Sunday, November 23, 2008

Number 418

Toth's Thunder

The headline of this posting has a double meaning; not only am I showing you a 12-page Johnny Thunder story from All American Western #108, 1949, but an opinion piece artist Alex Toth wrote 30 years later for Philippine Comics Revue Magazine #1. Never one to hide his displeasure, Toth rumbles forth like a force of nature with his views on the then-current state of comic book art.

The Johnny Thunder story was penciled by Toth, inked by Frank Giacoia and written by Robert Kanigher. In the postwar era, one of my favorite periods from the history of comics, there was a lot of talent. Toth had major talent and was also working with some gifted contemporaries at DC Comics. In 1979 when Toth threw down lightning bolts and shook the firmament with his thunderous opinions, you know he knew what he was talking about.


Rudy Tenebre said...

Alas, I've always found storytelling and tales rather secondary in my affection for comics. The imagery, the multitude of little compositions and variations of a character's momentary ecstacy or ordeal, understood at a glance, dancing before ones eyes, that's what it is!!

I'll look for the literary in literature, (apologies to Moore, Ennis, Morrison, Miller, Gaiman, etc.).

Toth seems too sophisticated a fellow to take his literary appetites to the funnybooks, so why does he editorialize as such?

Pappy said...

There's an argument we've heard before: what matters more in comics, art or story? I see them as being equally important, and I believe Toth saw his obligation was to tell the writer's story as well as possible with the continuity and staging of the artwork, the panels segueing into each other, not just to provide pictures a la book illustrations.

Captain Marvel artist C.C. Beck criticized comic book artists who provided panels that were mini-posters, or "various bits of eye-catching art", as I believe he put it, without advancing the story. I think that probably sums up in a few words what took Toth many to say.

Steve Pick said...

The problem is that Toth gave so few examples - outside of Heavy Metal, which really was exactly as he described it, he never got specific. And, while the vast majority of 70s comic books were as insipid as he claims, there was a lot going on in those mainstream adventure books. Witness Englehart's work on Dr. Strange, Captain America, the Avengers; Starlin on Captain Marvel; Gerber on the Defenders, Howard the Duck, Man-Thing. Yeah, some of these were illustrated by people with only one tenth Toth's talent, though, I would say, the likes of Sal Buscema and Bob Brown could never be accused of not following the classic forms Toth touts here.

At any rate, thanks for posting this Johnny Thunder story. It is absolutely beautiful, even though it sure could have used one more page to drag out the tension at the end. Still not sure how Johnny happened to get lucky enough to hit the bad guy without touching his father.

Jeff Clem said...

First of all, let me say that I am a very serious fan of both C.C. Beck's and Toth's art, but, ultimately, I believe that these guys didn't like anything unless it looked like their stuff, or, at the very least, approximated it. I remember seeing a piece where Beck tore apart a page of art by Richard Howell from Tony Isabella's Hawkman series, and for every negative he came up with, I and any other modern comics fan could come up with a positive. I think I may have read Tony's reaction to it as well, and he came up with the same solution: if it didn't look like Beck, Beck didn't like it. Same with Toth; I think they both wanted all comics to be like their ideal; sort of like I want today's comics to be more like the comics I liked when I was younger (Dark Ms. Marvel? Dark Avengers? The Norman Osborne Supremacy? Puh-leeze!) Oh well - I am old.