Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #39 by Drew Barth
Master of Horror
Alex Toth as an artist and illustrator is an unsung masters of the medium. Toth strove to push the boundaries of what a comic could do in terms of creating panels, lines of sight, and use of shadows. Using simple black and white techniques, Toth was able to create some of the most spectacular short comic works for Dell Comics, DC, and Warren Publishing with genres spanning mystery, war, superhero, and horror.
His short form horror comics are still some of his most underrated creations—even more so considering his most iconic work was the design and animation of the Super Friends cartoon in the 70s—but Dark Horse has amassed much of Toth’s horror work in Creepy Presents: Alex Toth. But what makes Toth’s horror work so distinct? So memorable? Why catalog his work with the reverence and respect in this collection?
As an illustrator, Toth knew how the eye would move across a comic page and how certain kinds of panel breaks, coupled with clever lettering, could keep a reader from wandering into the twist ending of a story too early. His panels worked like walls for the eyes—they would maintain a thick, black panel frame. This technique of paneling is one of the reasons his horror work was always so shocking whenever the ending did come. The steady pacing of his panels, the continuous cordoning off of panels for the readers, and his thicker, almost brush-like line would instill in readers a sense of constant mystery and unease.
The above page is a perfect example of how his panels would create this uneasy feeling, by allowing the eye to literally rock back and forth through the page. He strove to do something different with each comic he created as a means of maintaining an audience’s uncertainty, whether this was through window panes as panels, the excessive use of black space to create a sense of claustrophobia, or misdirection via simply not showing what a threat was at a given moment.
Alex Toth was able to create some of the most interesting and innovative horror comics of his time. And he did it all without having to saturate his pages with blood and gore. Even stories concerning grave robbing or murders in a theme park, Toth was able to maintain a subtlety in the macabre that would deepen a story’s sense of dread. That focus on the anticipation of horror is what made his stories so interesting to read and why his horror lingered long after the story was finished. It is also why a book like Creepy Presents: Alex Toth exists—to ensure new readers can feel that same terror decades later.
Get excited. Something lurks.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.