Thursday, October 27, 2016

CREEPY PRESENTS ALEX TOTH by Alex Toth & Co.

CREEPY PRESENTS ALEX TOTH
by Alex Toth & Co.

This is Dark Horse's fourth creator-themed collection of short stories from the horror anthology magazines CREEPY and EERIE published by Warren from 1964 to 1983, following similar collections for Bernie Wrightson, Richard Corben and Steve Ditko.

It features 21 stories that Toth was involved in creating between 1965 and 1981. In most cases he's the artist, most memorably with writer Archie Goodwin (8 stories), sometimes with other writers (5 stories). A handful of times he's in the unusual role for him of being the inker/finisher over other artists (4 stories), and for an odd run of issues in 1976 he's the sole creator (4 stories).

The comics themselves are of mixed quality, but always interesting in some way. As you'd expect, the Goodwin stories are top notch, with a few all-time classics (like "The Monument"), and never less than good. A pleasant surprise to see their 1980 collaboration, "The Reaper", which I'd never seen before, and I guess the last time they worked together. It's also interesting to see "Survival", co-written by Toth and Goodwin (miscredited to just Goodwin here), which is technically a BLAZING COMBAT story (another short-lived Warren magazine whose publishing rights went elsewhere, but one of Goodwin/Toth's three stories for it appears here in slightly modified form by virtue of a reprinting late in CREEPY's run).

None of the other writers working with Toth are quite in Goodwin's league, whether Toth was drawing solo or finishing other artists, but they produce some decent work, and give Toth a chance to show off his skills. I thought Bill DuBay's offbeat "Daddy And The Pie" was especially nice. As a finisher over four artists (Leo Duranona, Leo Summers (or Sommers), Romeo Tanghal and Carmine Infantino) Toth has a really heavy hand, I'd probably have been convinced they were Toth solo if that had been the credit.  The Infantino story is especially odd, since parts of it are a dead ringer for some of Gilbert Hernandez's work over a decade later.

Toth's four solo stories from 1976 are somewhat stylistically very at odds with the rest of the book, but he gives himself some fascinating things to draw, with some aerial action, an odd tribute to silent movies, an archaeological adventure in the South Pacific and, best of all, a morality story about early photography set in 1873 New York.

So in terms of actual comics, this is a great book. In terms of presentation, it ranks a lot lower, unfortunately.

One problem I always have with these books is the odd insistence Dark Horse has in reprinting all of the stories from CREEPY chronologically, and then all of the stories from EERIE.  That ends up splitting the 1960s Goodwin/Toth stories into two distant sections of the book, and closing the book with three 1975 stories, long after stories he drew as late as 1981 had already appeared. I'm not sure why that seems like a good idea, as opposed to either a strict chronological reprinting, or having sections like Goodwin/Toth, Toth solo, Toth as finisher, etc.

There's also the quality of the reproduction. As far as I can tell, with rare exceptions Dark Horse uses published copies of the original magazines for their Warren reprints. That works okay when its strict black&white high contrast artwork, but Toth uses a lot of shading and greywash effects in some stories, and those aren't well served by the third generation (with intermediary aging of paper not meant to last 30-50 years) reproduction. The original art for at least some of this stuff does exist, and was seen in some of IDW's Toth books in recent years, and is really superior. For my taste I think they sometimes print the greys a bit too dark, but I'd have to check the original printings to see if that's something that can even be avoided.

And I don't know if it was even pursued, but it would have been nice to see this book be closer to a grand re-unified "Toth at Warren" book, making a deal with the parties who acquired the rights to the rest of Toth's BLAZING COMBAT work, and the one Pantha story he inked over Leo Duranona in VAMPIRELLA, neither enough for a Toth solo book. That would still leave his creator owned "Bravo For Adventure" and the Euro import "Torpedo" stories, but those are otherwise available in superior recent editions.

So some exceptionally good material, makes for a book well worth picking up, despite some reservations.

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