Alex Toth, one of my favorite cartoonists. He was never closely identified with a single character or series—the closest perhaps being Bravo for Adventure (for which he produced a total of two stories) and a relatively long run on the Zorro comic-book—and primarily drew genre stories for various companies throughout his career, elevating them through his artistry and storytelling skills. (Another chunk of his career was spent doing character design and storyboarding for animation, most notably, Jonny Quest and Super Friends.)
Over the years, there have been numerous collections of his work, particularly his romance and war comics work at Standard, DC and other publishers from the 1950s and ‘60s—as well as in the definitive three-volume illustrated coffee-table biography, which I have reviewed.
So I was happy to come across this definitive compilation, Creepy Presents Alex Toth, collecting his little-seen horror work in the pages of Creepy and Eerie magazines from Warren Publishing, dating from the late 1960s, ‘70s and early ‘80s. (Creepy and Eerie were black-and-white magazine-sized newsstand comics, inspired by the well-regarded but notorious EC Comics of the 1950s.) The stories in these pages show that Toth always worked at the top of his game, even in his later years.
The collection shows a different side of Toth. An old school romantic, Toth greatly enjoyed doing romance comics. Aside from the occasional gem, the stories were often formulaic and arguably beneath someone as talented as Toth, though Toth’s work invariably gave them some emotional heft, raising the writing and stories to a higher level.
I was expecting to dismiss the stories as schlock but was pleasantly surprised that the stories were uniformly well written and high concept. It helps of course that Toth is paired with some great writers, such as the legendary Archie Goodwin, which no doubt inspired Toth in turn.
Toth is often referred to as an “artist’s artist” because other artists study his work—and this volume too is a great classroom for cartooning and comics storytelling. But the stories are entertaining as well as short story pieces, so anyone interested in seeing what all the fuss is about with Toth would do well picking up this collection.
Monday, August 14, 2017
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Franken, of course, began his professional career as a comedian, primarily as a writer and performer for Saturday Night Live—he was a writer at its debut and, having personally watched the show as an adolescent from its very inception, I can say I’ve seen much of his journey. In fact, I can say this connection came full circle in 2011 when my family and I took a trip to Washington, DC and saw Franken in person, along with other tourists, when we visited the Congressional chamber which was empty except for Franken presiding in the otherwise empty chamber (presumably for some reasons of protocol). It was quite a treat to discover him, of all people, sitting there when we walked into the gallery!
Following his career on SNL, Franken got involved in efforts to counter the lies he saw emanating from the right through outlets like his books and the Air America radio network. After the tragic death in 2002 of progressive Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, a personal friend, who died in an air crash with members of his family and staff while running for re-election, Franken in 2008 decided to run for the seat himself against Wellstone’s successor, GOP candidate Norm Coleman. He acknowledges it was partly to spite Coleman, who he felt had disrespected and capitalized on Wellstone’s death, though Franken soon recognized the important responsibility of holding office.
The book then speaks about his orientation into the Senate and includes many funny anecdotes about his experiences and Senate colleagues. It then segues into his accomplishments, as well as his disappointments, as a U.S. Senator.
One of the most striking anecdotes involves how bad he felt after obviously rolling his eyes while McConnell had the floor. Apparently, this is very much contrary to the norms of collegiality in the Senate and, in addition to getting dressed down by McConnell, he felt genuinely awful by this breach of conduct and did his best to personally apologize—which McConnell, in turn, graciously accepted.
For me, however, this respect for tradition, office and decorum contrasts starkly with the conduct Franken recounts of people like vile Congressman Addison Graves "Joe" Wilson, Sr. (South Carolina), who famously yelled “You lie!” during a televised address by President Obama. Franken uses this anecdote not only to show how brazen people in public life have become, but also to show how such behavior today is REWARDED, usually in terms of fundraising, which only further encourages such conduct. So while I appreciate and admire Franken’s respect of his office and colleagues, it nevertheless is frustrating to see others constantly break those rules with impunity at the expense of the values and soul of the country.
|With writing partner and fellow performer |
Tom Davis on SNL
Given the number of pages spent in the book on our discouraging, polarized political process, Franken surprisingly ends the book on a positive, optimistic beat, encouraging readers to remain engaged and exercise their rights as citizens in a democracy and placing his trust in the wisdom of its voters.
It’s not like I read a lot of these kinds of books, but I must say that above all Franken has written a book that is not only funny, entertaining and a breezy read, but also provides a great “nuts and bolts” behind the scenes look at life in the Senate and Washington, DC and what it takes to survive, get along, and legislate.