Thursday, July 19, 2007

Alex Toth

When I was young, I loved cartoons. I still do. I loved Space Ghost as a child. The Herculoids were cool too. Birdman was okay. Jonny Quest was possibly my favorite cartoon. Shazzan, Super Friends, Thundar the Barbarian, the Fantastic Four, all were appreciated. The Three Musketeers, Sealab 2020, the list goes on and on. What do they have in common? Character designs by Alex Toth. (see right)

I recently purchased the complete Space Ghost series on DVD. The cartoons are great, but what a treasure I found on the reverse side of disc 2! There is a full-length documentary on the life of Alex Toth. I had read that a documentary on Toth was going to be shown at Comic-Con International in San Diego next week, but I had no idea that I would be able to see it first! From his lengthy handwritten correspondence with friends to his curmudgeonly battles against those with whom he disagreed, it's there, warts and all. I found the entire feature riveting. I have two books of his designs, both purchased in the mid-90s at a cover price of less than $25, and both now sell on eBay for well over $100, regardless of condition. I will never sell mine. They are well-loved and dog-eared.

Professionally, Alex Toth is the person I wanted to grow up to be. Character design is what I do to relax. Ask anyone who has been in a role-playing campaign with me. I will design heroes, villains, non-player characters, anything to flesh out written concepts to give visual appeal. I like to think that I improve on them by making helpful suggestions while I think their designs through, but the players and gamemasters to whom the characters belong might disagree! There was a time when I designed characters for all of my friends. They would have a concept and a name, and I would take it home after our Sunday night game, and have their completed character back the next Sunday, with suggestions. I'll try to get their permission to post them here in the next week or so.

One thing I found funny about the Alex Toth documentary was his childrens' description of his workspace. He called it his Batcave. Reference magazines stacked here, books piled up there, he knew where everything was at all times. I have seen many photos of artists' workspaces, and they all seem to be hodgepodge collections of things that inspire them. With that in mind, I am doing that very thing at home this week while my wife and daughter are away visiting her family. We need to clear some space in the basement for storage now that Sera's home and we need to get some of our more dangerous furniture (like floor lamps, coatracks, candlesticks, etc.) out of her reach. I also need to clear some space for a shipping table so I can get my eBay store back up and running so we can pay back the money we borrowed for the adoption. I'd like to have a little studio space too, where I can draw without Sera's help. She's a fine artist and everything, but her sense of design and mine don't always coincide. It may have something to do with the way she holds her pencil in her full fist instead of using the first few fingers. She also hasn't quite decided which hand she likes to use best to draw.
When all is said and done, I hope to have the basement in good shape again. And like I said in this post, I will call it my Batcave. Let's see if I can get it done before they get back!

1 comment:

Martin said...

Jim, I've always been an Alex Toth fan - as well as a huge fan of your designs. I wish I had the fraction of your drawing talent. As for having your own "cave", I highly endorse that. I'll be describing my own place in my blog early next week - so you can maybe get some ideas. ;)