Sunday, May 28, 2006

Alex Toth R.I.P.

We lost a giant this morning. Alex Toth has left us, and in doing so he's left us much sadder, and left the world poorer for his passing.

Toth was one of the genuine geniuses of the comic book world. His vision was unsurpassed and his sense of design was unparalleled. From his beginnings back in the '40s, through to his superhero work at DC (he never did much work at Marvel, frustratingly enough) and through to his designing characters such as Space Ghost, Toth influenced virtually everyone. Steve Rude has built a career that draws heavily from Toth. A young Ross Andru took one look at Toth and instantly changed direction. The things that Toth did are still looked upon in awe by many.

Thankfully Toth wrote a lot. Heaps in fact. If Toth liked a subject then he'd have no problems talking about it. My own encounters with Toth were far too few, but very memorable. I wrote to Toth asking about Andru & Esposito for a few reasons: 1] Andru, Esposito and Toth all worked at Fiction House at the same time, 2] Mike Esposito had suggested that Toth had drawn a cover for a comic that Andru & Esposito published in the early '50s and 3] it was suggested that I ask Toth about the era anyway. I sent away a letter of introduction, explaining who I was and what I was doing and then sat back not expecting a reply. After all this was the Alex Toth.

Imagine my shock when I found a postcard in the PO box only a week later from Toth. Toth would never sign his letters, he drew a self-portrait instead, and decorated the postcard with what appeared to be dead penguins and Australian slang. First up he chided me on not dating the letter I sent and then proceeded to give me such a beautiful appreciation of the career of Andru & Esposito, how much he admired them and how much he respected Andru as an artist. I wrote back with some follow up questions and congratulated him on his excellent use of Australian slag, and wondered just where he learnt that. I got another reply, this time chiding me for asking too many questions and then telling me that he didn't recall doing any cover art for A&E. I followed it up again, not expecting a reply. I sent over a book on Australian comic books (Bonzer) and I included two pages, one of Andru/Esposito and one of Toth, both from Fiction House and both from the same month and year. Toth wrote back explaining that he'd been based in Australia in the early '70s working on such cartoons as Josie & The Pussycats & Superfriends. He told me that he appreciated the book and that it'd arrived just days before his 77th birthday - by sheer fluke I'd given him a present! He then included the page I'd sent saying that both pages might have been his, but he wasn't sure which was which. I'd also sent him some slang that he didn't know as a reply and left it at that.

There's some things I just won't ever part with. Some things I've been sent that just aren't for sale, no matter the price. One of these things would be this brief encounter with a giant named Toth. It may only be three letters, but they mean so very much to me.

Go easy Alex. We have an expression here, go slowly, come back quickly. I miss him already.

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