If anyone was blatantly missing from my Top Ten Most Influential Comics Artists, many would say it was Alex Toth. A Golden Age artist who would become known for being the chief designer and animator of properties like Space Ghost, Birdman, and the Super Friends, Toth's influence on comics is more than considerable. Employing a minimalist style with an emphasis on storytelling clarity as opposed to intensity, Alex Toth's panels moved with the fluidity of an animated cartoon, and I'll point you to this excellent tribute here on Comics 101.
Alex Toth's influence is felt in both comics and cartoons today. It's most prevalent in Bruce Timm and his designs for Batman: The Animated Series, but you can also see it in stuff like The Powerpuff Girls and in the work of people like our subject today, Steve Rude.
Steve Rude is greatly influenced by Alex Toth. And it's obvious. Check out that minimalist style:
So what happened when Steve Rude asked Alex Toth to critique his work? Let's check it out!
The following is a critique of a Steve Rude Jonny Quest story done by Alex Toth. Toth was not the kindest man in the world, and was very curmudgeony (it shows in interviews), and some of his comments here just strike me as odd. Check it out.
In particular, I don't understand Alex Toth's reprimanding of Steve Rude for "faking" the backgrounds and props, such as the palm trees and cameras. Rude is known - notorious, even - for finding the proper photo references, and honestly, even in its rough layout stage, they look authentic enough to me. If Rude was indeed faking, I think he was faking it well enough.
And while I get Alex Toth's insistence that Jonny Quest and the other principal characters (especially that female, whose face seems to never show up in this story) get close-ups and more camera space, it seems to me that Alex wants it done all the time for every panel, which is odd. Take note of this Young Romance page done by Alex:
Sure, the story is very clearly told, and well told for that matter, but if there was a panel in there where the girl was seen from the back or from far away, I don't see how it would really hurt the story. Comics rely on symbols; we know who Jonny Quest is from the cover of the book, the previous issues, and the speech balloons - blond hair and a black shirt say "Jonny Quest," and I don't see the need to have him dominate every panel he's in.
Another interesting point is Alex Toth pointing out that Steve Rude was violating the 180-degree rule on page 9. Rude's response, which you can read in full here, is:
Pg. 9, is the one I remembering Alex getting so crazy over because of the “180 degree” rule. I eventually came to define this rule as applying far more to film than comics. In films, it’s critical to the directional continuity; in comics, because it’s seen in the context of a whole page of panels, it is not as critical. I threw the rule aside in one panel to show the pandemonium of the situation starting with the snake, and the highly agitated Frenchman who was beginning to lose his mind thru paranoia. Probably the better question to ask is, did it cause any readers to stop reading, and boldly incite a violation in screen direction? Just curious.
And I think he's right. Toth's style is so ingrained in animation and staging that it seems to me that he applied the same rules to comics exactly. Now, a good knowledge of animation and staging is essential in comics, but I think every now and then, rules can be broken, and I think this is one of them.
Don't get me wrong; I don't think Steve Rude gets off clean here - there are certainly things he could have changed, specifically why so many faces were hidden (unless that was the effect), but I think Toth's critique is unnecessarily harsh, and in that harshness, I think some of the message got lost.
Bruce Timm responded to this with:
....years later, i got ahold of the infamous toth critique , and read through it nodding my head all the while....without a doubt, toth was going overboard with the scorn, but if you get past the curmudgeonly venom, you realize that point by point, he's bang - on....and the thing is, even after getting toth's critique, steve STILL makes the same kinda off-kilter storytelling choices as he did in the JONNY QUEST story, to this day...as if he didn't take a single piece of toth's criticism to heart....i hate to say it, but since reading the toth critique, i can't fully appreciate steve's stuff as much as i used to....sure, his draftsmanship is still as dazzling and rock-solid as ever (and godDAMN, how the man can PAINT), but i find myself focussing on the odd storytelling quirks rather than the pretty pitchers...And I have to say I get it, in a way. Rude's layouts aren't the easiest ones to facilitate reading, but I think it's a case of clarity versus intensity. For the most part, Rude's work is clear enough to read, and it almost always looks great, so on the whole, I think the stories he tells are still served well by his art.
At the end of the day, though, Alex Toth had some good points, and those last two pages are a good manifesto for any aspiring - or current artists.
Thoughts? Comments welcome!
This was found at ConceptArt! And David Marshall has a point-by-point view of things here.