Alex Toth

Comics artist and animator

Alexander Toth, comics artist and animation designer: born New York 25 June 1928; married (two sons, two daughters); died Hollywood, California 27 May 2006.

The comics artist Alex Toth is rated by the cognoscenti as perhaps the greatest American adventure strip artist of all time, as well as the creator of the clean action style of television adventure cartoons from the 1960s onwards.

Raised in New York, the young Toth (pronounced like "both") was fired by an early passion for syndicated newspaper adventure strips to enrol at the High School of Industrial Arts in Manhattan, with the ambition of becoming an adventure strip cartoonist. Realising adventure strips were on the decline, he switched to comic books and, at 15, secured his first paid freelance assignment ($5 for a spot drawing) from Steve Douglas's Famous Funnies.

In 1947, he was hired by Sheldon Mayer for DC Comics, home of Superman and the American comics industry's top publisher. Mayer, his mentor, drummed in one lesson above all else: "Tell the bloody story!" Toth took it to heart, and was thrown into pencilling strips in many genres (superhero, western, romance, crime and mystery) as demanded. Ever the perfectionist, he boned up on the work of his artistic heroes (the cartoonists Noel Sickles, Milton Caniff and Frank Robbins) and honed his own cinematic artwork until, at the age of 21, he was dubbed "the best artist in the entire business" by his fellow artist Gil Kane, and had become the company's highest-paid one.

Bored with the inane scripts he was offered, in 1950 he left DC to freelance for a variety of publishers, until his call-up in 1954 into the US Army (where, stationed in Tokyo, he had his own weekly adventure page, "Jon Fury", in the base paper, the Depot Diary). Following his discharge in 1956, he signed up with another major publisher, Western Publishing, where he concentrated on comics adaptations of film and television shows, most notably Zorro, derived from a weekly Disney series.

Throughout this time, by combining solid observation and draughtsmanship with matchless design skills, Toth's approach to storytelling had become ever more succinct. When he had pared away all but the essential in his drawing, what was left became so abstract, so easy to read, that it approached calligraphy in its clarity - and all achieved without sacrificing realism.

However, by the early 1960s, this carefully crafted nuanced naturalism looked increasingly at odds with the resurgent bombastic superhero genre, which began to elbow aside the romance, mystery and western titles he had made his name on. Finding his work ever less appreciated, although he would continue to contribute occasional tales for the likes of Warren Publishing, Marvel Comics, DC and Dell right up until the 1980s, he shifted his focus to animation.

Starting in 1960 as art director for Cambria Studio's Space Angel television series, by 1965 Toth had become chief character designer for Hanna-Barbera Studios. When Hanna-Barbera needed a quick set of designs for a new show they wanted to pitch to a TV network, they would call on him to prepare art boards to show to the network executives. He would also provide character model sheets for other artists to follow. In this fashion he created the clean, minimalist look of such Saturday morning staples as Space Ghost, Super Friends and Jonny Quest, which in turn became the house style for many subsequent adventure cartoons.

By the 1980s, Toth's career was winding down, but his reputation has since soared ever upwards. Much of his comic work has been reissued in such publications as The Complete Classic Adventures of Zorro (1999), Alex Toth (1995), Toth: Black & White (1999) and Alex Toth: One for the Road (2000), while his character designs for Hanna-Barbera have been captured in Alex Toth: by design (1996).

Despite a long illness, he died at his drawing table at home, pencil in hand.

Alan Woollcombe

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Client Services Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Services Assistant is ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Senior Sales Broker - OTE £100,000

£20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportuni...

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor