Alex TOTH and me – Part Two

It’s no secret that Alex was a heavy smoker. His place reeked of stale tobacco. That was hard for me to take and, quite frankly, it forced me to limit my visits. My father was also a heavy tobacco user. I am somewhat allergic to cigarettes and viscerally hate their stench. It was one of many reasons I couldn’t wait to earn enough dough to become financially independent and get my own place. From my experience with my dad’s addiction and Alex’s own railings against government attempts to limit smokers’ rights, I knew that it was most likely that Alex would never quit. He knew about peoples’ aversions to cigarette smoke yet I never once saw him defer to anyone and not smoke in their presence. In Toth’s world, it was his way or the highway.

Like I said, Bob Foster was Alex’s best friend. Bob couldn’t do enough for the guy. When Bob found out that Toth didn’t have any copies of his own Dell comic work, Foster tracked down pristine copies of each and every comic Alex had drawn for Dell, had them beautifully bound as hardcover books and presented them to Alex as gifts.

Bob was that kind of friend, that kind of guy.

Bob also functioned as Toth’s archivist, documenting and keeping records of everything Alex had touched as a creator. I believe they were the best of friends for well over a decade. It was Bob who really educated me as to the finer dimensions and aspects of Toth’s comic work. It was Foster who showed and explained to me why Alex was such a damn good storyteller.

That is why I was shocked when one day Bob called me up, very upset. Toth had completely severed their friendship after Bob had made a casual joke about Communism.

BAM! That was it.

Alex was furious over the jest. Bob apologized; he had no idea that Alex would take what was meant as a lighthearted throwaway quip so seriously. Bob was told in no uncertain terms to leave the house immediately. From that moment on, Foster was no longer allowed any contact with Alex; no phoning, no letters, and, above all, no more visits. Toth threatened Bob with physical harm if Foster ever dared to show his face in Alex’s presence ever again.

This happened while Toth was finishing up the work on his own self-written and illustrated comic book, Bravo For Adventure. With his Johnny Bravo comics, Alex was going to show us all how he thought comics should be done.

The problem was, that when he finished it, Toth no longer had his Number One Fan (Foster) to show it off to; no one to immediately give Alex the accolades Toth thought he was due for this comics “masterpiece”. But this was not to be. In a pattern that repeated itself throughout Alex Toth’s life, he had successfully isolated himself from Bob (and, eventually, a lot of other folks who loved — or tried to love — Alex and his work).

So he called me.

Because of my friendship with both Bob and Alex, I knew exactly what was going on. It was clear that Toth wanted me to come over and be the first to see his Bravo book and shower him with praise for a superb job well done.

It was clear he was lonely. But he was lonely by his own design. I was personally angry over the way Toth had treated Foster. I also didn’t relish descending into that foul tobacco pit of Casa Toth. I knew that even though he was pushing me to come over for a “quick visit” to see the finished book, I was aware that there was no such thing as an Alex Toth quick visit. Despite isolating himself from so many of his closest friends, he still craved attention, occasional companionship and deep conversation. Not surprisingly, Alex was a lonely guy, so these “quick “ visits nearly always ended up taking a minimum of three or four hours. I used a few easy deadlines I had as an excuse not to come over.

Upon buying my printed copy, I was amazed by Bravo for Adventure — amazed that Alex’s writing seemed to violate everything he railed against about other writers. I found it unbelievably overwritten — something I knew Alex hated in a script. I guess that Toth had a blind spot when it came to editing his own stuff.

About ten years later I was with Bob Foster during the San Diego Comic Con when we spotted Alex on the other side of the hotel’s swimming pool. Bob said something to the effect of, “It’s been ten years. I know I wasn’t in the wrong but, what the hell — I’ll take the high road and go apologize to Toth for any and all perceived slights I might have made. I miss him. I’d love to restore and resume our friendship.”

Bob began to make his way over to Toth when Alex suddenly spotted him.

“FOSTER, YOU SONUVABITCH!” he shouted. “I told you if I ever saw you again I would beat the living hell out of you!”

With that, Alex began pushing aside chairs and tables in an attempt to get to Bob and begin assaulting him. People grabbed Toth before he could land the haymaker he wanted to deliver. Some of Bob’s friends and I hustled Foster away from Toth and off to safety. Needless to say, Bob was pretty disappointed and upset.

To Be Continued. . .

10 Responses to “Alex TOTH and me – Part Two”

  1. Bill says:

    @Bob Foster: Anything to add? Corrections? Illuminations?

  2. Rick Tucker says:

    Alex was a gifted storyteller but at the same time his reputation precedes him, and it’s not a good one. I think he’s easier to appreciate from a distance, though I’m sure a lot of people attending his memorial service. Having never met the man but knowing a few who have I’m convinced I missed nothing.
    Wonderful talent doesn’t always equate to a winning personality.
    Of course, then, there’s you.
    Go figure.

  3. Jorge Farfan says:

    Wow…Unbelievable!! After all Bob did for him, that’s real shitty how he was treated! And then to top it all off, Toth tries to make good on his promise at the SDCC. Not so sure I want to see how this story turns out, but of course now I’m hooked! Ha! See ya mañana then.

  4. Bill says:

    @Rick: Thank you, Rick!

    I was not going to make any of this public until I recently read the first two volumes of the massive Dean Mullaney three volume series on Toth and saw that the Toth family was involved with those books and, apparently, they didn’t seem to have a problem presenting a truthful warts-and-all picture of Alex.

    As you’ll see in upcoming entries, not everything I have to say about Alex is negative. He could be incredibly charming at times. And there is no disputing his enormous talent and vision. Toth stands as one of the giants of comic art.

    With the arts, one must separate the individual creator from his or her work, otherwise you’ll end up with a very short list of whose work you can allow yourself to like or admire. Paul Gauguin was famously awful and despicable in his treatment of his friends and family…but, man, his color! WOW!

    On the other hand, fewer folks in comics are as beloved and revered as the late, great Al Williamson. Now there was (to use Al’s own terms for someone of whom he was fond) a real sweetheart of a guy!

  5. Jim says:

    Now, Paul Gauguin, what comic book characters was he known for? *insert rim shot* Thank you ladies and gentlemen. I’ll be here all week. Please tip your waitress generously.

    Love the Toth-lore. More installments please.

  6. Jorge Farfan says:

    Bill, your story got me all wound up last night, but I meant no disrespect to the Great Toth. It’s like you said, an artist’s personality and his work are 2 separate things. Now, more fodder please! 😉

  7. Rick Tucker says:

    Bill,

    While I’m convinced that meeting Toth would not have been a good thing I have no doubt he had his good points. I just doubt they would have been in evidence if i met. My luck doesn’t run that way and for good reason.
    You’re right about Al, though. I only met Al Williamson once. Mark Schultz introduced us. After the initial meet up I was wandering around talking to other artists when Mark walks up to me and asks me why I didn’t get a sketch from Al. I told him it was too much to ask from the guy. Mark practically turned me around and sent me marching and said something to the affect that Al was bothered that I didn’t ask for a sketch. Wow, I made an impression on Al Williamson?
    I get back to the table and there’s Al, this master storyteller practically sitting by himself so we get to talking again. I ask him if he’d do a sketch for me and just grinned up at me and went to work. “It’s no bother at all,” was all he said as he focused on the sketch and we resumed out talk.
    I never had the chance to see him again and really wish the circumstances could have led to another opportunity to really sit and talk to him.
    I met Jeff Jones at that convention too. He was very friendly, almost shy, not at all the guy I expected to meet after several discussion with George Pratt and especially Jon Muth.
    The convention was one of the Hitchcock affairs held in Greensboro NC in ’92 or ’93 when we lived in Raleigh. I met George Evans for the first time as well as Gray Morrow too!
    Great show from the talent perspective. You, Stevens, and Wildey would have been right at home.

    Rick

  8. Bill says:

    @ Rick: God bless John Hitchcock, one of the very few people I know (along with my pal David Armstrong) who was able to remain friends with Alex Toth all the way to the end. I imagine having a continent between them helped (although in David’s case that’s not true; he and his family eventually came down from the Pacific Northwest and settled in southern California).

    John’s shows/mini-conventions are always terrific with great talent line-ups — and the talent he lines up are very accessible throughout the show.

    Jeff Jones seemed a little aloof when I first met him, but after getting to know him better I think it was just shyness on his part. He became extremely warm and kind to me after our first meeting at the 1972 EC Convention in New York, especially after he embraced the Catherine side of himself. He was a very sweet man, bless him.

    I love the two Georges (Pratt and Evans); I only briefly met Gray Morrow. You were very lucky to have that time with Al who, along with Sergio Aragonés, will always be remembered as one of the most beloved guys in comics.

  9. Scott Conner says:

    That’s a great story, Rick! I wish I had met Al.

  10. Jay says:

    The Wrath of Toth, luckily I never experienced it. I have a happy memory of meeting him at his home in 1975 when I took a motorcycle trip from Portland. He mentioned a logo he designed for Ivan Tor Productions, a dolphin design. He was unhappy with a “Hot Wheels” word balloon that was changed without his approval to an octagon shape. There can be no serious dispute that he was supreme in scene composition.

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