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Saturday, June 17, 2006

 
More on Toth and Krigstein -- The following letter is from a reader named Daniel, in response to my post The Ghost of Toth:

I have to respectfully disagree with your recent posting about Alex Toth and your comparison of him to Krigstein. I love Krigstein's work (I have both of the Fantagraphics books you reference), but Toth was, by a wide, wide margin, the single greatest and most innovative cartoonist the medium has yet produced. As a draftsman, a designer, and a storyteller, no one has yet surpassed him. He is the only cartoonist whose work has literally made my jaw drop when looking at it, and he
did it again and again and again.

Krigstein brought a complexity to the medium when it was in its (relative) infancy. Yet Toth's work was equally (if not more) complex. The difference was that he pared his work down to its barest essentials till it was as simple as it could be. It almost seems like an oxymoron, but the complexity of Toth's work was masked by its simplicity.

Based on everything that I've read, I think there is a dichotomy in the assessments of Toth's work between the views held by practicing artists (cartoonists, illustrators, designers, etc.) and the views held by the lay audience. The people who always praised Toth the loudest--in life and in death-- were other artists: Darwyn Cooke, Kevin Nowlan, Mark Chiarello, Steve Rude, Bruce Timm, Howard Chaykin, Ronnie Del Carmen, Paul Grist, etc. As a practicing illustrator and graphic designer
myself, I think it takes someone who is a practitioner of the arts to understand just how unbelievably hard it is to do what Toth did, especially since he made it look so easy.

In some of Krigstein's best stories ("Master Race" comes to mind first) it looked as if he was showing off on the page, and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense. It was as if he was raising a flag for everyone to see and take notice of exactly what the medium was capable of producing. You can almost see the blood, sweat, and the tears on the page. Toth, on the other hand, made his work look effortless. He never
showed off. There was no flamboyance in his work. He used the bare minimum number of lines, panels, shapes, and images. He was like the master craftsmen who made Shaker furniture: the work is perfect at first glance as well as at 100th glance.

Anyway, as I've written before, I love your site and enjoy visiting it.


I stand by my opinion that no artist has done more to (to coin a phrase) push comic art forward than Krigstein, but if Toth is behind him, it's by the narrowest of degrees, and as I noted in my earlier post, a lot of the perception involved is down to the circumstances of the availability Toth's work -- I'd gladly pay just about any price for a book on Toth that is as comprehensive and well-produced as B. Krigstein Vol. 1.

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1 Comments:

Blogger ChristopherAllen said...

When I say someone is "showing off," or "waving their cock around" or "jumping up on a bar and taking off their blouse and singing drunkenly and shrilly," it's never in the pejorative sense, either.

Krigstein was the greater innovator; there's no question in my mind. Was Toth a great innovator? Sure. Does his work display less obvious effort and a more pronounced paring down to basics than Krigstein's? Yes, I think so, but I don't think that has anything to do with innovation. If one finds Toth the greater artist, that's cool, but it's a different question, and much more subjective, I think, than who was more innovative, which can be quantified.

17 June, 2006 22:30  

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