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!
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!
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:
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!
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.
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:
More rare Toth art for Fleetway!
One of a series of title cards for “How To Succeed With Sex!”
Presentation pieces for unproduced Hanna-Barbera series:
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.
And in case you forgot what the cover will look like:
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.
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.
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.”
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!
Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth continues to garner rave reviews. Here are three more we’d like to share. The first, from Barnes & Noble Review by Paul Di Filippo. The second, in the Los Angeles Review of Books, by Howard Chaykin. The third, by Jeff Vaughn in Fandom Advisory Network.
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.
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!
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.”
April 27, 2011 marks the official on-sale date for Genius, Isolated, the first volume in our massive three-book examination of the life and career of the great Alex Toth. We know this book has been eagerly awaited by Toth’s fans, many of whom are some of the most popular and prestigious names in comics, animation, and motion pictures. We hope, as our readers make their way through the thirty thousand words of biography and twenty complete comics stories—many of them printed from the original art—contained in this 325-page, 9.5″ x 13″ tome, they will recognize it as a true labor of love, and will feel it has been worth the wait.
Certainly we were encouraged by the reactions to the book expressed by Alex’s four children. They received a pre-publication edition for their review and approval and what they had to say was an affirmation that we had successfully achieved our goals.
Three generations of Toths. Alex in 1970 with (from left to right) his mother,
daughters Dana and Carrie, and (in front) Eric and Damon.
Eric Toth read his copy of the book while traveling (in China, if memory serves). “The work looks great,” he sent via his Blackberry from halfway around the world. “This is very exciting. Thanks for all of your hard work.”
Eric’s sister, Carrie Morash, was in her home when she wrote to us, saying, “I couldn’t go very far without feeling emotional and missing my dad while reading your book. From the preface, which was thoughtful and kind, to the introduction by Mark Chiarello, I think my dad is being given a very fair biography. I loved the story of Mark’s where he asked my dad for a drawing—the words and description of how dad responded were so him—“OK, pest…” A picture popped in my head of him sitting there and saying those words with one eyebrow raised as he often did. And, the quote of his—”See kiddo it’s simple”—is all dad. Endearing. Heartwarming to me. The art work was a joy to read and view. So much has been gathered—it’s hard to comment on all that went through my head as I read the story of my father. I don’t think that I will ever stop discovering new things about him and his life now.”
Like his brother, youngest son Damon also had to pass along his thoughts to Dean while on the run. “I want to thank you and Bruce for such a wonderful job you did on Genius, Isolated. I enjoyed reading every page and learned a great deal about dad. I look so forward to Genius, Illustrated and Genius, Animated.”
Alex’s first child, Dana Palmer, had this to say in two separate e-mails: “As I sit here in tears with a lump in my throat – this, this is a beautiful body of work. The layout/graphics/scans – done so impeccably. What a tribute. This was my father—Alex Toth. Wow. It sort of hit me in a new way during this process, and this book will be my bible when it comes to his legacy. My father would have loved this. I wish he were here to read it, and it makes me miss him even more. I wished I’d known some of the things discovered in this body of work. It explains a lot.”
This is, in some ways, The Year of Toth. Several publications dedicated to the work of this unique talent are being released during 2011, but Genius, Isolated is the only project undertaken with the approval of and in cöoperation with Alex’s estate, and the only project returning money to that estate. We went into this project enthusiastic about presenting Alex’s life story and artwork to modern audiences, but the relationship we’ve built with Dana, Carrie, Eric, and Damon over the past two years has made the Genius series even more special.
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—more than we can comfortably fit into our upcoming three books devoted to this great artist. But we can share some of that additional material with you in this space, so—here is our latest in a series of Talkin’ Toth:
ALEX ON SWORDFIGHTING ON THE ZORRO TV SHOW from a 1958 letter –
This week’s TV Guide—Guy Williams Catalano tells of his dad teaching him the art of foil and saber from Guy’s seventh summer. What hokey tripe…he’s a clumsy ox afoot…and admitted to our editor that he’d fenced not a stroke prior to Freddie Cavens’ first lesson at the Disney lot gym… [Fred Cavens was Errol Flynn’s old fencing master at Warner Brothers.]
Britt Lomond (Monastario) was always the better blade…
The above, Guy and Britt, costumed, will fence in person at Disneyland this weekend…restaging their TV duels for the hot dog crowd.
Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth will be on sale in early April.
A page from “Zorro’s Secret Passage” (© 2011 Zorro Productions Inc.)