Saturday, October 20, 2007

Alex Toth Critiques

I don't know if everyone else has already seen these, but I recently stumbled upon these pages. If the link doesn't work, simply use Google or Yahoo and type in "Toth critiques" and you'll find them scattered all over the web, at various sizes and resolutions - some are harder to read than others. They are comic pages drawn by Steve Rude which were critiqued by Alex Toth. Alex is well-known for being brutally honest and these critiques are no exception, but his analysis is really spot-on and all of his suggestions are attempts to clarify the story and make it more dynamic and interesting to the reader.

Again, I can't help but be reminded that a lot of what makes a drawing succeed or fail is how well it is organized. All of the elements in a picture have to be arranged well in order to put over the idea to the viewer. In writing about the first panel Toth is listing the elements in the frame and after the word camel he adds parantheses with an exclamation point and a question mark (!?) which I take to mean that, due to the way the panel is organized, you can't really tell that it's supposed to be a camel. The way the camel is lying down, the way the stuff on the camel's back breaks up his shape and confuses his silhouette, and the way the palm tree seems to be growing out of his neck all make it difficult to tell what the camel is supposed to be without extra work from the viewer. It's obvious that Steve Rude is a fine draftsman but many of the complaints that Toth lists are areas where Rude's organization and composition have lead to confusion.

No matter what, Toth's writing is amusing to read because he's so relentless in his criticism and becomes sarcastic quite often. How lucky we all are that the internet has given us a place to see and learn from things like this. Very few of us would have ever gotten a chance to have our work critiqued by Toth in real life, and even if we did, his criticisms might have hurt our artistic egos so much that we might not have learned as much as we could have.

There's so much great advice here, tossed off - I love how he questions when the last time was that Rude lifted a heavy box, because his poses don't feel very convincing. The last page is full of admonitions about developing, learning and being hard on yourself that every artist should heed. In any case, it's a treasure trove of stuff that makes one wish that Toth had left us with more documents like this. Check it out and enjoy.


UPDATE:
Juan Pablo pointed out in the comments that Mr. Toth did, indeed, leave us more documents like this, although it's him criticizing his own work instead of that of others, so it's slightly less brutal. If you go to www.tothfans.com and click on "Annotated Toth" you'll be able to click on many stories by Toth with notes along the side. Once you open up the first page of a story, click on the page to step through the rest of the story. Toth isn't quite as venomous towards his own work but definitely have choice words for a few of the writers and colorists that have worked on his stuff. Anyway, it's great to peek into the mind of such a talented artist, and thanks again to juan for pointing out that these exist online.

23 comments:

Gabriel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Mark, i don't like to comment before even reading your post, but your link (on 'these pages') is barely noticeable. If you changed the color, put it bold or something like that, it might help.

Now to reading...

Gabriel said...

sorry for the double post. I deleted the first one, i don't know how the hell the other one got anonymized.

mark kennedy said...

Gabriel- Yeah, I know, I was too lazy to fix it, but I will.

Saul Ruiz said...

I just wanted to thank you for sharing all of this great information and opinions. I know it must take some time to post all of these great articles and i just wanted to say thanks!

chickennuggets said...

Brutal! ("What kind of camera is that?? Fake!!")

Juan Pablo said...

Alex Toth is one of my favorite artists! A great storyteller and communicator.

Check out this page:

http://www.tothfans.com/

In "Annotated Toth" there are lots of critiques of comics made by himself 30 years ago. A treasure!

mark kennedy said...

sure thing, saul!

Hey nugs!

juan - thanks so much for pointing that out, I will add it to the post!

Juan Pablo said...

Apparently, Mr. Toth really disliked reviewing people's work... So if you bugged him for long enough he would do it, but would be very brutal... and dead-on accurate of course!

A great master... I wish I could have asked him to dissect my work like that. Unfortunately, he passed away recently, but he left behind a great legacy of knowledge.

Floyd Norman said...

Sometimes brutal is what an artist needs. I was one of the "lucky guys" who showed his work to Alex Toth when I worked for H-B back in the seventies.

Alex was tough, no doubt about it. But damn, he was good! I had only the greatest respect and admiration for the man.

You know the old saying, " If you can't take the heat..."

Robert said...

The tone of Toth's comments remind me of those of an older animator I once worked with. His corrections were always spot-on but he seemed to be operating from some inside anger that someday he might be passed up by someone younger or perhaps a dissatisfaction that his career had landed him in a place where he had to work with lesser lights like us. So his primary goal in any critique encounter was make sure we knew our skills were inferior to his. Fixing the problem, explaining the concept, improving our work... yeah, he'd get to those eventually but they weren't job #1. It was all about him.

I'm not saying you can't learn from such a person. I did. But it was very wearing to work in such a situation. And it hardly seemed efficient that about a third of his comments were non-informative whining.

Just tell me what I'm doing wrong, ok? I already know I've "got a lot to learn" and that I "wouldn't last a day" at (insert famous studio he once worked at).

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ANTONIO CUESTA CORNEJO said...

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Jeff Z said...

Thanks for posting this, this is great.

Hey Floyd! Good to see ya! :)

gemini82 said...

Thanks for the link. I was looking for something just like this

TS said...

It's not easy being green...

I have always really liked Toth! I totally see his comments and agree with them. However, there is a fine line between beating the brat and inspiring the troops. I think It is good to get honest criticism but not to the degree of humiliation.

I think one of the things that made Toth unique was his ability to float from animation to comics. I can't think of too many guys who have done it as successfully as him (Ronnie Del Carmen???). Part of his success in both fields really had to do with his ability to stage things theatrically. All too often you find that comic guys blow silohuettes and staging while animation guys tend to lay everything out like a storyboard (Bruce Timm has been fairly guilty of that).

For anyone who hasn't read Toth By Design I highly reccomend it if you can find a copy (every now and then they show up on e-bay) as well as Toth Black and White.

Agustin Croxatto said...

Hi, I just found your blog some days ago and can't stop going thru the wonderful and informative stuff you posted, all the information in here it's invaluable for me, thanks!

handel said...

Goooood post Maranius Kennedyius.
It has inspired me to possibly do a write up regarding it on my own bloggy this weekend.
Keep it comin. Your posts are usually lovely and full of creative fiber.
Helps me poop good!
Creatively speaking.
(scuse mispellings..typing on the run.)

HaNdEl

evelyn cammarano said...

I found you from a meme on Livejournal! My LJ name is omnamahshivaya and I have an art community mystical_art there also. I have my MFA in computer animation from RIT and my BFA in fine art printmaking from Pratt .... I am stuck in Rochester NY being a teaching assistant to special ed kids because I cannot find a job in my field.... you are doing what I dream of doing... how did you get there? my IM on yahoo is vnnartist. please contact me?

Anonymous said...

Toth was tough but fair. When Toth was breaking into the comics industry in the late 1940's he was admonished by the likes of Sugar & Spike creator Shelly Mayer to "tell the story, don't try to be Rembrandt." There was even a story of an editor being so harsh on Toth's portfolio that the editor forced him to tear up every piece in it.

Toth, while unhappy at first, took it in stride and worked up new and better samples to show and the rest is history. Toth felt that the old-timer mentality he was subjected to gave him a more critical eye and made him a better artist. While many would have killed for a critique from this master, Steve Rude (while an incredible draftsman) still makes the wonky storytelling choices that he did before and even downplays Toth's criticism as seen here:http://sporadicsequential.blogspot.com/
2006/09/rude-thoughts-on-toth-rudeness.html
and here:http://pwbeat.publishersweekly.com/blog/
2006/09/22/fight-toth-vs-rude-now-with-rude-response/

I have these pages printed out and refer to them constantly. They are a goldmine. Excellent post btw.

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