Suddenly/Meanwhile… | On Alex Toth and Black Canary

So about last week. I’m sure you may have noticed that this column went on a mini hiatus. Sorry about that. Had some stomach based maladies. The good news is that I got a chance to read some stuff and now you get to hear about it.

I’ve been reading a lot about how great Alex Toth’s work on the two-issue “The Canary and the Cat from Adventure Comics #491 was. I finally managed to track down a copy and was completely blown away by just how amazing Toth’s draftsmanship is. The man has an economy of style that’s totally ahead of his time. I don’t know how much Denny O’Neil’s script indicated some of the panel compositions but it feels like Toth took, what could have been, a pretty straight forward could-have-been-just-about-any-female-super-heroine and made it into the archetypal Black Canary story.

Take a look at the opening page and tell me you’re not immediately engaged.

Now that’s a pretty dynamic way to open a story.

Then he gets even better; after a series of pretty gorgeous glamour shots of Dinah Drake lounging about her boudoir, complaining about her lack of funds and marketable job skills, she finds an ad that leads her to touch a group of feminists how to protect themselves via Judo.

Then there’s a wonderful training sequence that is a brilliant use of the medium that really gets across just how economic Toth’s style was:

It makes me think of this quote by writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery:  “You know you’ve achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.”

Alex Toth is just a monster of artist. I’m not adding anything new to this debate, it’s just astonishing to see someone at the top of their game so early in their career – especially when the medium is still in its infancy.

I can name maybe four artists (Eisner, Krigstein, Kurtzmann and Wood) who were working at this caliber. Amazing stuff. I cannot wait for the new Toth retrospective to come out.

I highly recommend all aspiring artist check out especially for the columns where Toth explains some theories on art.

A really cool feature I came across at was a series of page annotations that Toth did for the 1974 Detective Comics #442: Death Flies the Haunted Skies.

Check out his notes on the starting splash page:

Click to Embiggenate

While we see nothing but beauty, Toth tears himself to pieces saying that he “goofed”. It’s really worth taking a deeper look into his process. He makes you see flaws that no one would even care about.

If you’re bored and want to read a fantastic article on Howard Chaykin I’d like to point your attention towards Blackadelic Pop’s On Howard Chaykin.

A happy belated Birthday to Bryan Lee O’Malley! He gave us all a gift with this beautiful Scott Pilgrim drawing (with colours by the wonderful Steve Buccellato) over his Twitter yesterday. Oh Ramona… sigh.

Okay, that’s it for me this wonderful Tuesday. I’ll be back on Thursday with more discussions into the minutiae of the comic book world.

Peter DeCourcy
Peter DeCourcy

Pete DeCourcy is a man of many talents. If you have any questions or demands of him he can be reached via comment below.

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Kevin Boyd
13 years ago

LOVE Toth’s Black Canary – that 2-parter was reprinted in the Black Canary Archives Vol.1. I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the 3-volume Toth retrospective due this spring/summer.

Nicholas Post
Nicholas Post
8 years ago

When I read your blog regarding 2-parter in Adventure Comics (an almost forgotten title), I remember had those but gave or sold them a while ago. I immediately went to a specialized comic shop looking for these issues. Bingo! I got them and they were the only single copies they had. I didn’t care what condition they were (still pretty good, though), I purchased it.
wonder if we ever will see them in original size, uncolored?