Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Plagiarism -- repeat offendees

Alex Toth was perhaps the artist's artist in the field of comics and animation. For decades, if you asked people in the industry to name their favorite, Toth would show up with (and sometimes above) names like Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, and Neal Adams. Jules Feiffer famously said that Eisner was the artist other artists stole from. According to this 2006 piece by comics writer and historian Mark Evanier (who worked for most of the major animation houses and comics publishers), Toth was the artist other artists traced.

After a show was sold and they began making episodes, Alex would usually do model sheets to design the characters — both the regulars and the "incidentals." Incidentals are new characters that appear in only one episode…and there would also be model sheets for vehicles, major props, key pieces of scenery, etc. He produced hundreds of these, perhaps thousands, and they are avidly collected by appreciators of fine comic-style illustration. They were a bit more controversial within the studio where some felt that Toth was the wrong guy to have setting the parameters of what everyone else would then have to draw. Everyone admired his drawing ability but there were those who argued that he was either too good or too special.

In most cases, the artists who would have to then draw the characters based on Alex's models had nowhere near his skills, or at least nowhere near the skills for that kind of illustration. H-B did adventure shows but they also continued to produce shows in what one might call the Yogi Bear style. Depending on what kinds of shows were sold each year and how many, it sometimes happened that a "Yogi Bear" artist would get assigned to an adventure show and many of these otherwise skilled artists struggled to replicate the kind of thing Toth was doing on the model sheets. Even a few artists who were solid in adventure-style art found his work too angular at times. Some Toth model sheets were worked over by others — traced and simplified (some would say, "watered-down") — before they went into production. But many artists were also stimulated by the challenge they presented and found that the designs were solid and, as is necessary with animation, designed with an absolute economy of line.

As I mentioned, animators still hoard and trade copies of them. It is not uncommon that an artist assigned to do up a model sheet of a policeman for some new show will haul out a Toth model sheet of a policeman and trace it, making just enough changes to pass it off as new…or not. I have seen Toth-designed characters appear without modification in shows he had nothing to do with, and I expect we always will. It's just part of the grand legacy that the man leaves us.

1 comment:

  1. Sort of like Ed Wegman. Generations from now, statisticians will still be copying his masterly data analyses and deep insights and passing them off as their own. Even in retirement, the man is an inspiration to all of us.