Tuesday, Nov 27th, 2012
Measure for Measure
posted by Bruce Canwell
Alex Toth drawing James Bond, Dick Tracy, the men from U.N.C.L.E., Li'l Abner…and more!!!
This spring I promised that my Job One was producing the text for Genius, Illustrated, the concluding installment in our comprehensive examination of Alex Toth's life and art. My summer was devoted almost exclusively to this pursuit, with the writing concluded very close to the last day of summer. After that, it passed inspection by many sets of eyes, my own first of all-when you produce a work of this length and complexity, you want to step back, read it stem-to-stern, and make sure the whole hangs together they way you envisioned while you were working on the individual parts!
Once I was satisfied, Dean read the manuscript and gave it his approval, then we passed it into the hands of Alex's four children: Dana, Carrie, Eric, and Damon. We also asked a couple folks to read portions of the text in order to confirm we were correctly conveying the information they had provided.
One can ask how it could possibly take more than four months to write a manuscript; the answer is a tapestry made up of three major threads, which together resulted in me amassing this tsunami of paper, DVDs, CD-ROMs, books, magazines, and audio cassettes not just over the past four months, but over the past two years:
The first thread is the sheer volume of topics that needed to be addressed. Genius, Illustrated's manuscript is thirty-five percent longer than its predecessor's, covering the last forty-five years of Toth's life, the second half of his eclectic career in comics, and the bulk of his career in animation (Genius, Isolated discusses his days with Cambria Studios, but Illustrated takes Alex through his many stints at Hanna-Barbera [H-B] and his other assignments on cartoon series such as Thundarr the Barbarian and The Bionic 6). When you consider that he was often producing new comics material while also working at H-B, the strands of this thread have a tendency to weave in and out, wrapping around one another in sometimes-unexpected ways. Correlating this amount of information and organizing it in a coherent way that doesn't confuse the reader is a challenge best met by careful forethought and planning, before the writing ever begins.
The second thread is the number of persons who had something to say about Alex. We conducted interviews for this project-many of them lengthy and far-reaching-with roughly two dozen of Toth's family, compeers, and fellow professionals. We certainly could not reach out to every one of the "Friends of Alex" without the manuscript growing so dense reviewers would begin casting about their favorite H-word ("hagiography"). Still, I believe you'll find the sizable cross-section of participants speak with authority and emotion about the major aspects of Alex the Fabulous Talent and Alex the Curmudgeonly Man. To give you a sense of exactly how much interview wordage we're talking about, I stacked up all of the transcripts of phone interviews I had at hand-I made no effort to add printed copies of the conducted-by-e-mail interviews we did with folks like Bill Chadbourne-and measured them. As you can see, the stack stands roughly two and a half inches high!
That's a honkin' lot of material, and we could hardly use every last scrap of it. You may be able to spot my hen-scratching at top of the first page of the David Armstrong transcript visible in the picture - those are notes about which quotes within the "xscript" I wanted to include in my text, each note flagging the quote, the topic to which it pertains, and the page of the document upon which it resides. I did that with every interview in this stack after reading each multiple times.
A third thread is the amount of correspondence Alex himself wrote throughout the years. We must have read close to five hundred of Alex's letters-written-for-publication and letters-written-to-friends that were donated to us from various sources. At times it was necessary to go back and do some rewriting on a section already completed, because a new letter would fall in our hands containing information too fascinating to exclude (Alex's letter to Milton Caniff that appears near the end of chapter seven is one such example).
Bill Peckmann's decade-plus of correspondence with Toth alone was a treasure trove of insights and opinions, and we're forever indebted to Bill for his generosity. Notice that the stack of correspondence we received from Peckmann stands almost exactly two inches tall.
I used up more than one full packet of Post-It Notes flagging select letters for use out of this stack of Bill's contributions, writing the date and topic on a Post-It, then attaching it every time I found a letter I planned to use (and sometimes pointing out, for longer letters, the page and paragraph containing the quote to be used).
So: Alex's comics career, his personal life, and his cartoon career, sometimes stopping-and-restarting, sometimes overlapping each on top of the other. Digesting, organizing, and excerpting not only the words of others, but also what Alex himself had to say about a variety of other subjects (wait'll you read his classic rant against American auto manufacturers!). Reading articles about Toth or interviews with him from a variety of magazines and websites. Watching episodes of several of Alex's cartoons, reading a variety of his comics stories, examining his artwork (more than fifty pages of doodles alone!) ... then tossing all those puzzle pieces onto the table and laboring to construct a narrative that informs, entertains, and does justice to all the many facets of its subject. All while, for a significant portion of the time, new material was regularly being added to the mix.
That's how it can take more than four months to write a manuscript! And that's why the Genius series has had a total gestation period of longer than two years...
...Yet Dean and I feel it's been worth it and we trust you will, too, when you have the book in your hands. We didn't like the delays any more than you did, but they were necessary to create what we believe is a quality product worthy of your valuable money and equally valuable leisure reading time.
Finally, yes, there is one more book to come in our Alex Toth: Genius series. The artbook Genius, Animated will zoom in for a close-up on Alex's days working for the Hollywood cartoon factories. It will feature some artwork familiar to many, and quite a bit of artwork that has heretofore been seen only by a select few. It's being produced with permission of the various rights-holders, so we won't be repeating the issues that plagued earlier attempts at such a project (though yes, it's certainly possible we'll make plenty of other mistakes!). In getting such permission, we're able to bring you a sizeable amount of unseen Alex Toth artwork that been safely sitting in the Hanna-Barbera archives. Be looking for it later in 2013—after you've immersed yourself in the Life and Art of Alex Toth and savored the fabulous art that infuses Genius, Illustrated.
Here's a sampling of what you can look forward to.
Rare early 1960s Toth art for UK-based Fleetway:
More rare Toth art for Fleetway!
One of a series of title cards for "How To Succeed With Sex!"
Presentation pieces for unproduced Hanna-Barbera series:
The complete "How to Murder Your Wife" strips—with the original Ben Day tones!
Plus the complete original art to "White Devil…Yellow Devil," which he re-reworked after the art was returned to him from DC. Compare this printed version with the re-inked version below.
And in case you forgot what the cover will look like: