It was announced on the TOTHFANS forums Saturday that Alex Toth passed away while working at his drawing table– he was 78 years old. Toth was one of those comic book artists that are often referred to as an ‘artists artist’. He was revered by so many in the comic book artistic community. Toth had been very ill recently, and he was inundated with cards and letters from those who appreciated his work– something that according to his son, Eric, he seemed to be unaware of until the last couple of years of his life. He had been somewhat of a recluse in recent years and only communicated with select people via his famous ‘postcard letters’ that would often include sketches and doodles. He had garnered a reputation for being somewhat of a curmudgeon over the years… of having little patience for stories and art that he found lacking– that came up short, in his estimation, in either craft or content.
That’s because Alex Toth was an artist with a capital ‘A’.
It’s been said that Toth could say more with one line than most artists could with a hundred– and this is true. But his work was much more than an economy of line. Toth was a master of shadow and light… his work has a balance of black and white that is breathtaking. Seeing his art is like watching the best of noir film. Toth was an explorer with his work. A visual journey through the history of his output reveals that he was always striving to improve and coalesce– to refine– his work down to its essence. You can see in his early works the same roots/influences that begat other cartoonists such as Carmine Infantino, Mike Sekowski and Gil Kane. But Toth diverged at some point from those beginnings to create a visual language that he was always pushing toward something. I believe this is the core of the true artist. Most of us are nothing more than loiterers– happy to be where we are…. content to have the level of craft we’ve achieved and deathly afraid to move away from it. We fear that to change and/or grow would mean to alienate those who enjoy our work. Toth didn’t think in those terms. His sight was firmly fixed on the next level of achievement. It shows in the plethora of sketches that you can find posted all over the internet if you do a search on his name (and, wonderfully, you’ll also be able to own when DEAR JOHN– THE ALEX TOTH DOODLE BOOK is released in September by OCTOPUS PRESS– Jeff Parker’s publishing company). He was ever drawing– always sketching. I am reminded of something that Donald Early– a teacher of mine in art school– told me once during a conversation we were having. He related a story about Michaelangelo, on his death-bed, struggling with a little piece of clay, still obsessed– even at the end– with his quest for perfection. With Toth’s recent illness…. perhaps he felt that his time was short, I don’t know. But the idea that he passed away at the drawing table, still working– still searching for that thing that the true, obsessed artist looks for– is something that doesn’t surprise me.
He was an Artist.
You can find several books on Toth and his work if you search the web for them. Here’s a list of four that I own and cherish:
TOTH: BLACK AND WHITE
ALEX TOTH: BY DESIGN
TOTH– ONE FOR THE ROAD
I don’t know if these books are still in print, or if they’re available at sites like Amazon.com– but you would be well served to do a Google search on these titles to see if you can scare them up. They collect just a small part of the brilliant works Toth has left us with. He was an original and we’re all so lucky to have his art to inspire and thrill us for all time.
This is Entry 233.