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Saturday, November 22, 2014

“Dear John” - Never Before Seen Alex Toth Letters

Toth by Michael Netzer
Alex Toth should need no introduction to anyone with even a passing interest in comic books and art.  Toth began drawing comic books in the 1940s and was widely regarded as being one of the most visionary artists to ever grace the medium.  His influence can be seen on any number of artists, from Ross Andru and Doug Wildey through to Steve Rude, David Mazzuchelli and Tim Sale, Toth left an indelible impact.  His art work transcended what people believe is comic book art and entered the realm of fine art and his work remains in print and is keenly sought after.  More than that, Toth was a scholar of art and comic books and was widely versed in its history. He was also an avid correspondent, albeit one that had a reputation for not suffering fools lightly and for being abrasive and brutally honest and blunt in his appraisals of others and his views. 

In 1960 Toth moved into the field of television animation where, as with anything he would do, he left his mark.  Working for Hanna-Barbera through the 1960s and early 1970s he designed characters such as Space Ghost, the Herculoids, Birdman and more and worked on the Super Friends series, which saw DC characters introduced to Saturday morning cartoons.  As part of his animation work, 1973 saw Toth living in Sydney, Australia, for five months working as a design artist producing the aforementioned Super Friends.  While in Australia he was feted by the local, and then thriving comic art community, in particular John Dixon, Phil Belbin and, Stanley Pitt.  By all accounts Toth was impressed with the Australian artists and commented to myself, over thirty years later, how their art still impacted upon him.  He also met, for the first time, Australian comic book historian John Ryan.

Toth and Ryan hit it off famously and thus began a correspondence that lasted until Ryan’s untimely death in 1979.  Both men had a lot in common, they were keen to learn, they loved comic books and the rich history that came from it and neither could tolerate fools.  Sadly not all of the correspondence between the two men survived, none of Ryans letters to Toth exist as far as I’m aware (although it is entirely possible that they still survive in Toth’s own archives) but what does remain is a series of fascinating letters to Ryan from Toth, which begins when Toth was still living in a hotel in Sydney and continued when Toth returned home.  In the exchange Toth wrote of the loneliness that he felt living alone and separated from his wife and family but mainly focused on his views about art and the state of comic books as a whole.

This correspondence has only been seen by a few people since the National Library obtained John Ryan’s archives in the 1980s, but it is worth reading.  To that end I have edited the letters to remove the more personal information, along with some not so kind references to the personal habits of people who are still alive.  That’ll be a post for another time.  I’ve also added notes to the letters where appropriate, if only to explain the context of some of Toth’s comments, otherwise the letters, and Toth’s words, are here for you to enjoy.

25th June, 1973. Toth’s 45th birthday saw him complaining about how old he felt before he then began to talk about a recent volume of Hurricane Hawk that Ryan had sent him. The letter then extends into a study of Toth’s artistic tastes and his view towards the artists of the day.

14th July, 1973. Toth, at Ryan’s request, had contacted Joe Kubert, Archie Goodwin, Sal Gentile and George Wildman with the view of obtaining work for Stan Pitt at either DC Comics, Marvel or Charlton. Toth then tells Ryan to write to Rene Goscinny (of Asterix fame) with the view of getting Pitt work at the French company, Polte.

29th August, 1973. Toth passes on the replies that he received from Kubert and Goodwin. The replies were positive.  Toth had also listed Phil Belbin and Ken Emerson as possible artists.  Sadly this would go nowhere as Pitt was reluctant to work for the American market at the time due to bad experiences in the past, mainly around payment (the exchange rate wasn’t the greatest) and time frames.

14th January, 1974. Toth had been telling Ryan about Charles Raab, enclosing two strips for Ryan to see. This letter then delves into the gossip of the day.

25th April, 1974. Toth comments on Denis Kitchen’s Krupp Comics Works and Comics International. In one of the longest exchanges in the collection, Toth vents about his feelings towards the then popular Argentinian artists working in the USA and much more.

9th August, 1974. Toth and Ryan had been debating the merits of reprinting old newspaper strips. Toth was all for it, Ryan foresaw problems, editorial wise.  Toth then touched on issues he was having, both with DC and Denis Kitchen.

16th January, 1977.  Toth had read Maurice Horn’s The World Encyclopaedia of Comics and was not impressed.  Ryan had contributed to that book and he had also been disappointed with the way his entries had been edited and pertinent information left out and unsubstantiated ‘fact’s inserted.  Once Toth had said his piece, he was keen to talk about his new book, Bravo For Adventure’.

25th August, 1977.  Toth talks extensively about the comic book industry here and offers some great insight.  Readers will notice that a name has been redacted from this letter. It’s probably more fun trying to guess who Toth was talking about.  The only hint, the person is still alive.

11th October, 1977. Toth talks Al Capp and the dangers of over drawing.  Toth was about making his line simple and evolving and was harsh on artists who felt that more detail was better.

10th November, 1977.  Toth became by talking about Roy Crane and Buzz Sawyer, before recounting a recent conversation with Milton Caniff.

9th January, 1978. A short note, Toth talks Marvel and DC.

24th February, 1978.  Another conversation with Caniff and Toth details the problems with the comic book industry as he saw it.


Over  the years I’ve been lucky enough to purchase some original Toth letters and postcards, including these two.  The first is Toth’s reply to a fan who wrote to him asking if he’d contribute a Space Ghost sketch to a ‘jam’ that he was collecting (a jam session – whereby many artists all draw the one character, with the end result being a large collage).

The second letter shows Toth again reflecting on his past efforts and those of others.  What set these letters apart are the wonderful drawings showing that even when Toth was sketching – from memory – he was a better artist than most people will ever be.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Neal Adams & Joe Sinnott: Together Again (and on sale) After 44 Years

Comic Art Collectors take note. In the very near future you'll be able to bid on a genuine piece of artistic history, as this amazing sketch cover is offered for sale. Why is it amazing? Not because NEAL ADAMS pencilled it. I mean, that's good enough, but what makes it truly historic is that JOE SINNOTT inked it! If you want the details behind this incredible, one-off pairing then sit back and hit play on the video, which explains it all and shows a brilliant image of the finished product.

Neal Adams and Joe Sinnott previously collaborated on Thor #180 and #181, both published back in late 1970. Amazingly they never worked before this time and, until now, they've never worked since.  Both men have an incredible amount of respect for each other and when approached to donate a sketch for the Inkwell Awards Neal Adams had one request only - that Joe Sinnott be the man to ink the pencils.

Thus this the first collaboration between these two powerhouses in almost 45 years and the first, and probably ONLY time, that they will ever work on a Batman image. The comic, Batman #0, with the Adams/Sinnott original art on the cover, has been authenticated, graded and slabbed by CBCS and will be offered for sale, via eBay.  All proceeds, and I mean ALL proceeds from the sale of this cover will go towards the Inkwell Awards, which do amazing things for inkers worldwide.   So, if you want an original Neal Adams-Joe Sinnott sketch, which is a lot more than a mere sketch - just look at it- then here's your chance.

Here's the link to the eBay auctions for the Inkwell Awards.  If you are serious about your comic book art then you'll be making a run at this.

Neal Adams and Joe Sinnott holding the finished cover art

Photocopy/scan of the Neal Adams pencils that Joe Sinnott inked

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Random Notes: Superman Presents Tip Top

I've been silent for the past few weeks, mainly because I've been recovering from a double blow of losing my father-in-law and also having surgery on both knees.  Life often gets in the way of things really.  Still, the world keeps moving, I can now walk again and things are settling back into a nice, quiet routine.  Let's keep it that way, shall we?

Just to hold readers over, allow me to share some random images from the many, many scans that I've been doing over the past fortnight.  I'll be sharing scans of Aussie comic books that I both own, have owned and some I've had to sell in recent times to pay for the bills that have cropped up due to the knee surgery.  And I'll pose some questions along the way.

First up, Tip Top.  This title was published by K.G. Murray in the 1960s/1970s.  I see them everywhere, but there's something about issue #98.  You tell me what you think it's worth, in the comments section.  I'm betting that nobody even gets close. There's no unpublished stories in the book, as far as I can tell, but, for some reason, this one issue is more sought after than any other K.G. Murray I've owned in recent times. Both issues I've had have sold and for amounts that have made me stop in my tracks.  Anyway, have a peek...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Atlas Comics? DYNAMITE!!!

I first reported in 2012 on the fight between Jeffrey Stevens and the Nemesis Group, headed by Jason Goodman, grandson of Marvel Comics founder, Martin, for the brand name, Atlas Comics.  In summary here’s how it panned out: the name Atlas Comics was the second name of Marvel Comics (after Timely Comics) in the 1950s. In 1974 the name was revived by Martin Goodman and his son, Chip, after they sold Marvel Comics and founded their own line.  The 1974 line, although fondly remembered now and featuring some of the top names of the comic book industry of the time, folded in a heap amidst cries and claims of non-payment and general shenanigans. After that debacle, the name Atlas Comics remained dormant until a wannabe publisher named Jeffrey Stevens claimed the name, and resulting trademark, in 2002.

In 2010 Jason Goodman relaunched the 1974 version of Atlas Comics, using the characters that he ‘owned’ from those days, to much fanfare.  The only hiccup was that he, nor his company the Nemesis Group, actually owned the Atlas name.  They filed suit against Stevens but, ultimately lost the proceedings.  The upshot of it all was that the relaunched Atlas fell silent, Stevens owned the trademark and the Goodman family was on the outer once again.  If you want a far more detailed look into the legal battles, then click here and here.

Flash forward to today.  As of mid-August the trademark and name Atlas Comics was duly handed over to Dynamite Characters, meaning Dynamite will now be the publishers, and owners, of Atlas Comics.  Well played, Jeffrey Stevens, well played indeed. Despite the wind and fury of Jason Goodman's legal filings, in the end he (Goodman) just gave up and stopped fighting, at around the same time that he stopped publishing.  Stevens, who had never published anything outside of a few ashcans, then entered into negotiations and sold the Atlas Comics name for an unknown amount (although it's doubtful if it was a large amount, plus Stevens had legal fees to pay for).  

I have no idea as to what, if any, role that Jason Goodman (or Jeffrey Stevens) will play in the obvious relaunch of Atlas Comics as he still owns the copyrights to the characters, but it'd not be inconceivable to presume that Dynamite have also entered into negotiations with Goodman with the view of reuniting the 1974 Atlas characters with the brand.  No word on if Psychic Octopus Jr was part of the deal, but we can only hope.  

What this now means is that people should be digging into trademarks for old comic book names.  Forget characters and the murky copyrights that exist there.  American Comic Group, Ace, Nedor, Fiction House, Quality Comics, Toby Press, Star – there’s a plethora of old trademarks just sitting there, some assigned and owned and some not, all it takes is some digging and exploring.  However when I say, 'all it takes' such digging will cost you time and money and most of the leads will go nowhere, but if you do find a name that hasn't been trademarked then the rewards might be good.  So, if you want instant name recognition or just want to cash in like Stevens has, then here’s your chance.