Monday, August 14, 2017

REVIEW: Creepy Presents Alex Toth

I’ve written extensively about 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.

So it is interesting to see Toth drawing stories that are a little bit more cynical and grittier, exposing a darker side of the human condition and imagination. While I have never been much of a fan of horror, the work in this collection are of the O. Henry type, usually with an ironic or twist ending consisting of retribution or poetic justice. And even with occasional depictions of grisly horror, they still feature Toth’s penchant for strong graphics, crisp storytelling and great framing and cutting.

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.

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