Hot Wheels #1, March-April 1970

The DVD collection of the complete Space Ghost is cause for some celebration. Not only does it feature each and every episode of the eponymous hero, disc four has a feature-length biography of Alex Toth. Toth, of course, was the visual creator/designer of Space Ghost, and the series, as well as so many other Hanna Barbera cartoons, bears the unmistakeable stamp of his unique style.

“Keep it simple, dammit!” was Toth’s maxim, and one he stuck to rigidly in all his work for both animation and comics. His character design sheets for the cartoon shows (Space Ghost, Birdman, Galaxy Trio, Sealab, Super Friends, Thundarr, etc, etc.) are the very model of stripped down excellence. He distilled all his characters to their essence, and drew only what was absolutely necessary. He—along with Joe Kubert—seemed to have the amazing ability to put three lines on a piece of paper and end up with a fully-rendered drawing. Oh, to be able to do that!

The documentary itself is superb. It covers all of Toth’s career from the perspective of those who knew him well, both personally and through correspondence. And it’s not all puff piece, far from it. It doesn’t flinch in presenting Toth as often difficult to know, someone who alienated as many as he attracted. But, through it all, shines his enormous talent, and his willingness to share his drawing knowledge—even if he often felt the recipients of his wisdom failed to heed his teachings. Only someone with a heart of stone won’t shed a tear when Toth’s difficult, reclusive, final years are covered.

One of Toth’s last published pieces, in Back Issue magazine, lambasted me for conclusions I’d reached in an article I’d written about the black and white magazines of the 1970s. I wasn’t upset. He was a curmudgeon of the highest order, but, by God, he was one of the few genuine geniuses the comics industry has produced.

There’s something of a resurgence in interest in Toth at the moment, and that’s great news for us fans. I recently picked up a copy of Dean Mullaney’s massive tome—the first of three, no less!—Genius Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth, and it’s a simply wonderful book. Packed with art, and complete stories, scanned from the originals, it’s a real joy to behold. I’ll cover it more fully once I’ve devoured it completely, but I can’t wait to see the followup books.

Hot Wheels #1 cover art by Alex Toth.

Image ©2011 DC Comics/Mattel