon Art Library at The Ohio State University. I have always loved history; it was my best subject in school…after recess and gym. I am a graphic artist and designer, but my hobby is genealogy, and I’ve become a pretty good researcher.

I say pretty good, because I am not and never will be a sleuth like some of my geeks (sorry, I mean “friends”) who are far ahead of me in this field. But I have to tell you, the thought of leaving 88-degree temperatures and my home facing teal water for the double-sweatered university research room with sterile white tables and SILENCE…well, let’s just say I had some mental adjusting to do. But I was anxious to begin the journey, and Dean had sweetened the deal with a promised Michigan family Thanksgiving. So naturally I was all ears.

I am a novice at comic history and here I was accompanying Dean, the bloodhound, on his mission. He instinctively knows what he’s looking for and where to look. I was just following his lead and pulling out any tidbit I thought we could use in one of our upcoming archival books. I swear, he’s like a hawk…nothing escapes his perception. Is he even human? I digress…



Prior to our trip, we had made contact with a wonderful young man named Matt Tauber, who lived in the area and offered his help. Matt has a wonderful blog on Milton Caniff. He arrived early and was waiting as we walked into the library. Thank goodness…someone who actually goes by non-Key West time (in Key West, an hour late is the same as being on time). Dean and I liked him immediately.

He wore a million-dollar smile, emitted non-stop energy and a positive attitude that made the day sing. That’s the best way  to describe it…like great harmony. The memory of this day was like listening to a great melody. As I was shuffling through the files, wearing my Ohio State University-issued white cotton gloves, I became aware of a dynamic in the room that became a sort of revelation.

Dean kept stopping, turning, and showing Matt precious gems—obscure articles, original art, letters, memos, pencil sketches, and the mementos of family and friends of the many artists and writers who comprised a historic comics generation that has since passed. Matt would become totally enthralled and the two of them would exchange silent looks of pure joy and understanding.

That’s when it hit me. This was it—this was the reason for the endless hours, the long brainstorming sessions, the meetings, the interviews, the letter writing…all of it. For this…that pure joy. I thought we had embarked on this expedition to uncover facts and art that were useful in telling a story. This was and IS the story. By collecting all this art and information and placing it in a book, we can give others that smile when they see it for the first time and own it for themselves.


As we continue to uncover more of these little jewels, we can pass them along, too. And it will be there for this generation and for all generations. Joy…pure joy. And here I was fretting over the weather, silly me. I was part of an expedition. Some go to the Arctics…I went to Paradise.


ALEX TOTH: Genius, Genius, Genius

Alex Toth is revered as one of the greatest of all comics artists. Others laud his pioneering work in animation, including his groundbreaking designs for Space Ghost and The Herculoids. His work influenced countless professionals in both fields. His biography and talents proved too big to be contained in a single volume. Therefore, we’re releasing the much-anticipated Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth in March 2011 as the first in a three-book set that will be the definitive statement on the restless genius and timeless legacy of Alex Toth.


Created by the Eisner Award-winning team of Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell—who produced the ground-breaking Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel SicklesGenius, Isolated is a lavishly illustrated book that includes the first biography of this giant figure. The book has been compiled with complete access to the family archives, and with the full cooperation of Toth’s children.


Alex Toth in a playful mood in 2005 with Dana (his eldest daughter) and Eric (his eldest son).


Associate Art Director Lorraine Turner and I met with Dana and Eric last week to discuss the expansive plans for the three-book set. To say that we’re all excited with the larger scope of the project is an understatement!

In addition to art and photographs from the family, Toth fans and friends throughout the world have loaned original artwork reproduced in the entire series. Included are many examples of Alex’s art, from complete stories to rare pages, as well as —incredibly—a previously unknown, unfinished, and unpublished penciled story from the early 1950s! The tome covers his earliest stories at DC in the 1940s, his defining work at Standard and his incomparable Zorro comics in the 1950s, and a special section collects—for the first time—the complete Jon Fury pages that Toth produced while in the army, a section that alone is worth the price of admission.


Alex Toth was more than a unique and influential artist. He was a keenly insightful philosopher about comics, cartooning, and animation—with opinions on how they are created as opposed to how he felt they should be created. He wasn’t shy about expressing those thoughts, whether in sometimes-scathing personal letters, essays for publication, or letters to the editor. To flesh out the complete story of his life and art, Mullaney and Canwell have spent more than a year conducting wide-ranging interviews with dozens of Toth’s peers, friends, and family members. With a special introduction by Mark Chiarello, Genius, Isolated is the beginning of a comics biography everyone will be talking about for years to come.

Genius, Isolated details his life story and work through the early 1960s, when he began his sensational move into animated cartoons. The second book in the series, Genius, Illustrated, picks up the story as Toth becomes one of the leading character designers in television animation—continues through his renewed career in comics with Warren, DC, and his creator-owned properties of the 1970s and beyond—and includes an examination of the artist’s poignant final years.

The third book, Genius, Animated, is a wide-ranging art book reproducing hundreds of Toth’s model sheets and storyboards for such successful cartoons as Space Ghost and Dino Boy, Jonny Quest, Space Angel, Super Friends, The Fantastic Four, Hot Wheels, Thundarr, and Shazzan…and also includes many full-color presentation pieces designed to sell new series to the networks.



A slipcase for the three-book set will be available with the third book.

Hunting(ton) Season



The fact that hunting season opened in the Middle West had nothing to do with why we were in Huntington, West Virginia last week. What could have drawn us nearly 1,200 miles away from the delightlfuly warm temperatures of Key West? Nothing less than a Library of American Comics confab with our marketing and sales guru, Beau Smith. Those who know Beau are aware of the fact that he rarely leaves his home town (the electronic shackles on his ankles may have something to do with it—only kidding!). Oh, he’ll travel up to Mid-Ohio Con each year, but that’s about as far afield as he likes to go.

Luckily for us, Huntington was a convenient first stop on our trip. Beau’s been doing a great job expanding our sales to libraries and universities. Here, he and Associate Art Director (and marketing whiz herself) Lorraine Turner exchange ideas about spreading the word in the halls of academia.


For as many books as Beau and I have worked together on in the past twenty-five years, we still get a thrill opening that first box from the printer to see the latest release.


Beau also gave us a fun tour of the town, which included the stadium of the Marshall football team (his alma mater, and the subject of the movie, “We Are Marshall”). Before we hit the road, Beau’s better half, Beth, joined us for a cracklin’ good breakfast. And then we were off to our next stop: Columbus, Ohio. More about that in our next entry.



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