An Alex Toth Magnet

>>On Thu, Dec 16, 2010 at 9:59 PM, Chris wrote:
>>You may have already seen this – seems like the kind of topic you
>>are interested in (comics that is, not the searing criticism).



I find it somewhat interesting that this isn’t the first time I’ve been asked my opinion on Alex Toth’s opinions:

Professional creative people rely on critical assessment from colleagues, mentors, and others with similar skill sets to keep them in check in some instances and to challenge them in others. The subjective practices of drawing and sculpting and storytelling and dancing all suffer from the Xerox effect–the copying of a copy, and without someone calling bullshit, without someone saying this iteration simply isn’t good enough, each new generation of artist gets by with less than the previous generation.

However, a faulty premise lingers in this common relationship between fellow artists. We assume that when a person is great at drawing or sculpting or storytelling or dancing that that person is also great at explaining how to do those things to others, but giving criticism is a learned skill as well. Some people critique well, others mirror what worked on them, and still others give bad direction. Without knowing anything at all about how Alex Toth was trained, I’d estimate he fits in the second group more than the other two. I think he had a mentor that sensed in Toth a tendency to respond positively to harsh criticism, and Toth probably excelled under such duress. I doubt he even gave much thought to how he’d help others. I’m sure this “great gives great” assumption forms the crux of the widespread interest in Toth’s critique of Steve Rude.

The cognitive dissonance attracts people to this car wreck. The crowd says to themselves, Toth was such an excellent artist and a legend that he must be correct, but holy hell he seems to have gone to the extreme.

The best evidence for Toth’s poor criticising skills is ironically his only real compliment in the diatribe. When he indicates that one of the panels is “…Okay—I guess—” my interpretation is that he feels compelled to have a response to every single thing Rude drew: each page, each panel, each character, each item, and each line. He’s compelled by his poor criticism skills to deliver a note about ever portion of the work. He’s lumped minor flaws in with major flaws. A better criticiser would have defined a threshold and only noted mistakes above (or below) that threshold. In my writing experience, highlighting positives along with negatives is considered good form.

There are stages to becoming great. I won’t outline them all, but this conversation between artists provides excellent examples of two of those stages. Steve Rude recognizes his internal appraisal of his work needs a bit of external guidance so he seeks that guidance from Alex Toth. Rude’s cool-headed reply indicates that he’s able to distinguish between true flaws and ranty ones. I’d say Rude’s at the uppermost level of that particular phase. Alex Toth resides further along the process. He’s great because he can effectively self-criticise. He can lazily draw a character and then recognize the need to fix it. Now doubt he doesn’t even get lines on the paper before he’s roughed out several panels in his mind first. Unlike Rude, Toth is at the lower end of his phase; Toth assumes what works for him works for all.

584 words on day 622