Book Review: Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth by Dean Mullaney & Bruce Canwell

Written by Chad Derdowski

Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth is the third and final chapter in the Library of American Comics’ in-depth look at the life of legendary artist Alex Toth, accompanying 2011’s Genius, Isolated and 2013’s Genius, Illustrated. This volume focuses in on what is arguably Toth’s best known contribution to the art world: his work in the field of animation. Standing 13.2 x 9.8 x 1.5 inches and weighing in at 5.4 pounds, this 328-page behemoth presents a definite challenge when attempting to write a review. You see, not long after receiving my copy, I remarked to a friend how much I enjoyed it. In fact, my exact words were “This book is far too cool for words.” Nevertheless, the challenge of putting my enjoyment into words is a challenge I will gladly accept. Without further ado…

The word “genius” is thrown around all too often these days. It seems that anyone who displays even the slightest bit of talent or intelligence is granted the title without reservation. But in the case of the late Alex Toth (1928 – 2006), the word may be an understatement. Because of the topic of this book, I won’t delve too deeply into his career as a cartoonist, which stretched from the 1940s to the 1980s and included illustrating a number of Golden Age comics for National Comics, including The Flash and Green Lantern.

Since Genius, Animated focuses primarily on Toth’s 1960s and ’70s stint providing storyboards and character designs for Hanna-Barbera, I won’t bother discussing his stunning work on Disney’s Zorro comics, his 1981 Inkpot Award from the San Diego Comic Con, or his induction into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1990. I won’t get into his work in Creepy or Eerie magazines or any of his vast output in the field of sequential art. I’ll just stick to what’s covered in the book.

But man, oh man… the stuff that’s covered in this book! First of all, it’s enormous. This book is seriously heavy – the kind of book you put on top of your three-year-old when he’s acting up and you’re at the end of your rope and you just need him to sit still because you’ve got to get that book review written. With a book this size on top of him, there’s no way that kid is going to be able to get up and make a mess. For real, that kid isn’t going anywhere. But perhaps I’ve said too much…

The vast majority of Genius, Animated is artwork, but each chapter is accompanied by a bit of text detailing each step in Alex Toth’s animation career: breaking in with his work on Space Angel, moving to Hanna-Barbera studios, and briefly working at Disney before heading back to HB. It’s worth noting that while 95 percent of the book is illustration, there is still enough detail in the text that the reader gets a pretty good idea of what kind of guy Toth was. A highly intelligent and driven man, he comes off as a bit curmudgeonly and a definite perfectionist. Above all, the word that continues to come to mind is, quite naturally, “genius.”

Any fan of animation will thrill to see these giant reproductions of Toth’s model sheets for the characters, creatures, and vehicles from Space Ghost, Super Friends!, The Herculoids, Sealab 2020, and so, so many more. Any artist, whether they be a newcomer attempting to make a name for themselves or a world-weary professional, would do themselves a favor to pick up this book. While I’m far from possessing any great talent myself, I’ve taken a few art classes in my day and I felt like I learned more looking at a few pages of Toth’s character designs and storyboards than I did in a month’s worth of courses.

Not only do we get a look at what went into making these classic cartoons work, there’s also a huge section devoted to presentation art. It’s not just a matter of getting to see “what might have been”, it’s a huge collection of beautiful, full-color artwork that was used to pitch a variety of potential new animated series. More costume designs, vehicles, and action shots that will fire the imagination and inspire anyone to scratch their creative itch. At least, that’s the effect it had on me.

And honestly, I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of what this book has to offer. I feel extremely confident calling Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth a must-have for any art or animation aficionado and especially for fans of Mr. Toth. Even as I write this review, with a copy of the book sitting next to me, I find myself flipping through it and finding something I hadn’t noticed before. I’ll definitely be looking into the previous volumes in this series and will undoubtedly find myself perusing this volume in the months to come, with a big smile on my face.

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