House of Secrets #123 (1974)

So you know about Jack Kirby, the King of Comics. And you’ve read comics by Will Eisner, the greatest storyteller in history. You know work by Gil Kane and Neal Adams and Bernie Wrightson. Sure you have. Those guys are legends. But what about Alex Toth, the artist’s artist, the master of simple line work, the man for whom one simple line can speak volumes? What about the man to whom Darwyn Cooke, perhaps the finest artist working today, has a clear and admitted huge debt?
 
Well, chances are that you’re almost certain to have seen work derived from Toth’s art. If you ever saw an episode of Jonny Quest from the ’60s, or Super Friends from the ’70s or any one of a bunch of other classic Hanna Barbera cartoons, you know Toth’s work. He worked for years at Hanna Barbera designing characters for animation, using his magnificently clean line to create elegantly simple and engaging character designs. Those cartoons definitely profited from Toth’s involvement, but comics suffered. Toth never really had an ongoing series that he became identified with, and his rare Silver and Bronze Age comics stories, mainly for Warren and  DC horror books, have never been collected in an easy to find edition, which just makes those stories all the more special. There’s so much Kirby in print, for instance, that for a reader it presents an embarassment of riches. Not so for Toth.
 
House of Secrets #123 presents one such rare tale, a goofy yarn written by Michael Fleisher called "A Connecticut Ice Cream Man in King Arthur’s Court." Frankly, Fleisher’s story isn’t nearly as imaginative and fun as the title implies, and the obligitary twist ending is especially pointless. But the way the reader gets to the end of the story, the way that Toth tells the story, is nothing short of wonderful. It’s just amazing how clearly he shows a feast on King Arthur’s table with only a few squiglly lines, or how he portrays the strangeness of the wizard Merlin simply by encasing the character in a deep black robe. The effects are subtle and don’t take away from the story at all; instead everything is subservient to the imperative to tell the story succinctly and cleanly.
 
Nearly every story by Toth is a clinic in clean and simple comics storytelling, where the majesty of his work only reveals itself from repeated readings. It’s a shame the man is so obscure compared with his peers. Hey DC, collect Toth’s work already!

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