Monday, November 11, 2013

Alex Toth's Rules

  • Eliminate the superfluous, the unnecessary. Be lazy!
  • Edit your art continuously, at every stage. Save work!
  • Focus on the remaining (important) picture elements.
  • Emphasize what is important in a scene. Save drawing!
  • Isolate such key elements (as one does in a view finder).
  • Closeups only when needed: face(s)-for mood and expression, and objects-small, difficult to distinguish in other ways.
  • To set a scene, a place, to establish a locate, etc., go to a wide shot, angles okay (down/up, etc.)-but again, simply!
  • Then, cut to tighter shots-pace them, for interest, etc....(wide/one shot/two shot/group/close-up/tight close-up).
  • Establish light source, if need be, for dramatic mood and for blacks, drop shadows, etc., on figures & objects and walks, as correctly placed as you can make 'em!
  • Eliminate such light/shadow work in other shots.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify, throughout!
  • Remember, some scenes will and must be pedestrian, unimportant, and dull- because they are "bridges" between key storytelling scenes. As in any story telling form, movies, TV, books, plays, music, opera, painting, etc., you can't knock 'em dead with every shot. Remember, this is what gives pace to a story, visual commas and periods in a pictorial "paragraph" or "sentence"! These are the resting places in an otherwise moving storm! Use them! Without fear!
  • Some such "rests" or "pauses" can be heightened in pictorial interest by way of a pretty scene of quiet mood-if your locale allows! Don't stretch logic to do it!
  • By learning to eliminate unnecessary objects, figures, and background, etc., you can focus on what is left to draw in the shot-and draw it well enough to "carry" the shot!
  • In other words: strip it all down to essentials and draw the hell out of what is left!
  • All of this advice is based on Roy Crane's critiques of my work-and he is absolutely correct, on all points!
  • In the Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy strips and in Buz Sawyer, with Sundays focused on pal Roscoe Sweeny, his work of fifty-odd years demonstrates its validity! in his work, as in no other of his contemporaries' offerings, you will find an extraordinary sense of balance, in his design of space within a panel frame, a strip, or a page! His simplicity allows us to see the use of shapes within his pictures, how they create tension, action or repose...clearly!
  • He avoided confusing details!
  • To quote something just read: "To add to truth only subtracts from it!!! (Isn't that beautifully put?)
  • Authentic devices, objects, machines, locales, furniture, buildings, lend credibility!
  • As Sickles put it: "Understand how a thing is built and you'll have no trouble drawing it through!"
  • Spend more time thinking-about what and what not to draw, and how-and you'll do less drawing!
  • Pre-plan, pre-think...Thus, save work and time!
  • But-whatever you do, do it well!
  • Tell the story as best you can! Bend to that storm!
  • Be honest to it. Give it all you've got! Enhance it!
  • Study films, photographs, paintings, etc. for composition! For cutting, cropping out of nonessentials, pacing, punch, economy, forceful and direct impact. But also for beauty and subtlety-tension, suspense, action, humor, light and dark, balance, line vs. mass, ad infinitum! Use it all!
  • Analyze everything you see-be critical! Positively so!
  • See-observe-remember! Build up your memory file!
  • Good luck


  1. Thanks for posting this! -- I love Alex Toth, and am going to follow his recommendation to look at Roy Crane.

  2. I thought this was supposed to be 10 rules.

  3. Were these originally handwritten? I would love to see the originals. Alex's handwriting was hypnotizing.

  4. Simplify? Be Lazy? I feel he was talking about comics of his time. Your comic would be simple but everyone will be blown away by a graphic novel from France or Italy with complex fantasy cities, killer close ups. Some pages looking like they took a month to do. The way things are, there are amazing talent coming on who are eager to step into your shoes it would be better to reinvent the medium each time not follow a formula.

  5. During the time time Toth was drawing comics there was Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Wally Wood, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Joe Kubert, Moebius. Philippe Druillet, Tanino Liberatore and many more. So not all of the comics during his day were simple. He is sharing his approach to drawing comics. It worked for him and many other artists. His art had no less power or impact than any of the mentioned artists. The simplicity and graphic quality of his work still stands up today.

  6. Abba - couldn't have said it better!

  7. Abba - couldn't have said it better!

  8. His point is that TELLING THE STORY is the paramount concern, NOT making elaborate and overly-filigreed drawings that are merely showing off. He is right.Roy Crane was a brilliant draughtsman, but he didn't overdo his drawings. His story-telling was clear and attractive, unlike a lot of the overly-worked stuff that ended up in HEAVY METAL.

  9. Toth told me "Don't worry at all about your "Style". That will come from within automatically as you work. "

  10. Toth told me "Don't copy comics. Draw real life and memorize it all so you can draw from those memories when needed".Hence the little duck he drew on his hand written correspondences. It's like a duck mascot from memory of having sat in front of a duck one day as he "memorized" it.