Of all the people I have known, comic book legend Alex Toth was several of them.
Like a lot of unsophisticated kids, I didn’t like Toth’s work at first. I preferred the slick superhero drawings of D. C. Silver Age comic book artists Gil Kane and Carmine Infantino, especially when they were inked by Murphy Anderson. To my eyes, Toth’s work committed the sins of lacking detail and looking “different” from the other comic book artists’ work. Alex’s work never had any of the fine feathered inking I admired, unless he was being inked by someone else which, by the time I discovered Toth’s work, was pretty rare.
As I progressed in my aspirations to become a professional comic book artist, I kept hearing over and over again from my heroes and a few peers about how great this Alex Toth guy was. Their admiration seemed to stem from his “storytelling” abilities, whatever the heck that meant. I began to collect Toth’s comic work, thinking that, like medicine, it was probably good for me and that somehow, perhaps through osmosis, I would begin to understand the finer points of this “storytelling” thing they were yammering about and in the process become a better artist.
Sure enough, through time, education and exposure, I finally began to “get” Toth’s work. Eventually it had a huge and permanent impact and influence on my work. I fell in love with his sense of design, his spotting of both blacks, dialogue balloons (and sometimes whites), his graphic use of sound effects, the naturalness of his drawing style and his ability to capture a mood using simple black and white.
Eventually, I met Alex Toth through his closest personal friend (at the time), Bob Foster (Bob and I knew each other through many mutual friends and because we both drew underground comix. Myron Moose Funnies was Bob’s big underground claim to fame).
It was Bob who first took me up to Alex’s home nestled halfway up the Hollywood Hills (just a few minutes away from my Beachwood Drive Hollywood apartment). By reputation I already knew about Alex’s volatile personality. I could tell that this small gathering of fans (there were others there that evening besides Bob and me) was intimidated by Toth and it was equally clear that this group’s primary function was as an audience so that Alex could hold court and pontificate about what was right (but mostly what was wrong) with comics, movies and other elements of our popular culture.
I listened and learned, not always agreeing with Toth (but keeping it to myself when I didn’t). Over time, our relationship grew friendlier and friendlier. I made a lot of trips up to Casa Toth, as Alex rarely felt like leaving his home.
To Be Continued. . .