Alex Toth was certainly one of the most compelling and dedicated visual storytellers working in comics and television animation during the second half of the 20th century. His stylistic and narrative prowess was formidable, and a study of his artistic development during the 1950’s and 1960’s provides some of the most inspiring and informative lessons that anyone working in visual communications can hope to encounter. Genius, Isolated, the first volume of a comprehensive biographical trilogy on Toth by Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell, came out last year, and the next book – Genius, Illustrated – is due out in a few months.
Having worked in a wide variety of comic genres in the 1950’s, during the 60’s Toth shifted to working mostly in the medium of television animation, and he created some of the most strongly designed cartoons ever to hit the airwaves, including Space Ghost, Birdman, The Galaxy Trio, and The Herculoids, and he contributed to Doug Wildey’s influential Jonny Quest. Throughout his life, Toth loved movies, and he consistently talked about the impact of cinematic storytelling on his work and approach to layouts, pacing, and character design.
A few years ago, Hanna-Barbera released some of the Toth cartoon series on DVD, and a highlight of those discs was the inclusion of some excellent documentaries on Toth’s life and complicated personality, artistic impact, and working methods. One moment that stuck out for me among those biographical pieces was a reference to a series of “How-To” comics that Toth produced during the 70’s when he was working on the popular Super Friends Saturday morning cartoon. I was overjoyed recently to see on the Toth website, run by his family, that they had posted these pages among their archives. They are stunning and engrossing to anyone interested in animation history, professional draftsmanship, and television production traditions and techniques. I certainly hope they are going to appear among the pages of the second and third installments of the “Genius” books chronicling the dramatic life and vibrant artistry of Alex Toth.