Monday, May 29, 2006

And a bit more Toth analysis 

A decade or so ago, I wrote a Usenet post analyzing and comparing a couple of Toth stories that were from the same series, but used very different storytelling techniques. Through the magic of google news, it's still available, and I'm posting it here in case it might be of some interest to someone who hasn't made a broad study of the man's work and wonders what sort of things to look for. Here's a lightly edited version, or you can read it in its original context here : http://tinyurl.com/kj6mj

The discussion started with "The Case of the Curious Classic," from Toth's run on "Hot Wheels." It's an excellent introduction to Toth's storytelling; his "camera" work, his timing, his naturalism and his remarkable touch with mood.

I found it interesting to compare his work in that story, which appeared in issue #5, with another one he drew for the first issue of the series. His approaches to the two stories are quite different.

In Issue one's "Wipe Out at LeMans," most of the story is set at the racetrack and Toth reaches deep into his bag of layout techniques to give his readers the feel of the place. He whips the camera around, uses tight close ups, dust clouds, shots of whirring wheels, big sound effects, blur lines, small insets to slow time down and montages to condense hours, weeks and years into individual panels. His terrain is mostly big flat open drag strips and he uses page wide panels for many of the scenes. I, as a reader, never lost my sense of how much flat land and open air there was around the action, even while squirming at the repeated claustrophobic motif of drivers endangered by other cars encroaching them on the track. It also probably bears noting just how hard it is to do an interesting, coherent car chase scene in comics at all. Since cars don't have much in the way of "gesture," an artist really needs to exercise his design sense to communicate the feeling of movement weight and speed. In other words- it's not so much how the cars are drawn, but where you put them in on the paper and in the picture space that gives the reader the story and gives the feeling of action. This issue provides plenty of fine examples of that aspect of Toth's skill.

The fifth issue is a very different sort of story, and emphasizes a different set of Toth's talents. Where issue one used a wide variety of panel shapes and sizes, here Toth uses exactly one. Every page is broken down into 8 identical panels. (Four tiers of two, the "Stray Bullets" grid.) He also refrains from using sound effects, distorted foreshortening and broad caricature. The emphasis here is on mood and character not on movement. (Although there are, again, some very nice driving sequences, this time at night and on mountain roads.) He doesn't compress time pictorially here, leaving that instead to the captions, but he does elongate some moments by leaving the camera in place and building suspense as an action occurs slowly. He consciously decided not to use many of the techniques of the earlier story in this one. Why? This isn't a racing story, it's a mystery centered on a car. Different genres, different requirements. There aren't a lot of artists that can (excuse the pun here) shift gears the way Toth did between these two stories. If you can find the issues in the back issue bins, check them out. If you just want something to read, these are nice enjoyable stories, clearly and excitingly told. But if you're looking for lessons in the art and craft of comics, there's an awful lot of material worth studying in there.

For more of this sort of analysis, over on his livejournal Jesse Hamm has written a thoughtful piece about Toth and his work, with a close look at some elements of Toth's draftsmanship that I think is particularly worth reading:

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