Forget technique, tricks, cheating, faking
January 22, 2014 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Toth was a bona fide genius of comics art and storytelling. He also earned quite the reputation for being a fighty, grumpy curmedgeon. Reading his at-times-apoplectic critique of Steve Rude's work is very educational for anyone who cares about comics.

As far as Steve Rude goes, well, yes, he's great with figures, and he can make some kickass standalone images, but I've always thought his storytelling skills were hit-or-miss. His refutations of Toth's criticisms come off as pretty weak, to me.

(Full disclosure: I am a card-carrying Toth fanboy, I own a copy of Genius Illustrated and I am looking forward to getting the other two in the series.)
posted by KHAAAN! at 1:05 PM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

A thorough, well-reasoned critique can be an act of love. Rude's response, by contrast, is shallow and defensive.

I ran into this in a ConceptArt forum thread a couple years ago, which contains the original writeup in Toth's own handwriting and a brief but informed discussion (spoiler: they side with Toth).

From Alex Toth's biography:
Shelly was the first and only really creative and knowledgeable comics editor I've worked for in all these years in the field. He was rough. He'd tear up my pages if I got too cute, too arty in telling the story. He'd tear them up on the spot and tell me to go home and do 'em over again. I tried to put in all the elements that I thought were important. But they weren't important. And Shelly was the one who pointed that out to me. He didn't care how pretty the pictures were if they didn't develop the story. "Stop trying to be another Michelangelo," he'd say, "and just tell the story. Just tell the story." And every time I walked out of his office, I'd learned something--whether I wanted to or not. The direction of action; staging; the importance of dialogue flow, how it should run through a page, panel by panel; what the eye should read first and what you want the eye to see first.
So Toth is only doing what Shelly has did for him in the past.

(From the forum thread), cloudmover said:
I think it's important to remember that Alex Toth was the Character Designer on most of the original animated Johnny Quest episodes that aired in the early 60s.

Showing Toth a Johnny Quest comic book is like showing Frank Miller your new Sin City pages. The critique you're going to get is going to be quite personal and harsh.
posted by yaymukund at 1:21 PM on January 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'm looking over that Tothlove tumblr and it's like, Alex Toth's art has this strange two-sided effect on me. His art is so amazing that it makes me want to draw, and look at his stuff and incorporate what I can into layouts and tone and all of that. And then, on the other hand, his art is so amazing that it's hard not to despair a little, looking at it, because how could I ever make anything even a tenth as good?

Nevertheless. Alex Toth rules.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:28 PM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

(I've always liked Steve Rude's art :-)
posted by sineater at 2:32 PM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Jonny Quest model sheet, by Alex Toth.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 2:48 PM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like Steve Rude but he's not really in Toth's league (and very few are). Rude is not a super solid draughtsman and Toth nails him on it. This mostly makes both of them look bad, Toth for being overbearing and a bit too angry and Rude for not owning up to his own lack of skill (he's a stylist, not a draughtsman, nothing to be ashamed of).
posted by doctor_negative at 3:49 PM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Steve Rude is a great artist- and not full of himself, as is Toth. Neither of them is Alex Ross.
posted by ergomatic at 6:16 PM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

This was 1986. Rude has improved a lot since then.

IMO he's the best comics artist currently working (occasionally!), and I say that as someone with a rather large in depth comics web site.

I used to dismiss Rude as a pastiche guy - he could copy Kirby and also paint cheesecake, so what? I was not even slightly impressed. But a year ago I took a closer look at his work. Boy was I wrong. He really cares about his art: he learns, tries different things, studies from real life, and constantly improves.

Tastes vary, obviously. But Rude combines everything I want from an artist. In particular,

1. He can actually draw. 99 percent of superhero art is stock poses, or copied from photos. But Rude's images have a solidity, he can actually show people in different positions and they look great.

2. He never wastes a frame. Maybe it's just me, but if I wanted talking heads I'd read a novel. And if I want every frame the same I can read Dinosaur Comics (which are very good, but nobody reads them for the art). In Rude's work every frame matters; every frame entertains.

I could go on. Granted, Rude has off days like everyone. And I haven't seen his most recent work. And his personality is a case of nominative determinism, but that's understandable - perfectionists are like that. Everyone's taste is different, and it's fine if you think he's mediocre. But for me, Rude is the best in the business.
posted by EnterTheStory at 9:41 PM on January 22, 2014

Steve Rude is a great artist- and not full of himself, as is Toth. Neither of them is Alex Ross.

Ross has never been able to tell a story with his art.

While he redefined the industry through his modeled and photo-referenced paintings, his art never demonstrated any understanding of story telling using sequences. The individual panels and splashes looked amazing and had resonance, but did not, of themselves, complete the narrative. Every panel was a pin-up.

Ross painted icons, not stories.

Let's not talk of those who followed in his wake.
posted by converge at 12:51 AM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

posted by turbid dahlia at 4:45 AM on January 23, 2014

Steve Rude is a great artist- and not full of himself, as is Toth. Neither of them is Alex Ross.

posted by prepmonkey at 8:52 AM on January 23, 2014

I liked Steve Rude's work on Nexus. I'm surprised that he is not more gracious about Toth's criticisms. Paul Pope also corresponded with Toth and shares his experience, while commenting on Rude's reaction.
posted by OrderOctopoda at 1:15 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Toth's comments strike me as someone who has a deep internal understanding of how comics work, but not necessarily the language to communicate it. (A lot of the comments could be summarized "Yeah, you can draw, but now think about flow, arrangement of the scene, direction of movement, and visual storytelling.") Nowadays you could just cite Scott McCloud or Will Eisner's books.
posted by zompist at 3:50 PM on January 23, 2014

I don't know. Rude comes off fine to me. But I guess it's because reading through the letter, I was thinking the same thing as Rude: "... is it worth someone getting that enraged over?"

That's not to argue in favor or against Toth's criticisms, just to say that he seems really high-strung and angry. Still, very interesting to peek into aspects of comic book art that as a general reader, I don't think that much about.

Hey, anyone else think that the small image of Steve Rude next to his responses looks a bit like Judah Maccabee?!
posted by Bokmakierie at 3:58 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

People might be interested in this page from Jim Shooter's blog. Some interesting stuff about Toth and a WTF story about Rude. Shooter makes various replies in the comments as well. Though Shooter confirms Toth's abrasiveness, he does pay Toth a ton of respect and puts him on the same list as "Will, Jack, ..."
posted by Bokmakierie at 6:58 PM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

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