also great! have you been able to examine all or most of these FAS books?
Yeah, I've examined most of the FAS books, though I can't recall if I've looked over all of the material. It's 24 lessons, spread over four giant three-ring binders (which I call "books") -- 6 lessons each. The lessons on draftsmanship (anatomy, clothing, perspective, etc) are sound and informative, but standard. The lessons on composition are where I see the clearest connection to what Toth began doing in '49 or so -- arranging and cropping shapes and varying their sizes and distances for clarity and drama. It's hard to find books on that subject even now, but it would have been nearly impossible in Toth's day. (I once asked him in a letter what books I should read on composition, and he said there weren't any. I've since found a few, but it's a surprisingly arcane field of study, given how crucial composition is to a picture's success.) Any artist can find lessons on anatomy or perspective in books or art classes, but lessons on composition are so hard to find that I think the FAS section on the subject offered Toth a strong advantage over his peers.
I should mention that the FAS books I've looked over are sets from '54 and the early '60s, rather than what Toth would have received in the late '40s, but the changes were so minor in the books I've seen that his books were probably identical to the '54 set.
I mentioned in the comment above that I've found some good books on composition. Here are three that I strongly recommend to any artist:The Simple Secret to Better Painting, by Greg Albert. The Visual Story, Second Edition: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media, by Bruce BlockPictorial composition and the critical judgment of pictures, by Henry Rankin Poore
That last one is in the public domain and can be read online
, but I recommend buying a hardcopy. It's long and dry and will take awhile to slog through. (Worth it!)
Also, Toth remarked that the FAS was created by "an even dozen" top illustrators, and he named several, whose names I linked to their art samples. Here are the rest of that original dozen, with samples:Austin BriggsRobert FawcettJohn AthertonStevan DohanosBen StahlHarold von Schmidt
2011-08-15 09:21 am (UTC)
Z-ANGLE = Now I see Toth with new eyes
So, on a Cartesian plane, it is the one coming AT you. A 3-D effect.
(I guess that's not really a Cartesian plane, is it?)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartesian_coordinate_system#Cartesian_coordinates_in_three_dimensions
Okay, I see what you mean, from the green lines.
Now I see Toth with new eyes.
This makes me appreciate more my sister's comment when I showed her some John Byrne work in 1980, which I liked so much (he was the super-hot X-Men artist in those days), the which she dismissed with, "Very two dimensional. No foreshortening."
So, I forget what publisher is buying your Toth essays.
And when will they be collected under one cover?
2011-08-15 10:02 am (UTC)
Re: Z-ANGLE = Now I see Toth with new eyes
Ha -- no offers yet. But why buy when people can read them here for free?
2011-08-15 04:43 pm (UTC)
don't forget Sickles and Caniff
THis is a great analysis of Toth- the perspective and cropping in his work has always stood out and even more so in your essay. And I do agree with you that he was looking at illustrators and I am sure the FAC was a huge influence but I think Sickles and Caniff were just as, if not more important in his early development. In the new Setting the Standard book the article/interview in the beginning Toth states that Sickles was his biggest influence. If you look at his Scortchy work and Caniff's Terry from the 30's and 40's you'll see a lot of the panel design, composition and use of blacks were inspired from that work. Here are some examples that i could find online. not 100% sure on teh dates but shows some of the design things you were talking about (caniff from the FA cartoon course:
check out the last panel in this one or even the first panel
At least in my opinion. But Toth did take these principles and really really pushed them into a new design direction. There is an essay/comparison on the internet about how Toth and Hugo Pratt took the Caniff/ Sickels influence in totally different direction. http://www.comicbookbin.com/Milton_Caniff_Alex_Toth_Hugo_Pratt001.html
not the best art examples but a good read.
Thanks again for a GREAT essay I can't wait to read your next one on Toth;s line!
2011-08-16 07:35 am (UTC)
Re: don't forget Sickles and Caniff
Caniff and Sickles were indeed huge influences on Toth, but I suspect Toth needed the FAS course to help him unlock how C & S achieved their effects. His pre-'49 work lacks the strong draftsmanship and design of his post-'49 work -- despite the fact that he had followed Caniff and Sickles for years by that time. It seems like something clicked for him in '48/'49.
forgot to mention- loved the bathroom signs for explanation of the Z and shading effect. perfect way to explain it! Just like Toth the simpler the better.
2011-08-15 10:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for putting the work in on this; it's not just a great breakdown of 50s era Toth, but of comic art in general. Loved the amount of detail.
Thank Frank. I debated whether to include so much. Ironically, where examples from Toth's oeuvre are concerned, MORE is more!
2011-08-16 04:09 am (UTC)
Superb essays, Jesse - WOW!
I've long been disinterested in Toth's earliest work, but with the new books out couple with your articles, teh pieces are falling into place as to why, when and how. It's striking to discover what a leap he made, and so quickly! Your point in post #1 is well taken, though as Chaykin recently observed in a review of Genius:Isolated, Toth had to have been a precocious talent in some fashion to improve as he did, at such an early age.
I've seen some of the FAS stuff before, but never realized or applied it as you have with Toth and his work. A revelation! I've picked up these principles and tried to apply them in my comics, largely through observation and analysis of Toth's work over the years. Second-hand, apparently!
Thanks for taking the time for such exhaustive and insightful pieces. When you recover and have time - more, more!
BTW - I wrap up my 14-part series on The Land Unknown tomorrow:
Thanks Paul, and thanks for the link. Everyone should check out Paul's blog for detailed analyses of Toth's comics.
I'd agree with Chaykin that Toth was a precocious talent, but I'd qualify that to say that Toth's genius was more as a learner than as a draw-er. I see kids on DeviantArt who can draw circles around the adolescent Toth, but ten years from now they'll be far behind where he was at 25.
2011-08-18 02:16 am (UTC)
Hard to disagree. But do you think then that anyone who applies themselves as Toth did can learn as quickly and well, or did he have a certain trait and/or capacity for such development? If the latter, what is that trait?
I think he had a special capacity for applying himself as he did. Most artists aren't as willing as he was to swap out bad habits for good ones.
If an artist is as willing as he was, and if they have (as he did) enough to talent to draw professionally, then sure: I believe they could learn as quickly and as well as he did. A roomful of adequate professionals with the right attitude and the right lessons could learn to draw as well as Toth within a few years.
The trouble is that good instruction is hard to find, and even with good instruction, most artists lack the strength of will to give up their bad habits.
Most artists aren't as willing as he was to swap out bad habits for good ones.
That's all talent really is, the will to be better and better at something.
Well, I think there are some with a natural gift, who just grasp things faster and more easily than others.
Also, there are those who work hard for years without much progress; it wouldn't be accurate to say they lack the will to be better.
I think the key with Toth was that he was willing to change his methods. Not just effort, but humility.
The "natural gift" explanation always sounds too vague for my satisfaction.
A lot of what's called a "natural gift" is really just the willingness to take risks and learn from mistakes. Timidity is the greatest obstacle when it comes to learning anything. I saw this a lot during art school and when I'm teaching someone to draw. The bolder students get more involved with the work and grasp things faster because their boldness gives them access to more hands-on experience while the more timid students get stuck on theoretical approaches that may or may not pan out (usually not).
People who work hard for years without making progress are usually too stubborn, lacking the will to admit that they're trying an approach that isn't suitable for them in terms of improvement. It's a symptom of fear, something I've seen a lot of during my art school and workshop days. The only way to overcome fear is to willingly confront it.
Anyway, thanks for finally posting your follow-up article. It was worth the wait.
2011-08-18 03:41 pm (UTC)
I know you disagree, Jesse, but I'll say it again: both Frazetta's and Toth's work (might as well throw in Al Williamson, Jeff Jones, and even Berni Wrightson - his '72-'73 Swamp Thing era) quickly leaped forward once they started making extensive use of PHOTO REFERENCE. Yes, they studied and grew, but those early Toth samples are drawn from his head; the ones from two years later have the unmistakable stamp of photography on them; the angles, the cropping, and so forth. We see in stereo, and the camera sees in mono. The look of drawing from life vs. drawing from photos, however simplified one's style might be (like Toth's) is detectable. This doesn't take away from the skill or intelligence of any of the aforementioned artists. Neal Adams lauds photoswiping, even tracing backgrounds (he praised Bryan Hitch for doing so) in order to get the job done more quickly.
For example, the protagonist in the 1968 "Devil's Doorway" story for HOUSE OF MYSTERY looks like he was based on photos of Toth himself. It would interesting to see what his daughter says of the little girl's model. Neal Adams used his own daughter for reference in his HOUSE OF MYSTERY story "Nightmare" from 1969, and has openly said so. Wrightson has mentioned in interviews how he had Kaluta crouching among the foliage in NYC's Central Park for reference in SWAMP THING. Jeff (and Bruce) Jones was so reliant upon photo reference that he often reused the same shots in paintings AND comics.
What makes me shake my head is that so many artists, like Toth and Frazetta, have denied the extensive use of photography when their work shows otherwise. Why not own up to it? It doesn't hurt the "legend" one whit.
P.S. I use photo reference (sometimes) ;)
As far as I know, Toth never denied using photo reference. Rather:"...I don't like to work from photographs; I like to study them, get the impressions and tone of the film [referring here to his movie adaptations], and then put them away and start to draw, rechecking, when necessary, for accuracy. Too many artists just copy photos, or somebody else's art. Same angle, same detail, nothing changed. Not my way, thank you!"
He looked at photos for ideas about props, fashion, architecture (such as in this example
), and so on. And certainly his work benefited from observational drawing (as did Frazetta's, Jones's, etc). Drawing from photos or life is crucial to building up a mental storehouse of reliable imagery.
However, I believe the leap in Toth's skill and influence was not due to greater accuracy, but to better design. There were others around who could draw realistically -- Dan Barry, Mac Raboy, Nick Cardy, Al McWilliams, John Prentice, Jose Salinas, etc -- but Toth added strong design to the mix, such as in that panel where the cowboy helps the senorita off the statue, in the 1950 pages featured above. Without that design sense, he'd have been just another excellent draftsman.
"but those early Toth samples"
I should clarify: Toth only drew one page of the first four pages featured in this post -- the page at the upper left, starring Dr. Midnight. To the right of that is a Flash page drawn by Carmine Infantino, at the lower left is a Green Lantern page by Irwin Hasen, and at the lower right is a Flash page by Lee Elias.
2011-08-18 08:31 pm (UTC)
This "Burma Sky" splash page looks lightboxed to me, and a few years ago someone on the Tothfans site alleged that he has a WWII book with the exact photo in it. Likewise the splash for Toth's "F-86 Sabre Jet" story and many others like it. It's not at all cartoonish like much of his comics work, and has a lighting/texture that belies photographic origins.
Alec, now you're calling Toth a liar, and you have zero basis for it. The Burma splash "looks" lightboxed? "She looks like a witch! We added the nose..."
It's no more realistically lit or drawn than the rest of that story, or most of his war stories.
I looked up that message board allegation, and it was in reference to panel 6 of the second page
(a simple shot which plane-loving Toth could have drawn in his sleep), not the splash you claim it for. The writer asserted that he has an identical photo "in a history book packed somewhere, but I'll see if I can find it on the web somewhere." If only Perry Mason were so thorough.
Claims of tracing are often bandied about when someone draws with impressive realism. Reminds me of my English teacher's claim that I must have plagiarized my book report on "1984," because it was too well written. It's tough to answer accusations offered without evidence, though, so perhaps all one can do is cite a continuity of similar performance, and quote Acts 13:41.
2011-08-19 03:46 pm (UTC)
I didn't call Toth a liar; that's an inference you've made. I do take my hat off to your research in finding that message board reference so quickly--that's impressive.
What I mentioned it common practice for many, if not all, in commercial comics/illustration, especially in a deadline pinch. Nowadays, artists like Alex Maleev (a former student of mine) don't even bother to draw in half the backgrounds; they just tweak them in Photoshop. Not the look that I like all the time, but Alex M is a capable artist---and an exhausted one, having spoken to him about continual deadlines in commercial comics.
It would be very easy to point out EXACT Errol Flynn photo reference that Toth has used in comics. Would you like to see evidence?
Best (not bested),
I quoted him saying in 1970 that he doesn't trace photos, and your immediate reply was that he DID trace photos, in '73 (Burma) and '53 (Sabre Jet) and on "many" other occasions. You're clearly impugning his honesty. Your earlier "Why not own up to it?" remark suggests you realize as much.
Noting that Maleev traces photos is a different story, because Maleev doesn't deny that it's part of his approach.
The Tothfans board has a handy search function that allows you to find that post in a snap. But I will happily take a bow for finding the Flying Tiger photo
that the fellow was probably referring to. (Actually, the image popped up so fast in Google that he probably never did search for it, or he found it and realized how little they match.) As you can see in the comparison, the composition and cropping of Toth's version is much different (and better), as is the angle of the plane. The images are similar enough that it's likely Toth saw the photo, perhaps years prior, and was inspired to draw a similar version, adjusting it as we see here to serve the narrative. (A pertinent comment I found at the forum, by Toth's friend Dave Cook: "Toth would beg, borrow and... well... photos for references but they weren't references and models the way we might use them, looking fixedly at them and trying to copy them like living Xerox machines (I AM A CAMERA), no, he would look and look and look and process and process and put it on paper, maybe 40 years later.")
Yes, I would looove to see any Errol Flynn photo reference Toth used.
2011-08-20 02:32 pm (UTC)
I'm busy (aren't we all), but will work on it. I spotted a Gail Russell likeness (1940s actress) on page one of "I Fooled My Heart"
but I haven't found the exact matching photo.
He used the likeness of C. Aubrey Smith in a "Hacker" story for Warren, as well as for BRAVO FOR ADVENTURE, along with Errol Flynn and Katherine Hepburn. At that point in his career I DON'T believe he was using reference photos of these actors, but was trying for the 'feel' of their respective types. Will look into the Flynn pix - just off the top of my head, what about the Toth drawing of Errol, sword in hand, toothy grin, leaping over a table? It's a scene from one of the swashbucklers ("Captain Blood", "Robin Hood", or "Sea Hawk", I don't recall which) which is reprinted in one of the Toth books of the past decade or two. Does it match the move still/screen capture?
As for lying - I really am not interested in personal attacks against Alex Toth or anyone else - who amongst fallen humanity hasn't lied, myself included? When I spoke with Alex Toth on the phone in summer, 2001 I asked what he thought of Disney's "Tarzan." He went into an explosive rant against Glen Keane's design of the character (saying it looked like a sickly old woman), but said he didn't bother to see the movie. Yet he said he hated the rock/pop music soundtrack, and that the film didn't have any quiet moments. I cited a few, and he snapped, "It needed more!" As we spoke, it became evident that he HAD seen the film, contrary to what he'd claimed (yes, he lied).
I'm VERY happy how Toth ended his earthly days, and the dramatic turns his life took for the good, and for healing in a number of relationships. That gives me great joy - and he IS one of my artistic heroes, as he is yours.
"As we spoke, it became evident that he HAD seen the film, contrary to what he'd claimed (yes, he lied)."
I'm glad we have the benefit of your own claims to back up your accusations. However, the issue here isn't Toth's remarks about a movie, but whether he spent his career copying photos and refusing to own up to it.
This is important not only to our image of Toth as a person, but to our comprehension of his skill. Uncovering the basis of that skill is the main goal of these posts. If his progress depended largely on copying photos, that would be extremely helpful to know. But if it didn't, then claiming it did only clouds our view of his path to excellence. (Recall Nike's explanation of Air Jordan's skill: "It's the shoes!")
The vagueness of your comments about "a scene from one of the swashbucklers" and "one of the Toth books of the past decade or two" suggests that the "EXACT Errol Flynn photo reference" you boasted of won't be forthcoming. Toth drew a couple pin-ups of a leaping, sword-wielding Flynn in his "headscarf" costume from Don Juan, but I've never seen a corresponding shot/pose in that film, despite watching it often. There was also a drawing of a Flynn-like musketeer leaping near a table in CBA #11, but Flynn never played a musketeer and I don't recognize the shot from his films. (For what it's worth, the costume resembles what he wore in the Sea Hawk.)
Whether you're able to find a match or not, I appreciate the stimulating discussion.
"Glen Keane's design of [Tarzan] (saying it looked like a sickly old woman"
2011-08-22 10:28 pm (UTC)
I don't have any of the b&w Toth books (a crime, I know), but the school library does; when classes start in Sept., I'll give them a look, and get back to you.
2011-11-03 09:26 pm (UTC)
I'm still waiting for your next promised essay on Toth. I liked the last one, particularly the stuff about prospect/refuge, which I hadn't consciously noticed until you pointed it out. There's a lot needs to be written about Toth's cropping - look at the Crushed Gardenia (in Setting the Standard), one of the most celebrated Toth stories. The cropping is crazy! Quite often reading Toth stories, I feel claustrophobic, because he's giving me so little of the scene - an arm or a head is obscuring half the background. It makes you want to peer round it to see what's happening! I'm still deciding if this is great or annoying, but a deeper analysis of this trait would really be interesting.
Thanks for dropping by. I've got a lot planned for the next Toth entry, but it will be at least a few weeks before I have time to put it together. I don't know if I'll touch on cropping, but I'll keep it in mind.
2012-03-28 12:44 am (UTC)
A minor detail about the FAS. Toth was right about the school going out of business, which was around 1969. It was eventually acquired by the current owners, Cortina, in the 70s. Cortina eventually re-instituted the FAS, but there was a gap in time. FYI.
Thanks Kevin. I checked it out, and found a recent quote from the managing editor of the FAS saying that they've "been selling art courses for distance learning for 65 years now," indicating there's never been a break in the course (and apparently counting 1948 and 2012 as full years). That might just be a fib to cover an embarrassing hiatus in the '70s, but I've seen workbooks dating from '68 through the early '70s online, and artists claiming to have been enrolled until as late as '73, as well as workbooks published in '77 and '78. I did find a reference to a "re-organization" in 1974, which may account for the gap you referred to, but it looks like that gap lasted no more than 3 years, if that.
In any case, thanks for the tip. It's useful to know there may have been a gap, especially since most of the available history of the company is written (perhaps self-servingly) by the company itself.