Alex Toth - the cranky genius cartoonist who designed Johnny Quest and Space Ghost

The three Genius Illustrated books dedicated to the life and works of Alex Toth make up what’s likely the most lavish and complete portrait ever of an American comic book artist or animator: Toth was both. In the worlds of both comics and cartoons, Toth was viewed as an artist’s artist. His figure work, use of light and shade, and especially his sense of character and page design were universally admired by his peers.

He was also a real pill.For every story about Toth’s genius, there are those about his cranky moods and prima donna behavior. He regularly walked out on jobs or was fired because his vision conflicted with that of editors and other supervisors, who Toth nearly always viewed as his inferiors. If he didn’t like a comic book script, Toth would simply change or re-write it as he saw fit. As a result, his work for publishers such as DC and Marvel Comics was sporadic and limited. He hated superheroes, anyway. He had a memorable run at the Standard Comics, producing romance comics and tales of adventure and suspense.

Toth loved the movies, especially old, swashbuckling ones starring the likes of Errol Flynn. His Zorro comic for Dell is a classic with its use of shape and shadow, the main character swooping through the night with his cape swirling and sword gleaming. He could also draw airplanes and aerial battles like nobody’s business. But Toth found his most steady and productive work in Hollywood, principally for Hanna-Barbera, where he storyboarded cartoons for TV and designed characters. The looks of Johnny Quest, Space Ghost, the Herculoids and the Super Friends all flowed from his pen.

Hundreds of examples of Toth’s work, ranging from sketches and comic book stories to character design sheets and storyboards, fill the pages of all three of these books. The first two volumes make up Toth’s biography. All the terrible tales are recounted, but the overall picture of Toth is sympathetic. His children and friends are interviewed. We gain a better understanding of his challenges and depressions and witness the periods when, thankfully, he found some peace and happiness in the world. The final book is nearly all art, focusing on Toth’s animation career. Toth’s great talent and brilliance is present on every page of all three. – John Firehammer

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