Archive | Alex Toth

Genius is Here

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Here are the first two reviews—in Comics Bulletin and Comics Alliance—of Genius, Illustrated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth, which goes on sale today!

Jason Sacks writes in Comics Bulletin: “The generosity of artistic material in this book knows no bounds, and the quality of the biographical material is absolutely unparalleled in comics scholarship…. Genius Illustrated sets the absolute gold standard for deluxe artist biographies. There have been some wonderful comics history books released in the last few years, but this book surpasses them all in terms of its production values, its comprehensiveness and the quality of the biographical information presented. Alex Toth was one of the greatest artists ever to work in the comic art medium. This book merits the highest possible compliment: it’s a worthy tribute to Toth.”

And in Comics Alliance, John Parker says: “Genius, Illustrated is a soaring success…. The amount of material collected in Genius, Illustrated is bordering on the ridiculous…. Add to that a nuanced, heavily-researched, and even-handed biography, and you’ve got one of the most fascinating books about comics in recent memory”

Toth Re-Redux!

You’ll recall Dean’s recent post in this space showing off the advance copy of Genius, Illustratedhe received from the printer. After he finished giving it a good going-over, he sent it my way. It traveled fifteen hundred miles and showed up on my doorstep only two days later!Bruce_Illustrated

My initial reaction after a fast skimming was: “I thought it would be good, but I didn’t imagine it would be this good …” What prompted that reaction?

Part of it is that, since the book covers Alex Toth’s life and career from the mid-1960s to its end in the early 21st Century, we have more color to offer—more color snapshots, more color artwork (wait’ll you see that full-color presentation piece Toth did for The Herculoids—wow!). Part of it is that Illustrated has even more pages than its predecessor, Genius, Isolated, yet it also forms a nearly seamless whole when combined with that earlier book.

Part of it is that we were fortunate that comic art fans, other professionals, and “The Friends of Alex” were generous in providing us original artwork to use in the book—we once again reprint many full stories for readers to enjoy, an impressive number of them shot from the original art, as well as a wide variety of rare pieces. (OK, you Toth fans, you say you’ve seen the Rape: A Man’s Problem art Alex did for Uncle Sam—but have you seen the unaltered Rape art? You will, inGenius, Illustrated!) And part of it is that Alex’s story is a compelling one, a story that impresses, inspires, and yet touches us in vulnerable, all-too-human ways. We owe a huge vote of thanks to Alex’s family, friends, and peers for their candor and insights, for helping us pay what we hope is fitting tribute to the Master.

A couple of extra teaser pages, to whet your appetite.

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Genius, Illustrated goes on sale very soon; be watching for it! Me, I’m settling down over the next day or two to give it a detailed reading and savor every page…

Alex Toth Redux!

After two years or researching, writing, and gathering rare and wonderful art, our advance copy ofGENIUS, ILLUSTRATED: The Life and Art of Alex Toth has arrived. Here’s a quick look at the cover and a couple of interior spreads. The book will be on sale late next month!

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Measure for Measure

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Alex Toth drawing James Bond, Dick Tracy, the men from U.N.C.L.E., Li’l Abner…and more!!!

This spring I promised that my Job One was producing the text for Genius, Illustrated, the concluding installment in our comprehensive examination of Alex Toth’s life and art. My summer was devoted almost exclusively to this pursuit, with the writing concluded very close to the last day of summer. After that, it passed inspection by many sets of eyes, my own first of all-when you produce a work of this length and complexity, you want to step back, read it stem-to-stern, and make sure the whole hangs together they way you envisioned while you were working on the individual parts!

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Once I was satisfied, Dean read the manuscript and gave it his approval, then we passed it into the hands of Alex’s four children: Dana, Carrie, Eric, and Damon. We also asked a couple folks to read portions of the text in order to confirm we were correctly conveying the information they had provided.

One can ask how it could possibly take more than four months to write a manuscript; the answer is a tapestry made up of three major threads, which together resulted in me amassing this tsunami of paper, DVDs, CD-ROMs, books, magazines, and audio cassettes not just over the past four months, but over the past two years:

 

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The first thread is the sheer volume of topics that needed to be addressed. Genius, Illustrated‘s manuscript is thirty-five percent longer than its predecessor’s, covering the last forty-five years of Toth’s life, the second half of his eclectic career in comics, and the bulk of his career in animation (Genius, Isolated discusses his days with Cambria Studios, but Illustrated takes Alex through his many stints at Hanna-Barbera [H-B] and his other assignments on cartoon series such as Thundarr the Barbarian and The Bionic 6). When you consider that he was often producing new comics material while also working at H-B, the strands of this thread have a tendency to weave in and out, wrapping around one another in sometimes-unexpected ways. Correlating this amount of information and organizing it in a coherent way that doesn’t confuse the reader is a challenge best met by careful forethought and planning, before the writing ever begins.

The second thread is the number of persons who had something to say about Alex. We conducted interviews for this project-many of them lengthy and far-reaching-with roughly two dozen of Toth’s family, compeers, and fellow professionals. We certainly could not reach out to every one of the “Friends of Alex” without the manuscript growing so dense reviewers would begin casting about their favorite H-word (“hagiography”). Still, I believe you’ll find the sizable cross-section of participants speak with authority and emotion about the major aspects of Alex the Fabulous Talent and Alex the Curmudgeonly Man. To give you a sense of exactly how much interview wordage we’re talking about, I stacked up all of the transcripts of phone interviews I had at hand-I made no effort to add printed copies of the conducted-by-e-mail interviews we did with folks like Bill Chadbourne-and measured them. As you can see, the stack stands roughly two and a half inches high!

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That’s a honkin’ lot of material, and we could hardly use every last scrap of it. You may be able to spot my hen-scratching at top of the first page of the David Armstrong transcript visible in the picture – those are notes about which quotes within the “xscript” I wanted to include in my text, each note flagging the quote, the topic to which it pertains, and the page of the document upon which it resides. I did that with every interview in this stack after reading each multiple times.

A third thread is the amount of correspondence Alex himself wrote throughout the years. We must have read close to five hundred of Alex’s letters-written-for-publication and letters-written-to-friends that were donated to us from various sources. At times it was necessary to go back and do some rewriting on a section already completed, because a new letter would fall in our hands containing information too fascinating to exclude (Alex’s letter to Milton Caniff that appears near the end of chapter seven is one such example).

 

Bill Peckmann’s decade-plus of correspondence with Toth alone was a treasure trove of insights and opinions, and we’re forever indebted to Bill for his generosity. Notice that the stack of correspondence we received from Peckmann stands almost exactly two inches tall.

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I used up more than one full packet of Post-It Notes flagging select letters for use out of this stack of Bill’s contributions, writing the date and topic on a Post-It, then attaching it every time I found a letter I planned to use (and sometimes pointing out, for longer letters, the page and paragraph containing the quote to be used).

So: Alex’s comics career, his personal life, and his cartoon career, sometimes stopping-and-restarting, sometimes overlapping each on top of the other. Digesting, organizing, and excerpting not only the words of others, but also what Alex himself had to say about a variety of other subjects (wait’ll you read his classic rant against American auto manufacturers!). Reading articles about Toth or interviews with him from a variety of magazines and websites. Watching episodes of several of Alex’s cartoons, reading a variety of his comics stories, examining his artwork (more than fifty pages of doodles alone!) … then tossing all those puzzle pieces onto the table and laboring to construct a narrative that informs, entertains, and does justice to all the many facets of its subject. All while, for a significant portion of the time, new material was regularly being added to the mix.

That’s how it can take more than four months to write a manuscript! And that’s why the Geniusseries has had a total gestation period of longer than two years…

…Yet Dean and I feel it’s been worth it and we trust you will, too, when you have the book in your hands. We didn’t like the delays any more than you did, but they were necessary to create what we believe is a quality product worthy of your valuable money and equally valuable leisure reading time.

Finally, yes, there is one more book to come in our Alex Toth: Genius series. The artbook Genius, Animated will zoom in for a close-up on Alex’s days working for the Hollywood cartoon factories. It will feature some artwork familiar to many, and quite a bit of artwork that has heretofore been seen only by a select few. It’s being produced with permission of the various rights-holders, so we won’t be repeating the issues that plagued earlier attempts at such a project (though yes, it’s certainly possible we’ll make plenty of other mistakes!). In getting such permission, we’re able to bring you a sizeable amount of unseen Alex Toth artwork that been safely sitting in the Hanna-Barbera archives. Be looking for it later in 2013—after you’ve immersed yourself in the Life and Art of Alex Toth and savored the fabulous art that infuses Genius, Illustrated.

Here’s a sampling of what you can look forward to.

Rare early 1960s Toth art for UK-based Fleetway:

 

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More rare Toth art for Fleetway!

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One of a series of title cards for “How To Succeed With Sex!”

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Presentation pieces for unproduced Hanna-Barbera series:

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The complete “How to Murder Your Wife” strips—with the original Ben Day tones!How_to_Murder_0228

Plus the complete original art to “White Devil…Yellow Devil,” which he re-reworked after the art was returned to him from DC. Compare this printed version with the re-inked version below.

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And in case you forgot what the cover will look like:

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And the winner is…

Alex Toth: Genius, Illustrated received the Harvey Award for “Best Biographical, Historical or Journalistic Presentation” last night at the Baltimore Comic-Con. We’d like to thank everyone for honoring our tribute to Alex. This wasn’t the first recognition Alex received, of course. That honor likely happened in 1942 when he was one of the winners (of a crisp $1 bill!) of a contest inCaptain America #18 in which readers had to spot all the intentional errors in a drawing. Here’s a rare item which even the most ardent Toth fans have probably not seen! Many thanks to Cory Sedlmeier, Marvel Masterworks Editor, for sending this to us. Art © Marvel Entertainment LLC.

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Me and Mea Culpa

We try to keep you informed with what’s going on here at LOAC Central, even when the news isn’t exactly what we want it to be. This is one of those times.

I’ll give it to you straight, with no candy-coating: Genius, Illustrated, the second book in our series devoted to the brilliant artist Alex Toth, is going to be late. And I’m the hold-up, because I’m still writing the text.

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You can bet I don’t like this situation—I know this means I’ve let down Dean (who has a 2012 release schedule that we really do try to follow) and all the readers who are eagerly awaitingIllustrated. I bust a hump not to come up short often, but this time that is indeed what has happened.

Part of the reason I’m delayed has to do with some personal business. Not all of it was badpersonal business—and you’ll probably hear about bits and pieces of that as the months unfold – but I did lose a chunk of almost eight weeks last fall due to a loved one’s illness. There are times when those you care about need you to step up for them, and while I regret that doing so has cost me in other areas (meeting my Illustrated schedule among them), I know in this instance I did the right thing. I was still able to keep up all my other LOAC duties, but some things in my life had to give, and my work on Illustrated was one of them.

Part of the reason also has to do with the devotion to Alex Toth and the interest in our work among his admirers, friends, and colleagues, because they have continued to come forward throughout 2011 and into 2012. They have offered to be interviewed and share their stories about and remembrances of this man who played such a key role in their own lives, or to provide us with one more stack of correspondence to be digested and correlated with the rest of our accumulated research, one more rare piece of artwork to sigh over, one more little-known fact or anecdote about Alex or his work to successfully incorporate into the narrative flow of the text. This is a mighty good issue to deal with, but it has affected my ability to “make the trains run on time.”

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One of the treasures awaiting in Genius, Illustrated: Alex’s original artwork for the complete “White Devil…Yellow Devil.” In this sample, note how Alex re-inked the page after receiving the originals back from DC! From Star Spangled War Stories #164. Copyright 1972 DC Comics Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

 

And of course, not all the problems are tied to outside sources. Part of the reason was that Iunderestimated the sheer amount of work required to bring Toth’s life and career into proper focus. Having produced our text feature for Scorchy Smith & The Art of Noel Sickles, I thought I had a good handle on the scope of an Alex Toth overview and my approach going into the Geniusproject was similar to my Sickles approach: gather the information, organize it into a timeline while looking for the common themes and finding the most compelling way to tell the person’s “story,” then do the actual writing. As Dean noted in his Preface to our first volume (Genius, Isolated), Alex’s story is less a clear plotline than a mosaic from which clarity emerges as all the various pieces are drawn together. I definitely take responsibility for needing more time than I expected to deal with the sheer volume of information we’ve assembled, to understand what it was telling me, and to put myself in a position where I can – I hope! – do proper justice to Alex, his immense legacy, his family, and several of the friends who knew him so well and cared about him so much.

The silver lining in the cloud is that my other writing responsibilities for LOAC are being met – I’m turning in all my shorter pieces for Steve Canyon, Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim, and Li’l Abner on time. Now, that’s a thin silver line, because time spent researching and writing for those series is time that can’t be spent on Illustrated, but I suspect everyone will agree it’s better to have the bulk of the titles flowing on time than to have one project (no matter how important) creating a “logjam” that delays three or four others.

I wish we could give you a hard-and-fast revised date for Illustrated‘s release, but my crystal ball isn’t that clear right now. Let us get further down the line so we can see a good date, then we’ll pass it along. The best thing I can tell you is: I feel the pressure to get Genius, Illustrated written as well as I can write it and as fast as I can write it so we can get the necessary approvals, then assemble the book, go through the proofing and correcting cycles, and be printer-ready. This is a powerful motivating force in my life right now.

There’s the story—my immediate hope is that you’ll understand the situation. If you have bouquets or brickbats you wish to toss, our contact info is just a couple clicks away.

My ultimate hope is that when you finally do see Genius, Illustrated, you’ll agree it’s been worth the extra wait. And as soon as we can possibly get this book up for sale, we will. After all, we’re as anxious to hold a copy in our hands as you are!

 

 

STILL Talkin’ Toth

Bruce Canwell sat down with Alex Dueben at Comic Book Resources for a fascinating in-depth discussion about Alex Toth and our process of researching and assembling Genius, Isolated, as well as the next two books in the set.

Meanwhile, over at Scoop, both X9: Secret Agent Corrigan and Genius, Isolated have received great reviews.

Happy reading!

But before you go, many of you have probably never seen Alex Toth’s “Battle Flag of the Foreign Legion” from 1950’s Danger Trail #3. It’s one of the rarest and most expensive early ’50s DCs. We print the complete story in Genius, Isolated (© DC Comics Inc, used with permission, thank you very much!). Here’s a sample page that gives you an idea of how modern and sophisticated Alex’s design was that early in his career. Remember, this was 1950!

 

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T Minus 0: It’s Toth Time

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Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth goes on sale today. Two years in the making, we’re mighty proud of our efforts. Bruce Canwell and I recently sat down for a stimulating interview with Dan Nadel over at the Comics Journal.

Dan also offers the first review of the book, calling it “an astounding achievement. Through thoroughly researched text and a gob-smackingly great selection of visuals, Mullaney and Canwell have done what the best biographers should: Both illuminate their subjects life and decisively show what, precisely, made him worthy of their (and our) attention…

“This book is, for me, a game-changer: The first (literally) expansive visual biography of a classic comic book artist that manages to show and tell just what made the man and the work…

“As a fellow historian, I’m still, weeks later, in awe of it. Anyone with an interest in the medium should own and study this book. It’s one of those.”

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