Aug 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Adventure Comics

The Brown Wedge5 comments • 1,150 views

Who is the greatest comic artist ever? Obviously that is unanswerable, but my top choice would be Alex Toth. This is partly because he was magnificent in every style he used, and he did it all – superheroes, romance, horror, funny animals, war, SF, westerns, pirates and anything else you can think of. I think his heart was most in swashbuckling adventure, harking back to Flynn and Fairbanks. He did great work on various such comics, and his fine Zorro work is collected in a couple of volumes, but I guess the work to point anyone to is Bravo For Adventure, starring dashing aviator Jesse Bravo. This is collected in one mag, which you might be able to buy if you’re lucky. The first story is particularly astonishing – for 16 of the 17 pages Jesse is unconscious, and in pages with three tiers of two panels each, Toth shows off his mastery and brilliance with a series of breathtaking black and white compositions and the best grasp ever of where to put in detail and where to go minimal. It also features a small tribute to Hugo Pratt (see below). Absolutely anything by Toth is worth grabbing when you see it – even on the most throwaway pieces of work, his peerless craft and compositional ability is unmistakeable. I’ve never really been interested in buying original comic art, but if there is one page I would choose, it would be this from a car story in DC’s Hot Wheels. There are a couple of lovely art-book format collections of some of his work, if you can find them, but it’s not always his best.

Adventure isn’t a terribly fashionable genre (it’s generally been better represented in newspaper strips – see link at right), but it contains another genuine giant of comics. Some friends of mine, whose judgement should be trusted at least as much as mine, would answer that opening question with Hugo Pratt. The bulk of his work is a long series of graphic novels chronicling the semi-historical adventures of Corto Maltese, a sailor. I remember having a fairly long conversation with Dave Gibbons about his compositional abilities, many years aho – Pratt’s drawing is a touch rougher, even scratchier, than Toth’s, but he’s his one rival for composing an image. Corto’s rangy frame is particularly well used. I don’t love his art quite as much as Toth’s, but he’s a much stronger writer, and the Corto tales are complex and interesting as well as being exciting adventures, with some very memorable characters. Anything by Pratt is worth seeking out, and the Corto books are available, but pricey on Amazon – overdue for a new series of reprint translations, I think. The Corto Maltese magazine is great too, featuring many of the other greatest European comic artists – Crepax, Manara, Bilal, Toppi, Battaglia, plus South American greats like Munoz and Pellejero – mostly giving us adventure stories of one kind or another. I have a bunch of Italian editions, despite not being able to read the language, because I love the art so much.


  1. 1
    chap on 29 Aug 2008 #

    What, no Tintin?

  2. 2
    Martin Skidmore on 29 Aug 2008 #

    See the children’s comics entry, linked at top right, For Tintin. Clearly that is one of many instances where I might easily have put something in a different section.

  3. 3
    Dan M. on 29 Aug 2008 #

    Great choice for the greatest, Martin. Toth was a real “artist’s artist,” and I see his influence strongly in Mike Mignola, to name one of the more influential younger artists… Funny that there aren’t more examples of the adventre genre, none come to mind for me, either.

  4. 4
    786hanif on 30 Aug 2008 #

    I thought your favourite was Ditko (from back in the old fantasy Advertiser days).

    My order would be Toth, then Ditko, then Kojima.

    Any idea whether Toth will be properly honoured by having a deluxe reprint collection/biog published like the recent (flawed) Ditko one?

  5. 5
    Martin Skidmore on 31 Aug 2008 #

    I don’t think Ditko has ever been my #1, but I love him too. As an artist only, after Toth I’d have (no particular order) Kirby, Kojima, Ditko, Kurtzman, Herriman, Tezuka, Pratt. Obviously if I were thinking writer/artist, the list would change a little – I don’t think Ditko or Toth were ever great writers, and I’ve never even read anything written by Kojima, and you could add in people like Barks and Crumb.

    I’ve not heard anything about a Toth bio.

    Re FA, my greatest regret when handing it on and seeing it fold was that I had got Toth to agree to do a cover and big interview for it – never happened, sadly.

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