Monday, May 29, 2006

The Passing of Alex Toth - Part 4

Jim Warren’s black and white magazine line gave many creators a sense of artistic freedom that they were denied by mainstream publishers. Some of Toth’s strongest work ever can be found in the Warren magazine. Blazing Combat is still one of, if not the, greatest war comics ever, and Toth’s contribution were integral to the series. These have become unbelievably pricey in recent years, and I’d love to see the stories reprinted in an affordable format. Toth’s work for the horror books was just as strong, and much of his work through the 70s would be in the horror genre. The page I’ve included here is from a mid-70s story and it demonstrates the dynamic layouts imagined by Toth, as the action all but leaps off the page. I've been trying to track down a copy of Creepy #139 for a few years now, as it is an all-Toth issue but I've had no luck.

Warren was not the only place to find good horror stories, as DC’s revamped horror titles, edited by Joe Orlando tried to tap into the market revitalized by Jim Warren. Like many anthologies, the stories can be hit and miss, but Alex Toth made several contributions and they are all quite strong. Jack Oleck should be a much bigger name in the comic book work as he wrote some of the best horror stories ever, and he and Toth made for a formidable team. “The Devil’s Doorway” is only of the best DC horror stories ever published, and it’s rather shocking ending stands in stark contrast to the pap produced by DC just a decade earlier. The recently published Showcase Presents House of Mystery features a handful of Toth drawn stories including “The Devil’s Doorway” and is well worth checking out, as this price is right, they look good in black and white and these books can be tough to find.

It could be argued that Toth’s strongest work is from the 70s. Some of these stories, such as “White Devil…Yellow Devil” from Star Spangled Stories #164 and “Death Flies the Haunteds Sky” from Detective Comics #442, are very well known and have been reprinted several times. For my money, DC’s best story from the entire decade (that’s saying a lot!) is a back-up from Adventure Comics #431. The story entitled ‘Is a Snerl Human’ harkens back to an earlier time in comic book history when readers were often treated to 8-page morality plays. The story, written by Toth mentor Sheldon Mayer is comic book perfection, and it’s a crime that DC has not seen fit to reprint it in one form or another. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog entry, one of the hidden gems of the 70s is Atlas-Seaboard’s Thrilling Adventure Stories #2. The black and white magazine can be tough to track down, but the reader is rewarded with art by Walk Simonson, John Severin, Russ Heath and a very interesting story drawn by Toth.

In recent years, Alex Toth’s contributions to the comic book work have been limited to the odd pin-up or cover, but his ongoing contributions via memoirs to magazines such as Comic Book Artists and Alter Ego have provided a much needed window to the industry’s past. His passing means an end to these columns, and the silencing of a very important voice.

Rest in Peace, Alex – you’ve earned it.

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