Posts tagged Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook
Alex Toth was another artist whose name was a household word at Continuity of the 70′s. With a so much seasoned and young talent alike referencing comics art masters, to better evaluate the quality of new work, Toth’s subtle line and mesmerizing imagery were spoken of and shown around frequently. Platitudes for his art covered storytelling intricacies, an almost abstract use of black shapes, delicate drawing and stunning visual clarity. Everyone had something to learn from Alex Toth’s work. In a tribute, upon his passing away in 2006, Tom Spurgeon took note of Toth’s artistic achievement.
People will say he was a great craftsman, and they’ll be right, but what Toth did was a little further along than that. Toth reached that scary point where it felt dangerous to look at some of his best work; you ran the risk of being pierced by a force that practically shimmered on the page, that inhabited every image, like a master chef’s dessert so rich it made your eyes water in protest, or a singer’s voice so pitch-perfect it made you want to leave the concert hall, if only to catch your breath. His handwriting exuded an element of purity in cartooning that could outclass other artists’ fully-rendered sequential art. Toth’s black and white work in particular displayed an almost transcendent understanding of drawn art as a visual story component. When we as readers come to a greater understanding of the effect that great art has on the reading of comics, Toth’s reputation is likely to grow even larger than it is today.
Alex Toth was also known to have a short fuse, especially for young artists seeking advice or criticism of their work. Still, he often extended himself above and beyond the norm. His informative critiques are considered as gold to the craft. But they also came with a price of being a target for the master’s angst.
The late Dylan Williams suffered it happily. He eventually thanked Toth with a touching story about their friendship, struck over correspondences that also revolved around their common love for comics art.
I’d take breaks for a month or two. I would eventually dig up some new old art and we’d write back and forth. It was around that time I found out I had leukemia. I never told Alex… I don’t think this comic is much of a tribute to Alex but it is the only way I know of telling him thank you.
Steve Rude suffered a famous encounter after sending a Johnny Quest story to Toth for appraisal. It ended a little less friendly than the affair with Dylan, as Rude elaborated in respones to Toth posted by David Marshall.
Oh, when I did receive Alex’s letter, I called him. It started out nicely enough, but when I attempted to explain the things I felt him in error about, he let out a few curse words and hung up. That’s what I recall of this situation. If it helps people to learn from my mistakes, then all the better.
Some years later, Warren Ellis pulled no punches commenting on the story between Toth and Rude, in his Do Anything column at Bleeding Cool, where he also criticized Toth’s career as being somewhat of an unfulfilled destiny.
Toth was another angry man of comics, a world-class artist who knew everything about storytelling except what made a good story. He was famous for his handwritten critiques of other artists: his destruction of comics artist Steve Rude (who spent a lot of time in the 80s doing Kirby pastiche work) got out into the wild a few years ago, and you can find it on the web fairly easily. It is at once a masterclass in storytelling intelligence — Rude is a wonderfully gifted illustrator, but storytelling isn’t his strong suit — and an appalling portrait of Alex Toth as an embittered intellectual sadist. Nothing he said was wrong, but he nonetheless manages to paint a picture of a man who would argue with his own breakfast over betrayals real or imagined. A man who hated “mature content” in modern comics, he is perhaps best known today for his original design of SPACE GHOST, who survives into the present as a parody show host.
I’m not sure that Ellis’ comment can be considered as entertaining as that it’s delivered by a writer who spares little arsenic and laughs for things that might crawl up his own sleeve.
Only a minor sampling of turbulence that raged within, and around, a giant and master of the comics craft. Like Spurgeon said, recognition of Alex Toth’s influence will only escalate in time. Analysis of his cumulative body of work will become a pursuit of comics readers, creators, critics and historians, for generations to come.
New addition to Portraits of the Creators.
I first met Mike Friedrich in early 1977 at Continuity Studios. He came in to New York from his home base in the San Francisco Bay area to make arrangements with writers and artists for production for the 12th issue of his black & white independent comic book anthology, Star*Reach. I had barely finished my first year as a professional artist at that point. The comics scene outside of the current DC and Marvel universes was still new to me – and also a bit overwhelming to absorb in such a short time.
I had seen a few issues of Star*Reach at the studio by then, but the influence it would eventually become was an elusive notion to most everyone in the industry at the time. There were a few other such attempts that rose on its heels, like Sal Quartuccio’s Hot Stuff, though none came close to matching Star*Reach for talent and content. So, when Mike came into the back room I shared with Marshall Rogers, and asked if I’d like to write and draw his first 8-page color installment for the 12th issue, my overwhelmed mode kicked into overdrive. Still, I took it in stride and accepted the offer.
Some time later, Mike called from California to ask about progress on his story. Being buried in work from DC and Continuity, I had to stall him a bit until I could come up with a premise. When it became difficult to stall, I finally outlined an idea on the phone. It was a sci-fi short about an alien fugitive being hunted by an inter-galactic law man. The two would fight it out on Earth in the best tradition of bang-pow-boom action. It was easy to tell that Mike wasn’t thrilled about the direction. But I had been immersed into a skyrocketing pop-comics career at that point, and along with my lack of familiarity with the other-than-mainstream content that Star*Reach preferred, it precluded my ability to step out of that mode for a more substantive story. I tried to console myself that I’d draw it so well that no one would notice that aside from the flashy action, there wasn’t much of a tale there. Last time I talked to Mike on the phone was in mid-October. Deadline was getting close and I still had nothing to show him. No script, no art, no character designs. The entire affair seemed to be heading towards an inevitable train-wreck.
In hindsight of years and history, I sometimes wondered what got into Mike to offer this story to me. I was a rising popular mainstream talent at the time, that’s true. But I was also an inexperienced rookie, certainly not known for the type of work he liked to publish in Star*Reach. And there were countless other candidates more suitable to adorn the color debut for such a watched and followed publication. I was certainly not on par with the likes of Frank Brunner, Howard Chaykin, Steve Englehart, Gray Morrow, P. Craig Russell, Dave Sim, Walt Simonson, Steve Skeates, Mary Skrenes, Jim Starlin, Mike Vosburg, Len Wein, Barry Windsor-Smith or Roger Zelazny, and others who’d all graced Star*Reach with the type of work that made it distinctive. There was a definitive air of excellence to the publication, which rose above the norm, where the intellectual narrative was no less significant than the art. The stories did not hinge on action-adventure as a primary plot vehicle. Star*Reach had set the tone for a more mature comic book that was a breath of fresh air for the medium. And here, in this most critical junction, after 11 issues of an outstanding black & white journey of distinguished graphic storytelling, and for its first installment of an 8-page interior color story, Mike does a seeming about-face and goes for the a relatively inexperienced pop-mainstream artist, who’d not yet shown signs of writing skills that would measure up to the challenge, and who was mostly considered a clone of the DC Comics house-style that Star*Reach aspired to stand in contrast of. Now, in hindsight of years and history, it all seems somewhat odd and inexplicable.
Events that followed our last conversation in October were also an about-face for myself. By mid-November, I had declined previous work I was scheduled to do for DC and Marvel, and left New York in pursuit of a new chapter in life. It all inadvertently led to producing something entirely different for the first color installment of Star*Reach, than the story we’d agreed to. Part of the events that led to it are in the links below, which give a rough enough idea, when read with a grain of salt.
A more comprehensive overview of my career, that led to this incident, is in this two-part interview with comics chronicler Bryan D. Stroud, the Silver Age Sage.
Comics historian Richard J. Arndt wrote an in-depth analysis of the impact Star*Reach has had on the comics medium. He considers it the first truly successful grass-roots predecessor to the graphic novel. Arndt bestows on Star*Reach the honor of having opened the door to the burgeoning independent comics market we enjoy today. His interviews with Mike Friedrich reveal a vision held by the consummate writer and pioneer, who pushed the comics medium forward in a way that perhaps no other single independent publisher could boast.
In one of those interviews, Mike mentions that my first color installment is the only one of the Star*Reach stories that hasn’t been reprinted in later collections. Beyond the fact that the vignette artwork had no text, it was actually much more of a mission statement than a story, though a story does certainly weave through it, between-the-lines, as Mike said in the issue’s editorial. The wider issue of why this work carries an air of tense silence about it, is perhaps that it does not truly fit into, or match the excellence or intricacy that Star*Reach became known for. It doesn’t really belong next to such works as Howard Chaykin’s Cody Starbuck, P. Craig Russell’s Parsifal, Frank Brunner’s Elric Of Melnibone – or the myriad other more plot intense stories that saw print in Star*Reach. It is mainly a thing onto itself, spawned in a time of personal upheaval and extraordinary transition. A bump in the timeline of comics history that was perhaps better left in its own corner of solitude.
The decision Mike made to publish the offbeat piece, did not seem to be logically contrived, or made with other reasonable options on the table. But I would venture that he would not have published it, had it not somehow complimented his own aspiration and vision for Star*Reach and the comics medium. Mike was in a situation where he could either decline the story altogether, and wait until the next issue for the debut of a more suitable color work – or he could reach for the stars like the 8-page story itself did, in its offbeat way. Like in so many other junctures in his career, Mike decided to go for it and publish The Old, New and Final Testament. He took a considerable chance on the fallout that could come from it. The thrust of the work was sure to irritate many raw nerves in a diverse comics readership, not to mention the oddity of breaking the fourth wall in the personal way the story alluded to.
In deciding to publish it, Mike preserved a small piece of comics history that continues to roll on today, as evident by this website complex. It might never be suitable for collection or reprint next to other stories it shared a space with. It will remain an item unto its own, that’s perhaps best left to be what it is. A bastard child of a tumultuous time, but also inspired by Mike’s own vision for the comics industry in its reach for integration into the world it thrives in. A vision that’s become verified now, decades after Star*Reach debuted, with the flourishing independent comics market and the profound proliferation of the medium into modern culture. Mike Friedrich, pioneer and visionary, reached for the stars - and brought the comics heaven a little closer to the Earth.
New addition to Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook.
I happened to glimpse the interesting abstract realism art of painter Gus Heinze, while editing around Wikipedia recently. His niece also edits there and created the article on him. His art made an impression on me, enough to take some time and produce a portrait that would enhance his biography. So, enjoy enlarging the thumbnails of his work below, as we add a hailed creator from the world of fine art (first time for an outside-of-the-comics-world-entry) into Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook.
Eduardo Barretto, talented Uruguayan artist, has been around the comics periphery since my early days in the medium during the late 1970′s. First inking for Marvel and later, after I moved to Israel, he went to DC and gained recognition for his run on Teen Titans. When I returned to comics in the early 1990′s, he’d established a strong presence as a Batman artist, one of the characters I drew most then. He produced a few more well remembered projects like Speeding Bullets and Under a Yellow Sun before expanding towards other publishers including Archie, IDW, Boom!, Crossgen, Dark Horse and others before returning to Marvel on Marvel Knights.
In 2006 he landed at King Features Syndicate and drew the Judge Parker strip. His tenure there was disrupted once after a serious injury from a car accident and again while contracting meningitis in 2010, which left him unable to continue drawing. He returned to draw the Phantom strip for King Features last July, but the illness took its toll on the consumate professional creator a few days ago, on 15 December, at age 57. We never met nor had any internet encounters but Eduardo’s been like a close colleague, perhaps if only by virtue of the recognizable feel for humanity that his work exuded, and the personal respect that fellow creators who knew him expressed for him. Godspeed Eduardo, your untimely departure is big loss for us all and for the medium you helped make better. Heartfelt condolences to grieving family and friends.
Lou Fine was one of the more influential artists of the Golden Age, especially considering his relatively short lived career before moving on to newspaper strips and commercial art. His work exuded a realism and grace that were rare in his time, and became an inspiration to many masters who followed, including from the school of art I trained in. His name was a household word at Continuity of the late ’70s. His exquisite compositions and sensitive drawing were a delight to study and become lost in. Aside from our short lived careers in comics, Fine and I also shared a slight polio affliction. Newest addition to Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook.
Two additions to Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook. A new Jim Aparo drawing that I’ve had on my mind to do for a while. And…I wasn’t especially happy with the previous Wayne Boring drawing so I made another try. Both also additions to artists’ Wikipedia biographies (names link to larger images there).
About six years ago, a portrait of Alan Weiss was the first produced for this series. I was never really happy with it because I didn’t have much reference back then, and was also unsure of how to approach the drawing. This new one seems to fit in better with Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook. A high-resolution version of it can be seen at Alan’s Wikipedia biograpahy.
Kurt Busiek (above) is a new drawing rounding out his Wikipedia biograpahy. Dave Cockrum, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (below) are older drawings for various uses that have been adapted for Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook.